Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Posted: 10:06 p.m. Updated: 10:58 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
MINNEAPOLISA trip to the Land of 10,000 Lakes is apparently a temporary cure the for slow starts, as the Bulls (54-20) remedied their sluggish beginnings to games as of late and then maintained enough intensity to cruise to a 108-91 laugher over the lowly Timberwolves (17-58) Wednesday night at the Target Center. Led by strong performances from All-Star point guard Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, the Bulls cruised to an easy victory, increasing their first-place Eastern Conference lead.
Even without the energetic Joakim Noahthe center missed the game with a sprained right ankle after missing the teams morning shootaround, then testing the injury in pregame warmupsthe Bulls got off to a much-improved start to the game, as Rose (23 points, 10 assists) scored Chicagos first six points, en route to an early 15-8 lead over the home team. Additionally, both the post duo of Boozer (24 points, 14 rebounds) and Kurt Thomasthe latter started in Noahs place and had his deadly mid-range jumper working, while Boozer mostly finished around the rim and was a rebounding forcehad it going early, enabling the visitors to increase their lead.
Carlos was very aggressive, praised Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. That set the tone and allowed us to play inside-out. He was great on the boards.
Kurt did a good job stepping in and starting, he continued. Thomas was terrific. When he has stepped in previously, he has anchored our defense and played well.
The Bulls played tough defense on their young opponents, won the battle of the boards and shared the ball on offense, all major tenets of Thibodeaus scheme. It was the focused scoring and playmaking efforts of Rose (13 first-quarter points, to go with five assists), however, that was main component in the Bulls 30-19 advantage through one quarter of play.
We went back and watched the tape of the last few games that we played, and we had bad first quarters. We talked about it in practice yesterday, we talked about it at practice this morning, observed Boozer. Its on the starting team to get our guys going and I thought we did a better job.
We played off Poohwe played off D. Roseand let him get busy. We made the secondary passes and we made plays from there. We did a better job spreading the floor and the spacing seemed better tonight. We did a good job of trying to hit the open man, he continued. We did a good rebounding, we did a good job sharing the ball, we did a good job playing D.
Added Rose: We came out, jumped on them, kept the lead for the whole game and kept it going tonight.
We looked at film. We knew that the ball was stopping. Tonight, we just made sure that we made the right passes, guys took the right shots and the game is going to tell you what to do.
Chicagos Bench Mob maintained the teams double-digit winning margin in the second period through balanced play and a continuance of the stout defense from the games outset. Thibodeau filtered his regulars back into the contest by the quarters midway point and while they werent clicking on all cylinders offensively, Minnesotas own scoring struggles kept the Windy City crew ahead comfortably.
Our bench play was very good. C.J., Ronnie Brewer, Taj, all had good energy, said Thibodeau. Our bench has done a very good job for us all year. The more we play them, the more rest for our starters. That's always good. We have a lot of confidence in them. Every time we have an injury, the guys who step in are always ready.
We count on everybody.
While Boozer was effective as both a scorer and rebounder down low, the Bulls faced a lack of able bodies in the postThomas and rookie Omer Asik each picked up three first-half fouls, depleting an already Noah-less frontlinebut the Bulls depth accounted for it, as Taj Gibson capably filled in; the second-year USC products diving hustle play led to a particularly disappointing sequence for the home crowd. Following a Kyle Korver jumper at the halftime buzzer, the Bulls took a 57-44 lead into the break.
Defense was the name of the game after the intermission, as the Bulls length inside either dissuaded or denied Timberwolves attempts on the interior and coupled with a steady diet of Boozer on the other end, helped Chicago gradually build a bigger cushion, with Roses passing ability serving as an offensive catalyst. Boozer dominated his Minnesota counterparts with a combination of solid work on the glass, mid-range jumpers, proficient finishing and intelligent passing, exploiting the inexperience of his foes.
The last two days Carlos has practiced really well. I think he's starting to get healthier, said Thibodeau. When he's healthy and he's practicing hard, he's going to play well. He's proven that. We just need to keep building him as we move forward.
Chimed in Rose: Hes playing more aggressive. He changed the game totally with defenders having to double team. You can throw the ball into him in the post. When people double team him, it opens up almost everything on the court.
Luol Deng (13 points, five rebounds, five assists) also got into the scoring act and despite the efforts of third-year forwards Michael Beasley (12 points) and All-Star Kevin Love (16 points, nine rebounds), the Bulls remained in firm control of the contest, creating a gap of over 20 points between the two combatants. Heading into the final frame, the Bulls led, 86-66.
Thibodeau, a basketball purist even in the face of an ever-ballooning lead, called timeout following a Bulls turnover and uncontested fast-break dunk by Timberwolves forward Anthony Randolph (12 points), just 59 seconds into the fourth quarter. His team responded to their coachs displeasure by buckling down defensively, increasing their effort and pushing the tempo, which is logical, given the fresh legs of the Bulls second unit.
Thibs is not going to let you off the hook for anything, said Rose. Hes always going to yell, call timeouts, all that stuff. But were looking at the bigger picture.
Even Thibodeau, who is seemingly never sure of a win until the final horn sounds, tacitly acknowledged the blowout by not playing Rose or Boozer one minute in the fourth quarter and pulling Deng early in the period. Backup point guard C.J. Watson (13 points, three assists) was the catalyst for the reservesdespite high-energy play from Randolph and fellow backup forward Anthony Tolliver (14 points) on Minnesotas endand though Thibodeau again halted the action midway through the period to express his displeasure, his troops did enough to ensure the Timberwolves never even sniffed striking distance the rest of the way.
The ball was hopping from the start, the extra pass made a big difference, our rebounding was terrific and overall, our defense was good until the fourth. We had good balance to our game, said Thibodeau. It started yesterday. I thought our shootaround was intense and serious. Our locker room was serious and the start of the game was serious. I thought we established a defensive mindset and that got us going. It made us aggressive.
Boozer chimed in: We want to be a 48-minute team. We dont want to be a team that plays for two quarters or three quarters. We want to be a team that can compete for four quarters. Tonight was better, but we still have to make improvement in that area as a group.
Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.