CHICAGO--After looking like a dream team early, the Bulls (9-2) fell asleep before waking up late to survive a challenge from the Timberwolves (3-7) in their 111-100 win Tuesday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis, the second game of their only back-to-back-to-back stretch of the season. Several contributors made an impact, but the one-two punch of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng closed it out for the Bulls, who squandered a 24-point first-half lead as a result of Minnesota rookie point guard Ricky Rubio's impressive play.
Propelled by a smothering defense and the assertive scoring efforts of Rose (31 points, 4-for-8 three-point shooting, 11 assists, two blocked shots) and Deng (21 points, 11 rebounds), the Bulls jumped all over the Timberwolves right out of the gate, seemingly scoring at will in both transition and out of halfcourt offensive sets. Thirteen first-quarter points from Rose--in a variety of methods, from deft off-hand finishes after dribble penetration, to three-point bombs off the bounce and wide-open flushes as the result of a backdoor cut--but countering the visitors' ballooning lead was the reigning leave MVP tweaking an ankle late in the opening period, after which the Bulls led, 33-17.
Rose would leave the court between quarters (he'd return to the contest midway between periods after receiving medical treatment for his injury), but his services weren't needed, as an offensively-aggressive "Bench Mob," led by an assertive John Lucas--again playing significant minutes in place of the sidelined C.J. Watson, the diminutive third-stringer's effectiveness allowed Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to play Rose off the ball for a stretch--Taj Gibson's (three blocked shots) usual high activity level on both ends, Omer Asik (six points, six rebounds), displaying polished post moves, and temporary starter Ronnie Brewer's (17 points) subtle contributions, maintained the Bulls' wide winning margin. However, behind versatile power forward Kevin Love's (20 points, 3-for-8 three-point shooting, 13 rebounds) outside marksmanship and Rubio's playmaking, the Timberwolves made a 20-2 before halftime to trim the deficit and send the Bulls into the break with a 53-47 advantage.
Minnesota continued to chip away at Chicago's increasingly tenuous lead, as the precocious Rubio created for himself and teammates, such as hot-shooting veteran starting point guard Luke Ridnour (22 points, 3-for-3 three-point shooting, 8-for-11 overall) and talented young big man Anthony Randolph (18 points) against their guests, who insisted on settling for perimeter shots. The visitors saw the gap close completely when their hosts tied the score at 70 apiece, but kept afloat by Deng's timely scoring, the Bulls managed to escape the third quarter ahead, 79-74.
Chicago was able to maintain its cushion early in the final stanza due to Deng's consistent point production, Gibson's defensive prowess, sharspshooter Kyle Korver's (13 points, 3-for-3 three-point shooting, 5-for-6 overall) potent stroke and Rose finding his groove again, keeping the hosts, who remained within striking distance, at bay. But down the stretch, the combination of Rose and Deng, as well as the perimeter firepower of Brewer and Korver, were too much for the feisty Timberwolves.