(670 The Score) In Bulls coach Billy Donovan’s postgame media session Wednesday night, it was pointed out to him that despite some of the questions he was receiving and the tone of his responses, his team had actually won the game that was just played.
It was that type of weird night at the United Center.
Chicago survived to earn a 133-126 overtime win against Minnesota. While the Bulls came away victorious, there were a handful of factors that left Donovan wanting more and his players more displeased than enthused afterward – including that the NBA-worst Wolves were playing on the second of a back-to-back and had gone through the turmoil of a coaching change days prior.
“We couldn’t drop this game,” center Wendell Carter Jr. said. “So we went out there, and we played to our identity for the last five minutes. But as a team, we all understand we can’t allow it to get to that point. We have to play to our identity for all 48 minutes.
“We also have to look back at it and understand we can’t allow ourselves to get in that position. It was a 50-50 chance of us losing that game tonight because of the way we played for the first 48.”
Whether there should’ve even been an overtime is in the eye of the beholder. With 9.8 seconds remaining in regulation, the Bulls led the Wolves, 119-116. Out of a timeout, Donovan instructed point guard Coby White to foul, as the Bulls had one to give and it would force the Wolves to reset their play out of bounds. White did foul, but it came too late in the officials’ opinion. A sly veteran, Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio went up with a 3-point shot just after White made contact to get the call ruled a shooting foul. He then sank all three free throws to force overtime.
“I fouled him on the dribble beyond the 3-point line,” White said. “He threw the ball. He didn’t even shoot it, and one ref clearly said, ‘I have him on the pass, I don’t have him on the shot.’ Another ref said, ‘I have him on the shot.’ And then I look up, and they’re shooting three free throws. Coach took the blame for it, but I felt like I fouled him way before the shot.
“I got to give it to Ricky Rubio. He’s a smart player. He’s crafty.”
The Bulls didn’t let the frustrating ending to regulation derail them. Donovan credited their talk in the break before overtime for righting their mindset, then the Bulls opened on a 7-0 run and never trailed in the extra session.
Chicago shot 59.1% from the field -- yet also need 53 minutes to pull out the win in because it committed 21 turnovers, lost the free-throw line battle and allowed 13 offensive rebounds.
“You always try to look at a standard that you want to play to,” Donovan said. “I am by no means disappointed. I think any time you win, you make the corrections the next day, you celebrate the win. These guys have worked really, really hard. But I don't think that we play to the level of the standard that we want to play to. And we've got to build those kind of habits to be able to do that on a consistent level.
“I'm happy with the resiliency we've showed, being in a tough situation with Rubio making three free throws and then the game going into overtime. I'm happy about that. But I still want these guys to strive for more.”
All-Star guard Zach LaVine led the way with 35 points on 14-of-21 shooting as the Bulls won for the fifth time in the past six games. With the victory, Chicago improved to 15-16 and sits in solo sixth place in the East.
That’s smack dab in the middle of the playoff picture, and that’s the Bulls’ goal.
“We always look on making the playoffs,” Carter said. “I feel like that’s something that as a competitor, that’s always something you look at. That’s where the best of the best play. Every year, I’ve always just wanted to make it to the playoffs. That’s always the main goal. I feel like we have great potential to do that. I feel like we have the right personnel to do that. I feel like we have a great support system in our coaching staff. I think we can really do something great.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.