Bulls learn tough lesson, but win in overtime
Young teams like the Bulls often learn lessons the hard way.
They've had a few crushing last-second losses this season. A different scenario occurred Wednesday against Minnesota, with Coby White getting schooled in the nuances of close games.
The Bulls were clinging to a 3-point lead in the final seconds and had a foul to give. But when White closed in to hack Ricky Rubio, the Timberwolves point guard threw the ball at the basket and drew a 3-shot foul. Questionable or not, it forced overtime when Rubio sank all 3 free throws and Zach LaVine missed a double-clutch 3-pointer at the buzzer.
But at least the Bulls didn't hang their heads. They scored the first 7 points of overtime and finally put away the T-wolves 133-126 at the United Center for their third straight victory.
After the game, Bulls coach Billy Donovan blamed himself for giving some bad instructions before the 3-shot foul.
"That's probably on me," Donovan said. "We wanted to foul, I told them to foul. We talked about in the timeout, if they tried to get a quick catch and shoot, we didn't want to foul there. When the ball came in and Rubio had it, he started to dribble. I was kind of trying to signal to Coby to foul.
"I think Coby was doing what I asked him to do. I thought we could maybe get it a little bit earlier than we did. It was unfortunate."
The Bulls could have made it easier on themselves, but LaVine rose to the occasion with 35 points, one of seven Bulls in double figures. Wendell Carter Jr. added 17 points and 10 rebounds, while White did a nice job of filling the stat sheet with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
The downside is both White and LaVine had 7 turnovers and the Bulls finished with 21 as a team. Turnovers were a big concern early this season, but the Bulls seemed to be getting better at preventing them.
"I thought we made some really poor reads early in the game," Donovan said. "They were really pulling in on rolls to the basket and I think we kept trying to interior pass. We tried to throw the ball over the top on some lobs, we tried to complete some shovel passes in the lane. Really what was open was the perimeter.
"The turnovers are so impactful, in my opinion, in the game. Not only do they take away a possession for you offensively, those live ball turnovers make it really difficult to get back in transition. It's really hard when teams have numbers coming downhill at you."
Minnesota (7-26) owns the worst record in the league, played Tuesday night in Milwaukee, and was in its second game under new coach Chris Finch. The Timberwolves hired Finch off the Toronto Raptors staff. Minnesota fired coach Ryan Saunders after a loss in New York on Sunday. Saunders, 34, replaced Tom Thibodeau on Jan. 6, 2019.
The Bulls (15-16) led nearly the entire game, but could never pull away permanently. Their lead peaked at 14 points early in the third quarter. They led 113-103 with 4:04 left after a layup by Thad Young.
The Timberwolves came storming back with consecutive 3-pointers from Malik Beasley. Then a 3 by rookie Anthony Edwards brought Minnesota within 117-116 with 57.7 seconds left.
After an exchange of misses, the Timberwolves trapped LaVine aggressively and center Karl Anthony Towns (24 points) was called for his sixth foul, so he wasn't available for overtime.
Before the game, Donovan said he did not anticipate Lauri Markkanen playing before the all-star break. The 7-foot Finland native, averaging a career-high 19.1 points this season, has been out with a right shoulder sprain since Feb. 6 and missed his ninth-straight game on Wednesday.
Donovan stressed that it's not set in stone. If Markkanen feels well enough to play, he will. Donovan just feels it's unlikely. The same thing could probably be said about Otto Porter, who has been out since Feb. 3 with a sore back. The Bulls have four games left before the break.