Bulls fall short in furious comeback

Talk about your post-Christmas sales. The Bulls almost came up with the steal of the season in the home of America's biggest mall.

But, in the end, they were left, like many shoppers, with sore feelings and vacant looks as the Timberwolves got a running bank shot from Randy Foye with 1.8 seconds left for a 100-98 victory.

Foye scored 25 points in a bench duel of former Big East scoring guards with Ben Gordon shooting the Bulls back from a seemingly hopeless 25-point third-quarter deficit with a team-high 27 points, 14 in the third quarter.

Then, when the Bulls had a chance to send the game into overtime, Foye got caught in a switch on Andres Nocioni, who seemed to have an open lane.

But something seemed to go bump in the night, at least to Nocioni, and he missed his shot.

"For me, foul," Nocioni said. "I don't know, his foul, my foul. But something happened. But we didn't lose on that play. We lost the game in the first half. You lose on the last ball, but that was not the game."

This was a game that give you the idea, once again, that if the 16-12 Bulls ever get to the NBA Finals, they better hope the Timberwolves are not there. As they did earlier this month, the Timberwolves dominated the Bulls early in the game with their size. They outrebounded the Bulls 49-35, slowed the pace and moved in and out of zone coverages to keep the Bulls outside. They generally made the Bulls look like Kirk Hinrich felt.

"Throwing up, diarrhea, heats, chills," said Hinrich, who came on with 19 points, including a team-high 11 in the fourth quarter. "I got pretty exhausted easily out there."

So did, it seemed, his healthier teammates. They were dominated by Mark Blount in the first quarter and trailed by double digits from midway through the first quarter until 4:40 remained in the game.

A 12-0 run with a small lineup without Ben Wallace and Luol Deng playing Garnett cut a 94-80 lead to 94-92 on Thabo Sefolosha's jumper with 2:50 left. The Bulls' guards—Hinrich, Gordon and Sefolosha—pushed the ball for fast breaks and pulled up ahead of a staggering Timberwolves defense for easy jumpers, Gordon finally tied the game 98-98 on a driving layup with 7.1 seconds remaining.

But Foye took a handoff and used a screen from Garnett, who was wonderful again with 26 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists, to beat Hinrich to the basket for his game-winning bank shot. "We probably shouldn't have won," Hinrich said. "They outplayed us most of the game. We fought hard and came back and I gave up a big basket to Foye at the end. It's disheartening because you fight back and do good things and have a chance to steal a game and you're not able to, it's tough to take."

The frantic Bulls comeback featured a tight Timberwolves team that committed seven fourth-quarter turnovers as all five Bulls crashed the boards and ran.

"We were not playing one brick versus another," Garnett said in one of his many colorful analogies. "It was almost like bricks versus small rocks. They were rebounding as five instead of Ben [Wallace] and Nocioni in there."

Trailing by 16 with 8:57 left, Deng threw himself into a play and was fouled hard as made the basket. The flagrant foul call resulted in a five-point possession that sent the Bulls scrambling back into the game.

"We obviously were slow and lethargic for [almost] three quarters," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "We went small and battled back. But we couldn't get a key stop when we needed it. I told the guys at halftime I don't have any problem admitting a team is better than us if I believe they're better than us. The way they handled us I'd say that, except we really haven't shown up against them until that one stretch."

Which started a little too late.