The Bulls know a thing or two about injuries, and on Wednesday night in San Antonio, they faced a Spurs team dealing with injuries to four key rotation players in Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. The result was a predictably ugly game at times, but the Bulls played an excellent second half en route to a 96-86 victory to start their six-game Western Conference road trip.
Jimmy Butler played unquestionably his best game in quite awhile, scoring 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Butler also added three steals and two blocks, and he spent much of the night defending Tony Parker, who played well but didn't have the huge impact he sometimes does. I don't know if Butler's toe magically healed over the last few games or what, but he has certainly looked a lot better out there in the last two games.
Meanwhile, all three members of the Bulls' frontcourt were excellent. Carlos Boozer got off to a strong start and finished the game with 16 points and 12 rebounds. Joakim Noah returned to the lineup from an illness and stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and four blocks. Taj Gibson had 15 points off the bench. The strong play of the bigs allowed the Bulls to double up the Spurs in points in the paint, 52-26.
Even Kirk Hinrich got in on the fun in the fourth quarter after a disastrous first stint in his return from a hamstring injury. Hinrich was woeful in the first half, but he knocked down a few jumpers and floaters in the fourth quarter, helping the Bulls run away with the win. When Hinrich reached double figures in the fourth quarter, he became the seventh Bull to reach double figures in the game.
The Bulls' offense made me want to punch things at various points in the first half, but they still wound up shooting a respectable for them 44.6 percent overall thanks to 50.0 percent shooting in the second half. And even when the Bulls were struggling to hit shots, they made up for it by crashing the offensive glass and forcing turnovers. The Bulls grabbed 14 offensive boards on the night, which led to 19 second-chance points. 19 Spurs turnovers led to 16 Bulls points and helped Chicago own a 14-5 advantage in fastbreak points.
The game started off quick, with both teams executing well offensively in the first few minutes. The remainder of the first half was basically just a string of runs. The Bulls jumped out to a nine-point lead in the first quarter thanks to a 12-3 run. The Spurs then responded with a 19-3 run extending into the second quarter, which pretty much coincided with the insertion of Hinrich into the game.
The Spurs got their first-half lead up to as many eight and looked poised to run away from a Bulls team that couldn't generate a quality look on offense to save their life. But thanks to some hustle plays and some easy transition buckets, the Bulls ended the half with a flourish, scoring the last 12 points and taking a four-point lead into the break.
The third quarter belonged to Butler. Jimmy had 11 points and three steals in the quarter, getting to the line five times in the process. By the time the quarter ended, the Bulls were up seven, and that quickly jumped to 13 early in the fourth quarter when Gregg Popovich turned to a bizarre lineup that was possibly worse than the unit Thibs played at the start of the fourth against the Wolves.
In reality, this was a game the Bulls should have won considering the Spurs' injuries, but you just never know with this team. Things looked shaky at times, but in the end, they simply outmanned the Spurs. It certainly feels weird to say that. The Bulls now have two days off before getting back at it Saturday against the Pelicans in New Orleans.