CHICAGO – Still winless at home and undefeated on the road, the Timberwolves left United Center on Saturday 102-93 overtime winners over the Chicago Bulls, mainly because of two things they had delivered too infrequently in recent seasons: attention to defense and rebounding.
“This year, different team,” Wolves forward and reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins said after scoring 31 points. “This team is a lot better than last year.”
This season’s Wolves pitched a shutout in the overtime, forcing the Bulls to shoot 0-for-9 while they outscored Chicago 9-0 during those five minutes.
They did so with Wiggins saying a real hello to the 2015-16 season for the first time. His night included 22 points and four three-pointers — quadruple his three-point output in the first four games — by halftime alone. It was a performance Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell promised was coming sooner or later.
“Every game I’ve been taking shots I worked on all summer,” Wiggins said. “They just decided to fall tonight.”
The Wolves also got double-doubles from rookies Karl-Anthony Towns (17 points, 13 rebounds) and Nemanja Bjelica (17 points, 11 rebounds) while asking 35-year-old forward Tayshaun Prince to play nearly 39 minutes, in part because Kevin Martin wasn’t available.
When it was all over, the Wolves saw their road record improve to 3-0, their best beginning away from Target Center since opening 4-0 in 2001-02. Their road victories have come over the Los Angeles Lakers, Denver and Chicago, while they have lost at home to Portland and Miami.
“This is a tough team,” Mitchell said, referring to the Bulls. “This team is going to be in the playoffs. They’re going to be a team talked about to win the East. I’m just proud of our guys to come in this building after two tough losses at home, bounce back and win a game on the road against a very good team.”
The Bulls are 4-3 under new coach Fred Hoiberg after beating Oklahoma City at home by six points Thursday, only to shoot 35.5 percent from the field against the Wolves two nights later.
“I don’t understand how we play with as much energy as we did the other night,” Hoiberg said, “and then show up the next night just expecting to win the game. It’s tough to fathom how that can happen.”
Prince played his 38 minutes, 34 seconds dutifully and even delivered the overtime dagger with a running left-handed layup that pushed the Wolves’ lead to 100-93 in the game’s final 30 seconds.
Prince played 10-plus seasons for a Detroit Pistons team famed because of its tenacious defense, but even he couldn’t recall ever pitching an overtime shutout before.
“Believe it or not, I don’t think we ever did that, as good as we were in Detroit,” he said. “I don’t recall that happening. Somebody always scored at least two. Our defense was good tonight, and we got them out of rhythm. I wasn’t really thinking about it, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.”
Mitchell said the last scouting footage he and his coaching staff showed players before Saturday’s game was a clip of a big Bulls team that features Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson “tapping, tapping and tapping” balls off backboards.
“The last thing we said was, ‘We’ve got to rebound,’ ” Mitchell said.
Then his team went out and outrebounded the Bulls 58-50, including 9-6 in overtime. That kind of rebounding and defense allowed Mitchell’s team to overcome poor free-throw shooting. The Wolves missed 10 of 27 free throws. The game probably wouldn’t have gone to overtime had the Wolves done better than their 5-for-11 shooting from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
“It was good to close it out,” said Wiggins, who went 4-for-5 from three-point range but 5-for-10 from the free-throw line. “The game wouldn’t have been that close if we had made our free throws. I know I probably missed six of ’em.”