If you haven’t figured out yet that the Bulls are must-not-miss-television on Thursday night TNT games, then you are missing out.
The Chicago Bulls took down the San Antonio Spurs 95-91 at the United Center this evening, which marks the first road loss for the Spurs all season. Despite Jimmy Butler getting held to his first scoreless half of the season, the Bulls managed to get solid enough performances from the rest of their starters to crank out a victory in which the Bulls never trailed.
Midway through the opening quarter, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez had all of the Bulls’ points. While one would figure that would result in disaster versus the Spurs, the team defense was good enough to hold San Antonio to merely eight points through the opening six minutes. Shortly after, Doug McDermott checked into the game for the first time in nearly a month and immediately made his prescence felt by knocking in his first attempt from three. Doug also had a nice transition finish in tandem with Rajon Rondo to give the latter his fourth assist of the period. Thanks to some continued great team defense spearheaded by Gibson, the Bulls found themselves ahead 21-17 at the end of the first quarter despite Butler and Dwyane Wade combining for zero points.
Wade finally registered his first points of the game about three and a half minutes into the second period on a trip to the freethrow line. Fortunately, BaB-favorite Cristiano Felicio played brilliantly in his opening nine minutes off the bench, recording seven points and four rebounds, including this slam off of a marvelous dish by Nikola Mirotic:
Mirotic feeds Felicio for the easy slam on @NBAonTNT! #NBARapidReplay https://t.co/QCIn6XBAw9— NBA (@NBA) December 9, 2016
Conversely, the Spurs just could not seem to get in a consistent rhythm, as they put up only nine points through the first eight minutes of the quarter. Their three point shooting was uncharacteristically horrible, as they shot only 1-11 from beyond the arc for the entire first half. Meanwhile, the Bulls continued to move the ball with great precision on the other end, as fourteen of their eighteen field goals came via assists, half of which Rondo was responsible for. As a result of all of this (and despite Jimmy Butler remaining scoreless), the Bulls concluded the first half with a 45-32 lead over the Spurs. The 32 points for San Antonio were the lowest they have had in any half thus far all season.
Both teams came out of the lockerroom with a bit more of an offensive spark than they had in the first half, scoring thirteen points each in the opening four minutes. Following just over five minutes of action, Butler finally recorded his first points of the game on a banking floater after missing all six of his previous shots. He then hit a corner three and two freethrows on the next two posessions to give the Bulls an eighteen point lead midway through the third period. Despite Butler finally coming alive on offense, the Spurs still managed to go on a 16-7 Patty Mills-fueled run in the final six minutes to cut the lead to nine points. Though Wade and Mirotic were able to stem the bleeding a bit, the bench went sorely missed in this period as no other non-starter scored any points. As a result, the Bulls entered the final quarter up 72-63.
Felicio kicked off the Bulls’ fourth quarter by doing this:
While Kawhi Leonard continued to lock up Butler, the Bulls as a team managed to keep pace with the Spurs offensively going into the final two minutes of the game. Wade made several key plays despite some bad turnovers, Doug McDermott sank three key freethrows, and Jimmy Butler had a big late basket through contact to keep the scoring at 21 apiece through the 4th. The Bulls then managed to kill about a full minute of clock on their penultimate posession thanks to three clutch offensive rebounds with a lone Wade freethrow inbetween, extending the lead to six with roughly thirty seconds to play. Though Danny Green managed to nail a final three in the closing seconds for the Spurs, the Bulls managed to hold on to enough of their lead to emerge victorious with a final score of 95-91.
Rajon Rondo played a very active game, putting up a line of 12/9/10 while shooting 50% from the field and falling a mere assist short of a triple double. Dwyane Wade rallied from an awful first quarter to finish with a line of 20/5/5 that included a 9-13 performance from the charity stripe. For the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard played very well, pouring in 24 points while holding Butler to one of his worst offensive performances of the season. Pau Gasol notched a 13/10 double-double in his return to Chicago—and yes, he went to the opera last night.
While there is certainly room for improvement (19 turnovers for Chicago), the Bulls did a lot of great things to earn this victory. They not only managed to out-rebound and out-assist (!!!) the Spurs, but also only allowed them to earn only five trips to the freethrow line the entire game. While the Spurs certainly had an off night, this should nevertheless be a very encouraging win for a Bulls team that desperately needed one. Chicago will look to build off of this game Saturday night when they take on the Miami Heat at home.