Between the absence of a sick Joakim Noah — the All-Star center left the United Center before even suiting up — and the combination of 37.6 percent shooting from the field and 15 turnovers, Monday night’s 95-86 Bulls’ loss to the Timberwolves is easy to explain.
Noah, who had functioned as one of the team’s primary playmakers, was sorely missed on both ends of the floor, even though Minnesota lost its own starting center, bruiser Nikola Pekovic, to a right Achilles’ injury only six minutes into the contest. But Timberwolves All-Star power forward Kevin Love picked up the slack, shooting 14-for-14 from the charity stripe and along with the aforementioned issues, it was a recipe for defeat, from Bulls head head coach Tom Thibodeau’s perspective.
“When you lose a guy like Jo, your margin of error is smaller. But that being said, we had Taj, we had Carlos, we had Naz. I thought Naz did a good job. The same things go into winning. We can get it done and you’ve got to give Minnesota credit. They’re playing real well right now and so, we can never lose sight of how hard we have to play. And we can’t play hard for 32 minutes. We’ve got to play hard the whole game, from start to finish. And we’ve got to play as a team, we’ve got to play for each other. You can’t play selfish,” the coach explained. “You’ve got to remember, we’re also down Kirk. But we have enough. The free throws, to me, that’s the discipline, when you gift them free throws. Not being back on the raise of the shot, that’s discipline. Those are the things that we’ve got to correct. Those are mental things.
“Some of these passes, if there’s three guys standing around somebody, you should not try to throw the ball to them…we made some poor decisions, throwing the ball to areas in which we never should have thrown the ball and it resulted in fast breaks for them. And we knew going in, that Brewer was releasing on the shot, and we had guys not disciplined in getting back and protecting our basket. Those are things that are unacceptable,” he continued. “They’re a very good offensive team and the start of the second quarter, I think they went 7-0. The end of the second quarter, we fouled three straight times in the penalty. The start of the fourth quarter, they went 5-0. So the mental mistakes, the fouls, we’re normally very disciplined with our body position and I think that hurt us. So a tough game for us. I think you’ve got to adjust to how the game is being called. But that being said, I still thought it was a winnable game going down the stretch. A couple minutes to go, we’re right there. I expect us to get it done.”
Like his coach, Bulls swingman Jimmy Butler was reluctant to pin the loss on Noah not being available, instead pinning it on the performance of the active players.
“We’re still expected to win games, no matter who we have suited up. Like Thibs says, ‘We always have enough to win.’ Once you hear that enough, you start to buy into it. So we’ve just got to keep grinding and hope whenever we get everybody back and healthy, we get on a little roll,” he said. “I feel like they got wherever they wanted to on the floor. A lot of open shots that we didn’t contest. They got out into the open floor, 22 transition points, and that was our key focus. Take that away from them and we didn’t do that.”
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Taj Gibson saw the Bulls’ foul issues, something else Thibodeau mentioned, as an issue. Love, his college rival, got Gibson into foul trouble, mitigating the Bulls’ defense, which was otherwise solid, if not as stellar as they’ve shown in other outings.
“It was real big. Whenever somebody gets put to the line 14 times, it’s going to hurt the momentum of the game and it’s frustrating. It was real frustrating, as far as myself getting fouls, Carlos,” Gibson said. “It was just real frustrating, but games like this happen. We’ve just got to watch film, learn from it and do a little bit better. it’s still a long season, but we take that as a steppingstone. Every game, we’re going to learn from it and make our adjustment to the next game.”