J.J. Barea, Derrick Rose
The facts: 7, CSN, 1000-AM.
Updated: February 12, 2012 8:20AM
MINNEAPOLIS — It was a question that never really got an answer.
At least not a verbal one.
With just over five minutes left and the Bulls up by nine on a Timberwolves team that forgot it was supposed to be impressed by the visiting squad on Tuesday night, coach Tom Thibodeau leaned into Derrick Rose after a timeout and asked, “You all right?’’
Rose didn’t answer, didn’t even nod his head.
A ridiculous drive and finish at the basket, two assists and a clutch three-pointer later, Thibodeau had his answer. Everything was just fine in the MVP’s world. Minnesota’s? Not so much.
Playing their second of back-to-back-to-back games, the Bulls watched a 24-point, second-quarter lead slowly evaporate as the up-and-coming Timberwolves made a game of it. But in dagger time, elite had more pull than feisty. And no one delivers a dagger like Rose.
The sharpest came with 1:11 left and the shot clock dangerously close to zero.
Rose pulled up from beyond the three-point arc and turned a six-point game into nine. That punch to the stomach not only seemed to let the T-wolves know that reality had just settled in, but it delivered the Bulls to the eventual 111-100 victory at the Target Center.
Rose said after the game that he was battling turf toe on his left foot but would play through it.
“[Rose has] shown how tough he is,’’ Thibodeau said.
The Bulls improved their record to 9-2, including a 6-2 mark on the road. They return home Wednesday night to finish the three-game odyssey against the Wizards, but definitely not without problems.
Spending crunch time on the bench rather than on the floor were Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, again. This time it came with a better explanation: Thibodeau wanted to match up with Minnesota’s smaller, two-point-guard lineup.
So the idea that Boozer and Noah can’t be counted on late in close games had to be tabled for another night.
“[The Timberwolves] are tough to match up with,’’ Thibodeau said. “They put the two point guards on the floor, and their big guys can really shoot. We went small [in the fourth quarter], and that seemed to change things.’’
So did Rose down the stretch, scoring seven of his game-high 31 points in the last 3:55.
In usual Thibodeau fashion, he wanted to focus on the entire team earning the ‘‘W’’ rather than single out the MVP playing like, well, the MVP.
“I like that we got the win,’’ Thibodeau said. “I love the resolve to hang tough and get the win.’’
But he didn’t like seeing a laugher become a nail-biter.
“I didn’t think we played tough with the lead,’’ Thibodeau said. “I didn’t like our defense.’’
Adding to Thibodeau being out of his element is the fact that the compressed schedule means less practice time and canceled shootarounds.
If it were up to Thibodeau, the Bulls would have a hoop hung on the team charter just to get more work in.