By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune reporter
10:26 PM CDT, March 24, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS — Nate Robinson showcased the full effect of his mercurial nature, goading J.J. Barea into a technical foul, stuffing the box score with 22 points and 10 assists and making sure the postgame locker room sounded like detention hall with his nonstop talking.
Jimmy Butler drew an unexpected start — when Marco Belinelli succumbed to a strained abdominal muscle — and tied his career-high with 20 points, added nine rebounds and contributed stellar defense.
Carlos Boozer posted another double-double and Taj Gibson continued his stellar recovery from injury with one of his own.
But if you wanted to hear Tom Thibodeau rave on and on about the Bulls' 104-97 victory over the Timberwolves Sunday night at Target Center, just ask about Luol Deng. In particular, ask about the offensive rebound Deng grabbed with just under six minutes remaining and the Timberwolves having whittled a 16-point deficit to six.
Deng fed Robinson for a 3-pointer after corralling one of the Bulls' 20 offensive boards as part of a 52-32 rebounding advantage. The Bulls never again were seriously threatened.
"That's finding a way to win," Thibodeau said of Deng, who tallied 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists. "We're a little disjointed right now. We have a lot of guys in and out, so it's hard to build a rhythm. But that's a big-time play.
"That, to me, is what gets overlooked with Luol all the time. People look at him not shooting the ball like he's not playing well. That's never the case with Luol because of all the other things he does on the floor."
The Bulls, playing again without Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, Derrick Rose and now Belinelli, grabbed 11 offensive boards in the first quarter alone. Boozer, Gibson and Nazr Mohammed had three each.
"We were in mud to start the game," Thibodeau said. "We had some good looks that we didn't make, but we got second and third shots at it. That gave us life. That was the whole key to the game."
Thibodeau wouldn't speculate how long Belinelli might be sidelined but did say the injury has bothered him "for a while." If he's out, Butler, who played close to 44 minutes, is ready.
"It was the same as every other game," Butler said of his mindset. "Be aggressive, guard, rebound and make open shots whenever (they're) needed."
Butler sank both of his 3-point attempts as the Bulls made 10 from beyond the arc on an uncharacteristic 26 attempts.
Gibson is averaging 12.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in the three games since returning from missing 10 with a sprained MCL in his left knee. He asked to come out late after banging that knee against Ricky Rubio's knee but returned for the final minute.
"I'm a warrior," Gibson said. "I asked back in to make sure we finished this game on the right foot."
Next up is the Heat, who could own a 27-game winning streak if they beat the Magic on Monday. Whatever the Bulls' lineup, they'll be ready.
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