MINNEAPOLIS — Chicago center Joakim Noah delivered his fourth triple-double of the season and the seventh of his career in the Bulls’ 102-87 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night, but it is all the things you cannot quantify that makes him so important to a team that won its sixth consecutive game.
The Bulls kept pace with the Toronto Raptors in pursuit of the Eastern Conference’s third playoff spot.
Noah’s 15-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist night allowed the Bulls to shake off a three-day break and handle a Wolves team that thumped San Antonio at home on Tuesday night and won at Miami in double overtime on Friday.
His 10th assist, which came fewer than four minutes into the fourth quarter, set a Bulls franchise record for most assists in a season by a center. His 398 assists are one more than the 397 that Tom Boerwinkle had during the 1970-71 season.
Triple-doubles are only one way to define Noah’s importance.
“It’s hard to measure all he does for your team,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When you see him make three, four, five efforts on the same play, is there a stat for that? No. When he swings the ball quickly to somebody where he doesn’t get the assist, there’s not a stat for that. But all those things lead to winning. When you talk about leadership, what is leadership?
“It’s more than what you say. When you make great effort, great hustle plays, those things unite and inspire your team. That’s what makes him who he is and that’s why he’s good.”
All four of Noah’s triple-doubles this season have come since the beginning of February. He is tied with Indiana’s Lance Stephenson for the most in the NBA this season.
It only took 43 years for the assist record by a Bulls center to fall.
“It feels great, all of those things are humbling, but it just makes me hungrier to play even better,” Noah said. “I feel like I can still get better. I feel real comfortable making plays for my teammates, by being aggressive when I have to be. I’m just taking it day by day and trying to get better in every aspect of my game. All this stuff has just given me more confidence and I just wanted a lot more.”
After the game, teammate Taj Gibson picked up a discarded stat sheet off the Bulls’ locker room and his mouth opened after he surveyed it.
“He had a triple double?” Gibson asked. “I had no idea.”
Bulls starting point guard Kirk Hinrich scored nine of his 16 points in a transformational third quarter when Chicago outscored the Timberwolves 27-17 and turned a five-point halftime deficit into a 70-62 lead with 2:53 left in that third quarter.
They pushed that lead to as many as 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Chicago reserve point guard DJ Augustin — a free-agent signee back in December after Toronto waived him — scored 20 points off the bench on 8-for-14 shooting from the field that included four 3-pointers.
“He was a good find,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said of Augustin. “One thing he has really done for them is he has shot the heck out of the ball.”
The Timberwolves had won three of their last four games before Wednesday, which was a rare back-to-back home game because Tuesday’s game against the Spurs was rescheduled from a Dec. 4 postponement in Mexico City.
Timberwolves star Kevin Love led his team with 17 points and 10 rebounds and played part of the game with a hyperextended elbow.
The Timberwolves also were missing five players, including starters Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin, who were injured.
“It could be,” Adelman said, referring to injuries and fatigue. “I thought we got tired. They were here for three days waiting to play us. They had fresh legs and they are a good team. Plus, they have been playing well, too. … I thought we did a pretty good job in the first half. We ran out of gas in the second half.”
NOTES: Timberwolves reserve G JJ Barea missed Wednesday’s game because of neck and back spasms, an absence that left his team will only starter Ricky Rubio and combo G Alexey Shved left as options at that position. The Timberwolves again played without injured C Nikola Pekovic (foot), G Kevin Martin (foot), F Chase Budinger (sprained ankle) and F Shabazz Muhammad (sprained knee). … Newly signed Bulls G Ronnie Brewer was in uniform on Wednesday but was not expected to play. The Bulls signed Brewer on Monday after they waived rookie forward Erik Murphy last week to open a roster spot. “We’ll see how it unfolds, but the rotation is pretty much set right now,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. … Timberwolves star Kevin Love called his performance in Tuesday’s home blowout victory over San Antonio “terrible” for his 5-for-15 shooting night. It was an evaluation that left Thibodeau puzzled. “I saw his interview after the game where he said he didn’t play well and I’m watching it and you beat San Antonio by 20 points,” Thibodeau said. “You have 19 (points), 12 (rebounds) and four (assists), looks pretty good to me. I think that’s what makes him special.”
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