With Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson, one would have thought the Bulls may have had a little easier time against the Spurs "B" team. But this IS the Spurs and Gregg Popovich we're talking about here, and it's not like we hadn't seen short-handed Bulls teams out-hustle and out-execute other good squads before. So perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise that the Spurs outplayed the Bulls throughout, fending off a second half charge and winning rather handily, 103-89.
It really was remarkable to watch a Spurs team without their three stars and a key role player execute so flawlessly against a team as disciplined as the Bulls. Every time the Bulls looked like they were about to make a run, the Spurs seemingly came back with a huge three or easy bucket. The normally stingy Bulls gave up 52.0 percent shooting, and even more surprisingly, gave up 8-of-16 from three.
The Spurs were able to exploit the Bulls, especially Nate Robinson and Carlos Boozer, big time in pick-and-roll. Whether it was Gary Neal knocking down mid-range jumpers or some sort of penetration resulting in an open jumper, the Bulls simply had no answer for the Spurs' efficient offense. Kawhi Leonard was a beast, using and abusing Luol Deng for much of the night with an array of jumpers and athletic forays to the basket. Leonard scored a game-high 26 points, and held the Bulls' All-Star to 4-of-13 shooting on the other end.
The Bulls' offense was sloppy for most of the night, with things looking really ugly in the early going. They racked up 11 turnovers in the first half and 19 for the game, with the Spurs scoring a whopping 29 points off those turnovers. Pretty much the whole team was guilty, with every starter but Richard Hamilton coughing the ball up three times. Hamilton had two turnovers, although he did actually shoot 8-of-11 from the field and played in the fourth. Yippee?
The only reason the Bulls were able to stay in the game was because of their advantage on the backboards. The Bulls won the rebounding battle 49-26, out-rebounded the Spurs 17-2 on the offensive glass and won the second-chance points battle 20-2. Deng and Joakim Noah were especially effective here, combining for 12 of those 17 offensive boards. Unfortunately, that was about the only aspect of the game where those two were effective.
Robinson gave the mostly sleepy United Center crowd a jolt in the third quarter with a big run, scoring 11 of his 20 points in the quarter and getting the Bulls back into the game. It looked like the Bulls would ride the wave and overtake the Spurs early in the fourth, but they were never able to get over the hump. The Spurs took the hit and bounced back, taking advantage of a few defensive breakdowns and running away with the game late.
I said before the game I wouldn't take too much from this outcome because of the circumstances. I still won't take that much from it, but it certainly was disappointing to see the Bulls perform so poorly on their home floor against a team full of role players. Sure it's Pop and all of those role guys can execute his system to a T, but still.
And I guess I should mention that Noah played 38 minutes with that bad foot. He did look a bit better tonight, but there's simply no reason for him to be playing that many minutes with plantar fasciitis. And it's almost fitting that this happened against Pop's Spurs. While Pop is perfectly fine with resting his hurting stars, Tom Thibodeau is content throwing Noah out there for nearly 40 minutes on a bad wheel. Thibs was naturally upset with reporters for asking about Noah's minutes after the game, and of course said Jo was "fine." This will never stop.