Bulls slam Timberwolves with Tyrus Thomas back


Oct 17

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Hey, folks, it’s T-Time.

Given it’s Chicago, we know it has nothing to do with golf with balmy 40 degree October weather. No, Friday in the United Center it was the return of Tyrus Thomas, who’s given himself the name “T-time” for his social networking. Which has mostly stopped with NBA restrictions and some overuse and confusion this summer.

But in Friday’s 94-90 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, the only confusion was from the Timberwolves trying to get Thomas off his pogo stick. Thomas returned after missing four games with a hip injury and deserved a bunch of hip-hip-hoorays for the kind of performance Bulls management and fans have long fantasized about for Thomas. Heck, if he plays like that–with 22 points and 13 rebounds in 25 minutes–the Bulls have a power forward.

Thomas came off the bench with just under five minutes left in the first quarter of a brutally ugly and poorly played game and immediately followed a Jannero Pargo miss for a slam dunk, jammed a nice interior pass from Brad Miller and then drove for a layup and was fouled after getting a Luol Deng pass near midcourt and taking the ball all the way to the basket.

Thomas teed up the Timberwolves and drove them to distraction.

That sequence enabled the Bulls to take a quick 20-13 first quarter lead on a miserable shooting Minnesota team and basically led all the way until the Timberwolves tied the score late and the Bulls hung on for the narrow win.

I didn’t think it was a particularly good effort by the Bulls, mainly on defense as the Timberwolves, who may be the worst perimeter shooting team in the league, ran out at will on the Bulls and dominated in fast break points 24-11 as the defense was horribly late in transition. The Bulls threw in another 19 turnovers, though the starting backcourt of Derrick Rose and John Salmons didn’t play. Rose remained out with his sore ankle and Salmons was out for the birth of his child.

So that can be excused some, though we’ll have to see if Rose has improved defensively. And it will be a bit unfair to ask much of him early with Rose rarely playing in the preseason.

Still, it was a most encouraging night given the play of the mercurial Thomas.

After each game, Comcast TV does a courtside interview with the top player of the game. Thomas was the obvious choice and was asked five questions. His answer to four was that he “came in and played hard.” No, Thomas isn’t going to light up the quote sheet.

But no one is really going to much care if he can light up the scoreboard and the arena like he did Friday. Obviously, he had an advantage after resting for most of the last two weeks.

But with Thomas’ ability to convert lobs and get to the basket, his increased height since the staff reports he now is actually 6-10, and his remarkable leaping ability, with sustained effort there’s no reason Thomas can’t be a double/double player.

And if he can do that, there won’t be so much urgency to get out in free agency and look for a front court player like Chris Bosh or Amar’e Stoudemire.

Yes, that’s a big if of a kreplach floating out there in the Bulls stew.

There were elements of the inattentive Tyrus, like when Kevin Love got inside on him, missed and got his own rebound and scored. Thomas then ran down court straight at Love with the ball. Thomas got the block instead of the charge, which it should have been.

Love, by the way, later suffered a broken hand and could be out six to eight weeks. If this Timberwolves team wins 20 games, it will be overachieving. So, no, it wasn’t the greatest test. But the Bulls weren’t close to fielding their best lineups as well.

But, mostly, Thomas was doing some great things.

After that block call, he got a nice offensive rebound over Love by stretching his arms out without making body contact, like you’d see Tim Duncan do, and then on the next Minnesota possession, Thomas slid over to provide nice help on Al Jefferson, who had an advantage in the post until Thomas got there.

Thomas added a nice baseline 18 footer, though didn’t fall into the trap of shooting jumpers once one went in, and the Bulls finished he first half with a 44-37 lead as Joakim Noah tipped in a miss and James Johnson, who floated around out of control a bit too much on defense early on, recovered to make a nice block on a Wayne Ellington fast break layup attempt.

“He was very active and running the court,” coach Vinny Del Negro said of Thomas.  “When he gets on the glass for us, he is a big factor.  When he’s rebounding and using his great athleticism, that really helps us. He’s had plenty of rest.  He should be fresh and ready to go.  He gave us a nice burst.  He was aggressive defensively.  He made some nice plays off the rim.  He rebounded the ball and got us out on the break.  I thought he made really good decisions with the basketball.  When he plays with that type of aggressiveness and energy, he is definitely someone you have to pay attention to.”

It also had to be another tough night for Del Negro in the second game in a week against Minnesota, whose coach is Kurt Rambis. The Bulls again started Kirk Hinrich at point guard with Rose out. Del Negro generally is prone to calling Hinrich “Kurt.” It was unclear if he was calling Rambis “Kirk.” Though no official complaints were lodged with the league.

The Bulls, meanwhile, got another impressive workmanlike effort from rookie Taj Gibson, who doesn’t play like one. Gibson had 14 points, six rebounds and two blocks. He’s moved easily into taking the mid range jumper without hesitation and seems to enjoy the inside scrum.

“Taj, defensively, for a rookie does a nice job,” said Del Negro.  “We need Tyrus to play at a high level.  Competition (at power forward) is good.  We had more depth, we had more length which is always a benefit.  We are always going to have more things thrown at us.  We are stronger and deeper.”

As the third quarter wound down, Thomas followed a Noah miss with a slam. But the Bulls got caught admiring it as Jefferson ran out alone for his own slam dunk. Jefferson still didn’t look anywhere near his pre-injury form, though he has 10 points and 16 rebounds. Corey Brewer led a 34 percent shooting Timberwolves with 20 points.

The Bulls seemed in control throughout, but never could pull away because of their defensive deficiencies as they constantly allowed Minnesota to get to the basket.

The Bulls took an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter after a pair of Johnson jumpers as Johnson finished with 10 points and looked his best out on the run with the ball when he got a fast break pass to Gibson and when he blew by Brewer for a dunk. But Minnesota got a pair of blow by drives from Ramon Sessions and a pair of threes to actually tie the game in the last minute with chances to win as Pargo, playing with reserves other than Noah the last few minutes, hit a jumper to 31 seconds left to give then Bulls enough to hang on.

Though the Bulls have been playing without at least two starters for just about every game, they improved to 5-1 for the preseason.

“I got a lot of minutes tonight and running, jumping and cutting….this was the best I felt,” said Luol Deng, who had six points in 32 minutes but eight rebounds and some unselfish passing. “I think (the record) is good.  It’s good for us because winning is always key.  I think we are the type of team that has a lot of guys who can play different positions.  In some ways these injuries have allowed us to see a lot of guys in some spots where they may not usually play.  We need everyone back, but we’re doing a real good job playing unselfish basketball. That’s really key for us and I think that’s the type of team we’ll ultimately be.”

And a better one than predictions if this is closer to the Thomas the Bulls get to see regularly once the season begins.

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