The Chicago Bulls beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 104-97 on Sunday night, their second consecutive victory, and second in as many games without Joakim Noah.
The star center was sidelined for the second straight night with back issues, but the Bulls showed few, if any, ill-effects. They jumped out to a seven-point lead at the end of the first, extended that lead to 13 by the half, and never letting the lead get within five in the fourth.
The Wolves did close the gap to 90-85 in the game's final quarter, doing so with 6:06 on the clock after a jumper by Dante Cunningham. But Nate Robinson knocked down a three on the other end, and Jimmy Butler followed with a pair of free throws, extending the lead back to double digits.
That was the start of a 13-3 run that iced the game away once and for all.
Nate Robinson led Chicago with 22 points and 10 assists, but it was Carlos Boozer who really pulled the Bulls together—especially in Noah's absence. He had 19 points, 12 rebounds, and generally dominated the paint whenever he was inclined. Bash Bros. Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng combined for 37 points and 16 rebounds, too, providing a nice contribution on the wing.
Derrick Williams had a big game for Minnesota, tallying a game-high 28 points on 11-of-18 shooting. He was flanked by 15 points and eight assists from Ricky Rubio and 15 points, eight rebounds from Nikola Pekovic.
The win moves Chicago to 38-31, just a half game behind Atlanta for the all-important fifth seed out East. Minnesota goes to 24-44 with the loss, descending even farther into the Western Conference's cellar.
Player of the Game: PG Nate Robinson (CHI)
Many thought Chicago would be able to make do without Derrick Rose in the lineup, but most did so for very different reasons. Joakim Noah would emerge into a star, some thought, while others applauded coach Tom Thibodeau's defensive aplomb.
But hardly anybody listed Nate Robinson among those reasons.
As it's turned out, though, Robinson has been a saving grace for this Chicago Bulls team, and Sunday night only further solidified that case. He had 22 points and 10 assists on 9-of-16 shooting, coming off the bench to provide a rare, impressive spark.
He followed a 34-point game against Denver with back-to-back stinkers in the next two games, so Sunday's performance was an encouraging sign. The Bulls will need this Nate Robinson to show up come playoff time.
What's Next for the Bulls?
Chicago hosts the Miami Heat on Wednesday, hoping to potentially stop what would then be a 27-game winning streak.
What's Next for the Timberwolves?
Minnesota heads to Detroit for a quick road game before heading home for a stand against the Lakers, Thunder, Grizzlies and Celtics.