Facing a Minnesota team that sported the worst record in the league, the Bulls had maybe one of their worst losses of the season. Plenty of reasons why starting with the usual suspects.
Billy Donovan is well-versed in coachspeak.
The Bulls coach can drive in that lane if need be, using phrases like “be the best version of ourselves’’ or “still think there’s room for us to grow.’’
But what his players and front office have truly liked about Donovan is he knows when it’s time to be real in what he’s saying.
“Obviously you’re always going to look at results, and I totally understand that,’’ Donovan said. “That’s why they keep score.’’
As far as Sunday was concerned, it would have been better for the Bulls if they didn’t.
In what could have been a low point in a season in which some low points were already thought to be hit, the Bulls (22-30) fell to the worst team in the league, losing at Minnesota 121-117.
Someone, anyone explain.
“I would say the biggest thing is communication right now,’’ guard Troy Brown Jr. said of the loss. “I definitely think we’re capable of it [improving].
“It’s one of those [losses] where we can’t hold anyone but ourselves accountable. You can’t blame anyone else.’’
Especially when the Bulls were down as many as 13 in the first half, and seemed poised for a bounce back in the second half.
The comeback did not come quickly, but it came.
After outscoring the home team 32-25 in the third quarter, it was still a slow grind for the Bulls to get back into the game.
Daniel Theis actually brought the Bulls to within a point with 7:40 left in the contest, splitting a pair of free throws, but that lead quickly went back to six thanks to five-straight points from Karl-Anthony Towns.
The back and forth continued, until Nikola Vucevic brought the Bulls to within three with a tip-in at the 3:47 mark.
But it was the usual suspects for the Bulls. Breakdowns on defense, too many costly turnovers, and just an inability to stay away from following the opposition.
“Habits get exposed,’’ Donovan said. “To me you’ll always shrink back to the level of your habits, and I think that’s the biggest thing for me right now. We don’t have the habits we need to have, but it’s not necessarily a lot of these guys’ fault. I don’t blame them at all. When you’ve got a new team, I think even terminology for Daniel, for ‘Vuch’ [Vucevic] and even for Troy when they’re out there … You know pick-and-roll coverage is being called and I’m expecting them in basically a week-to-10-day period to know everything that we’re doing and that’s probably unrealistic.’’
Still, there was a chance late, after Coby White cut his team’s deficit back to three with 57 seconds left, but Towns again had an answer, hitting a huge three-pointer.
Zach LaVine tried to play hero, hitting a layup with 38.7 seconds left and then another layup with 11.3 seconds left, also drawing the foul. The All-Star missed the and-one, however, keeping the deficit at two.
Towns did what LaVine couldn’t, making both free throws with 9.3 seconds left, and after a LaVine three-point attempt with 4.9 seconds left, the embarrassment of the season was in the books.
A loss in which the Bulls went 8-for-13 from the free throw line, and the Timberwolves (14-40) were 25-for-25.
“I just think the fouling really, really hurt us,’’ Donovan said. “We’ve got a lot of work [defensively] ahead of us, I’ll tell you that. There’s times we made progress and strides, but the challenge for us is when there’s multiple [ball]-handlers.
“We have a hard time physically a lot of times controlling the ball. Both the guards and the bigs, we just do. There’s no way around it.’’