LaVine delivers against former team as Bulls rally past Minnesota

 
 
Updated 2/10/2018 12:10 AM
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  • Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler, right, drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (42) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 9, 2017, in Chicago.

    Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jimmy Butler, right, drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (42) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 9, 2017, in Chicago.

Reunions tend to generate strong emotions, and before Friday's return to the United Center, Taj Gibson wasn't sure if he could handle it.

Standing outside the visitors' locker room, Gibson was asked about the planned tribute video.

"I'm going to try to not watch it because it will being back so many strong memories, so many good times you feel in your heart you can't ever get back," Gibson said. "It's one of those times in the past you thought would never end. I had great time here.

"I might tear up. I don't want Thibs yelling in the huddle. He's good for one of those. He still yells."

Both Gibson and Jimmy Butler played against the Bulls for the first time in their NBA careers on Friday. Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau was back last year and Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has returned to the UC with about six different teams.

The main players involved in last summer's trade put on a show. Zach LaVine scored a season-high 35 points, including a tying 3-pointer with 40.6 seconds left, then 3 free throws with 18.4 on the clock to give the Bulls an improbable 114-113 victory. The Bulls trailed by 17 points early in the third quarter.

Butler scored 38 points and put the Timberwolves ahead with 21.5 seconds left. But he fouled LaVine on a 3-pointer, then missed a potential game-winning 3 at the buzzer. After the game, Butler didn't complain about the foul call and admitted hitting LaVine on the elbow.

Plenty of Butler jerseys -- both Bulls and Timberwolves versions -- could be seen in the stands. Pregame introductions were an odd mix of cheers and boos, with Butler, Gibson and Thibodeau obviously getting huge cheers.

The tribute video happened during the game's first timeout and was especially long, since NBA games televised by ESPN have extended commercial breaks. Butler and Gibson must have been watching out of the corner of their eyes, because both stood and waved to fans when it ended.

"Everybody knows I have a lot of love for this organization, this city, this fan base," Butler said. "This is where it all started. They remember us for that. We love them right back for it."

This was the only Bulls game all season scheduled for broadcast on a national network, and ESPN is the reason the game started so late. Bulls-Minnesota was originally slated to be the first game of a doubleheader, starting at 7 p.m. But the network added the Clippers-Pistons, Blake Griffin reunion game to its schedule and pushed the Bulls to the late game.

A few days ago in Cleveland, Butler insisted this was just another game. Because of Friday's snowstorm, both teams canceled their morning shootarounds, so Butler didn't talk to reporters until after the contest.

"You guys know Jimmy. He's a fierce competitor," Thibodeau said before the game. "The thing that makes him so special, everyone is trying to make this into something bigger than what it is and I think anytime you go back, it does mean something. But what makes Jimmy so special is he treats every game that way."

Gibson said it was strange seeing his old parking spot taken, then walking into the visitors' locker room for the first time.

"(I remember) John (Paxson) telling me not to spend my money and telling me to tell people no all the time, Joakim (Noah) constantly picking on me every other day," Gibson said. "Good fun times with Derrick (Rose) when he won the MVP. The list goes on, so many great memories here."

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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