It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Chapu. Not Enough to Save Bulls from Spurs.


Jan 18

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

For just over 45 minutes Saturday in the Bulls eventual 92-87 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Andres Nocioni was the best Argentinian on the floor. And given Manu Ginobili was sharing it, that would make Nocioni the best Argentinian in the world.

For it was with just over three minutes left, Nocioni, playing inspired superhero like basketball, had squeezed in a second straight pass for a basket, this time to Drew Gooden for a three-point play and an 82-81 Bulls lead as Nocioni quickly spotted Tony Parker caught on Gooden in the post on a switch.

Coming back from 13 down early and with Nocioni almost perfect everywhere with 17 points and 15 rebounds and by far the largest plus/minus margin of any of his teammates, it looked like a third consecutive quality win against a team with All Star talent.

Until Nocioni suddenly turned into Chapu, the nickname his friends use for him from the popular Mexican super hero show, El Chapulin Colorado. That’s the super hero parody show in which the hero’s emblem is an insect, and he usually enters to a declaration of, “More agile than a turtle, stronger than a mouse, nobler than lettuce… It’s the Red Grasshopper!”

So it was with the Bulls taking that lead over the Spurs that after Tony Parker gave the Spurs an 83-82 lead on a terrific spin move with 1:40 left, Nocioni tried to make too much of a play, drove and got caught in the air and his pass to basically no one was picked off by Bruce Bowen.

Ginobili then hit a villanous three when Luol Deng got caught going under a screen and Tim Duncan pooched his butt out a bit to keep Deng from getting there. Derrick Rose missed on a drive and then Nocioni fouled Ginobili while he was dribbling near midcourt. And when it looked like the Spurs finally had it sealed seconds later at 90-84 with 33 seconds after two more Ginobili free throws, Nocioni looked to be a hero again as he suckered Tony Parker into fouling him on a three. Nocioni made the free throws to bring the Bulls within 90-87 with 31 seconds left.

One stop and a shot, right?

So Ginobili pump faked–and as El Chapulin once said about crashing into a wall, “I did it intentionally to calculate the resistance of the wall,”–Nocioni somehow bit, fouling Ginobili, who wrapped up the game with free throws.

Oh, Chapu. What a time to turn back into that grasshopper.

“It happened, that’s it,” said Nocioni.

This is hardly to blame Nocioni for the loss since Nocioni was the Bulls best player on the floor Saturday.

But it was a disappointing conclusion to a tough and improving defensive effort.

“It’s tough to lose like this,” said Nocioni. “I thought we played good enough to win. But that’s the way we have to play every night. The last four games we played together and with much more effort. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

It was hardly a perfect game, though much better than back in November when the Bulls were drubbed in San Antonio with Tony Parker out and Ginobili just returning from injury. This time against a Spurs team back in the lead in the Southwest Division, the Bulls defended more aggressively, at least in spurts, and seemed like they would outwork the Spurs to their first three game winning streak of the season.

“I thought we got some good performances,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “Our ball movement was not as crisp as it has been. They made plays down the stretch. They went to Tim Duncan in the post and he delivered. I thought our double teams and rotations were a little bit better. We just didn’t make enough plays offensively. We got it close and had our chances, but they executed down the stretch and we didn’t. You have to give them credit.”

I also give some credit to Del Negro, who made some nice offense/defense substitutions late in the game, getting Joakim Noah in on a dead ball after Gooden gave the Bulls that 82-81 lead, and Noah blocked Duncan and then forced him into a hurried shot and miss as the shot clock expired.

It was probably the opportunity of the game for the Bulls, a chance for a three or four-point lead with just over two minutes left. But Nocioni couldn’t shake Matt Bonner and missed on a drive. The ball went off the Spurs. The Bulls isolated for Derrick Rose, who drove and again appeared to be bumped by Duncan, and, as it was in a game when Rose attempted 21 shots and never went to the free throw line, there was no call and Duncan got the rebound.

“They (teammates) tell me just to fight through it,” said Rose, who had 12 points and eight assists. “Arguing? I’m a rookie. They just tell me to keep my mouth shut.”

The Spurs went back in the left post to Duncan, who had 18 points and 14 rebounds. The Bulls did a reasonably effective job most of the game coming at Duncan with the defender of usually Bonner or Michael Finley once Duncan put the ball on the floor. Nocioni came hard. Duncan gave up the ball and it got back to Parker, who with three seconds left on the shot clock set up Rose, who made the mistake of playing too tight. Rose bodied up and Parker spun around him for a layup as the shot clock expired for an 83-82 Spurs lead.

The Spurs then trapped Ben Gordon as he tried to drive, which they were effective at after a big Gordon first quarter, and Nocioni drove and made that turnover pass to Bowen just before that killer Ginobili three

“Tonight was a good, competitive game,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “I’m sure the fans had a good time. Down the stretch, we made some shots tonight.”

Maybe San Antonio fans, anyway, as the Bulls dropped to 18-23.

Rose drove again on the next play and made contact with a back peddling Parker, who could not stay with Rose all game. But there was no call and Rose showed a bit of emotion with an angry shoulder shrug and almost a word to a referee. That would qualify as rage from what we’ve seen from Rose this season.
More frustration, probably, as the Bulls played good enough to win, though they weren’t good enough to win. That’s the next step.

The Spurs got 21 from Ginobili and 20 from Parker while the Bulls were led by Gordon, who had 20, but I thought it should have been more.

Though Del Negro seems to have made strides in managing the game and invoking better plans against the opponents, I still have questions when he takes out a hot guy.

As we know from watching Gordon all his pro career, when he gets going there’s no stopping him but himself.

I’ve always felt with a shooter, you let him shoot himself out, and you go to what’s working until the defense adjusts and takes it away from you.

Gordon came out firing after two relatively quiet games lost in the furor of the return of Kirk Hinrich and Deng.

Gordon hit four jumpers around Noah grabbing his own miss and scoring four minutes into the game. Gordon alone was holding off the Spurs, who led 28-17 after one quarter. The Bulls were getting outhustled early, especially by Bonner, who hit a three and got his own miss for a basket on consecutive possessions in what would lead to a short night for Tyrus Thomas, who had seven points and no rebounds in 18 minutes and kept getting caught searching for his man.

But after Gordon hit that fourth straight jumper with barely any netting moving, he didn’t touch the ball in the next seven possessions, three of which had Noah or Thomas shooting. C’mon guys. See who’s hot.

Gordon then was taken out for Hinrich.

But the Bulls recovered in the second quarter behind Nocioni and Hinrich, and Gordon did get to take the ball up court once and shot as he approached the three-point line. And made it. Then he didn’t get a shot again in the next 10 possessions. Though by then the Spurs had begun to trap him, making it difficult for him to move the ball. They also put lately little used Bruce Bowen on Gordon, and it resulted to open the fourth quarter in a rare display of emotion from Gordon, who angrily pushed Bowen’s arms away as Bowen, with even less quickness than when he was good and had little, constantly paws at his opponents in basically face guarding.

Though the Bulls also had their share of bothersome defensive moments.

Gooden did a heck of a job fronting Duncan in the post, and then Noah came in and also worked his way in front, and the Spurs scored just two field goals in the last six minutes of the first half as the game was tied 43 at halftime. Fronting the post was staple of Scott Skiles’ defensive system with the Bulls. It takes a lot of work and wears you out, especially on someone like Duncan. So Del Negro did rotate Gooden and Noah.

The Spurs plan was for Duncan to play off the Bulls centers and basically play in a zone in the paint, which also wasn’t called as it was difficult to see at times whom Duncan was guarding. The Bulls did take advantage several times as Gooden, with 11 points in 23 minutes, stepped out and hit consecutives jumpers midway through the third with Duncan laying back before Rose blew by Parker for a layup.

Yes, that’s how it feels, Tony, as he does it to all the other guards.

Of course, Parker didn’t get a free throw either with 20 shots, and it may be one disadvantage of being so quick and being able to get to the basket so easily.

The referees apparently don’t always think there’s contact, figuring if there were little guys like that wouldn’t have been able to get all the way to the rim.

Too strong for their own good?

You’d like to think not.

Hinrich did a nice job harassing Ginobili in the third quarter, though Hinrich couldn’t make up on the other end and shot just two of nine and the Spurs went into the fourth leading 65-59.

The Spurs’ Achilles heel still is their lack of overall athleticism, and it showed as the 76ers killed them with fast breaks in a blowout 76ers win Friday night. The Bulls held an 11-6 edge in fast break points entering the fourth, though they would get no more in falling into the Spurs half court game. Getting beaten 16-6 in second chance points also limited the Bulls’ fast break chances and a 10-4 deficit on offensive rebounds going into the fourth (it was 10-9 overall Spurs).

“They scored 87 tonight,” noted Popovich. “We need to keep teams in the 80s. If they go over 100, we’re just an average team. Tonight we changed some things on defense and it worked well for us. Yes, TP’s (Parker three on Nocioni) foul was a tough mental error. It was a good call and we shouldn’t put ourselves in a position for it to happen. Bruce did a fine job on Gordon. We weren’t sticking with him well until we put him out there on him.”

Gordon did seem to get a bit peeved at Bowen after that early fourth quarter Bowen swatting moment, and Gordon scored on three straight possessions right afterward. Then Duncan began to make some quicker moves before the double could react, and Duncan also went away from the double several times when he realized where the Bulls were coming from. But it was Nocioni driving the Bulls back in with a pick and pop jumper from Gordon to get within 77-75 and then a follow of a Rose miss to finally tie the game again at 77 with 4:18 left.

Gooden’s tip in after another clever Nocioni pass led to the Spurs defense overreacting tied the game at 97, and then it was Gooden’s three-point play on the Nocioni pass that gave the Bulls their final lead at 82-81. Eventually, it effectively ended with that last, shocking Nocioni foul on Ginobili’s fake with maybe a second left on the shot clock and Ginobili 25 feet out.

“You have to laugh a bit about that,” said Popovich. “They played together for so long and [have] seen those moves, it’s hard to believe it happened. I’m sure it hurts now but sometime in the future they’ll laugh about it.”

Perhaps way, way, way in the future.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: