MINNEAPOLIS — Tom Thibodeau insisted this was just another game, that there were no hard feelings lingering or extra incentive added when facing the Chicago Bulls after such an acrimonious split in 2015.
The players on his new team and the players on his old team seem to think otherwise.
Andrew Wiggins scored 27 points and Karl-Anthony Towns added 22 to help the Minnesota Timberwolves beat the severely short-handed Bulls 117-89 on Sunday.
Ricky Rubio had 17 points, 11 assists and six rebounds and Minnesota shot 54 percent to help Thibodeau sweep the season series against his former team.
“It’s always hard when you’ve been through things with people,” Thibodeau said. “I really root for that team, those guys, particularly the ones I’ve coached before. I want them to do well except when we play against them. It’s a great basketball city. It’s a great organization. I had five great years there.”
Doug McDermott scored 16 points and made four 3-pointers for the Bulls, who were missing Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic and Paul Zipser with injuries. The Bulls turned the ball over 18 times, were outrebounded 46-35 and were outscored 56-38 in the paint.
Thibodeau’s contentious firing was well-documented, but much of the drama was addressed during Minnesota’s visit to Chicago in December. The Timberwolves overcame a 21-point deficit to win that game, which started a 13-10 stretch that helped them climb back into the playoff picture in the muddled Western Conference.
“He has a good way of hiding stuff and that kind of emotion,” Wiggins said when asked if Thibodeau got an extra charge out of beating the Bulls. “But I would if I was him.”
And while the Wolves have taken another step back recently, that December meeting was a prime example of the dysfunction plaguing the Bulls since Thibodeau was fired. Injuries, a lack of shooting and team chemistry issues have weighed on them all season long as they try to stay afloat in the East.
Badly outmanned on Sunday, the Bulls were put away quickly. The Wolves led by 19 in the first quarter and 26 in the first half.
The Bulls made their first five 3-pointers of the third quarter to cut the deficit to 13, but Thibodeau kept his starters in deep into the fourth quarter to push the lead back to 30.
“I know him too well. When most people think it’s not a big deal, it’s a big deal to him,” Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “You see him coaching the whole game. He even left some of the guys in late. I can see his hand shaking from over there on our end. I know he really wanted to win that game.”
Bulls: Chicago hit 10-of-25 3-pointers, the first time in 16 games they have hit at least 10. . . . Bobby Portis scored 16 points off the bench. . . . Michael Carter-Williams (12) and Robin Lopez (10) were the only other Bulls starters in double figures. . . . Coach Fred Hoiberg played for the Timberwolves and still owns a home in the Brainerd Lakes area.
Timberwolves: Nemanja Bjelica broke out of a shooting slump with three 3s and scored 16 points off the bench. . . . Gorgui Dieng added 10 points and 13 rebounds. . . . It was the first sellout of the season for the Wolves, thanks to a healthy youth crowd for the matinee and a strong contingent of Bulls fans.
Butler aggravated a bruised right heel on Friday night against Phoenix. The injury had kept him out of three games prior to the loss to the Suns, and Hoiberg said it was too early to tell whether Butler’s start in the All-Star game in New Orleans next Sunday is in jeopardy.
Wade missed the game with a swollen right wrist, and X-rays showed no fractures. Mirotic had back spasms and Zipser had a sore left ankle and a stomach illness. That left the Bulls with 10 healthy players. Hoiberg started Jerian Grant, Carter-Williams, McDermott, Lopez and Gibson.
Bulls: Chicago finally gets back home on Tuesday to face Toronto after a road trip that began on Feb. 1.
Timberwolves: Minnesota wraps up a six-game homestand with a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, though former Wolves All-Star Kevin Love will miss the game with a knee injury.