Ronny Turiaf and Chase Budinger returned to action about three weeks ago.
But the pair of Timberwolves reserves were back in the biggest way yet Tuesday night at Chicago’s United Center.
In a 95-86 victory over the Bulls, both previously injured players vindicated notions their returns would enhance Minnesota’s depth. Turiaf filled in for a sidelined Nikola Pekovic to notch 14 points — Turiaf’s most since Feb. 8, 2010 — and seven rebounds, and Budinger exhibited the range that caused the Timberwolves to re-sign him this past offseason as unrestricted free agent, connecting on 2 of 2 3-pointers on the way to a season-high 12 points.
Although they suffered completely separate and unrelated ailments, the rehabilitation processes of Turiaf and Budinger coincided during the season’s early going. Budinger missed the campaign’s first 34 games after undergoing a second left-knee meniscus operation in a yearlong span. In the Timberwolves’ second game of the season, 2013 free-agent pickup Turiaf took a hard fall and fractured his right elbow; he’d go on to miss 31 contests.
Turiaf came back Jan. 6 against Philadelphia and had been providing a mostly defensive spark off the bench. Budinger returned two days later and had struggled to establish much of a rhythm while playing under a minutes restriction.
Turiaf got things going early after Pekovic exited with a sore right Achilles tendon halfway through the first quarter. The jovial Martinique native battled and laughed his way to 11 first-half points on 5 of 5 shooting and helped Minnesota (22-22) to a 54-46 halftime lead.
Budinger came alive in the second quarter and made more than one 3 in a game for the first time this year. Playing before 21,637 fans in the building where he suffered his first torn meniscus Nov. 10, 2012, the small forward made 5 of 7 shots that included a dunk with 34.9 seconds left in the third.
That helped the Timberwolves to stave off a third-frame Bulls run and take a 72-65 lead into the third. Chicago (22-22) had climbed back within five earlier in the period and did so again with 1:30 remaining on a D.J. Augustin 3.
But Turiaf tipped a rebound to Rubio moments later, and the point guard promptly found Corey Brewer for an easy transition dunk that put the game out of reach.
Playing its third game in four days, Minnesota finished its second-longest road swing of the season 3-1 and returns to the Target Center on Wednesday against New Orleans with another chance to eclipse the .500 mark; the Timberwolves have failed in their past 10 chances.
They also moved to 10-14 on the road and won away from home without eclipsing 100 points for the first time all season.
Aside from Turiaf, Kevin Love was instrumental in plugging the gap left by Pekovic. Love scored 31 points — his 11th 30-plus-point game this season, tied for fourth-most in the NBA — and nabbed eight boards despite receiving a load of defensive attention with Pekovic out.
Pekovic’s status for Wednesday’s matchup with the Pelicans is uncertain. Adelman said the Achilles had been bothering the big Montenegrin center throughout the road trip, but neither the player nor the team said anything publicly about it until Tuesday.
The absence of Joakim Noah (flu symptoms) and Derrick Rose (torn meniscus) helped negate the absence of Pekovic.
But so did the performances of Turiaf and Budinger.
Together, they helmed a bench that outscored that of Chicago 35-11. Minnesota’s defense also was stout, holding the Bulls to 19 percent shooting over the final 13 minutes, 55 seconds.
It was the Timberwolves’ first win in Chicago since Jan. 3, 2009.