Bulls outplay Spurs in impressive opening win


Oct 30

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 Bulls Thursday in their home opener looked good in a 92-85 win over the powerful San Antonio Spurs. No, really. They really looked good. Seriously. Like a team that really could compete with the top teams. Did I mention that they really looked good?

“We play well together,” said Luol Deng, who led a well rounded, unselfish effort with 17 points and nine rebounds. “We share the ball real well. I think we’re going to see this a lot, where a lot of guys are (scoring) in double figures. We know it’s a big game, but we’ve got to keep building. But I feel we’re mature this year where we can stay consistent.”

Yes, it’s one of 82, and everyone had that excuse ready just in case they lost.

But the Bulls vastly outplayed the highly regarded Spurs, outrebounding them 52-44 and 15-8 on the offensive boards, holding the trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Richard Jefferson to a combined four points in the second half and dominating the Spurs in second chance points 22-13.

“They had more guys come to compete than we did,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “We had one guy (Tim Duncan with 28 points and 16 rebounds) come to compete, and that’s not good enough. Their team competed. They deserve a lot of credit. They kicked our (butts). They were more aggressive, loose balls, boards, the whole deal.”

It was something to see.

Sure, it was opening night and the Spurs had played their home opener Wednesday. But if you didn’t know the uniforms and players’ names, you’d have said the Bulls were the unified, composed team and the Spurs were the guys firing up bad shots and with few answers.

“The Spurs are a good team,” said Derrick Rose, who had 13 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. “They are one of the teams that are going to be in the finals in the west. For us to beat them means a lot.”

Oh, the ankle.

There didn’t seem to be any problems for Rose in 33 minutes after weeks of drama about his mysterious ankle injury that kept him out virtually all preseason. There was one ankle breaking moment, but that was on Parker when Rose flew downcourt midway through the fourth quarter with the Bulls ahead by 12. Rose hit the left elbow, screeched to a halt as if there were a dime there and he had to stop on it, then spun back to the right, leaving Parker seemingly wondering where that spinning top went. Rose then was fouled while Parker no doubt looked for a GPS to locate Rose.

“Toward the end I was getting a little fatigued, but I wish we could play now,” Rose said afterward. “I’m anxious to play. For me the game ended too quick.”

Quick was the operative explanation for the Bulls against the Spurs. In recent years, the whisper about the Spurs was of advancing age, declining athleticism. So they got Jefferson, adding youngsters like George Hill and Roger Mason to Ginobili.

But Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah ran the court and beat the Spurs to the ball with Thomas coming on strong after halftime for 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks while Noah had 10 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks.

The Bulls had nine blocks total, just a part of their improved defense, which gave them a threat at the basket with more spirited play around the perimeter.

“We’re playing D this year,” said Rose. “We’re holding each other accountable for everything. When we come down, no quick shots. We’re moving the ball around and making sure everyone is doing what we’re supposed to do out there.”

The Bulls did in a closely contested first half in which the Bulls led 47-46 at halftime. But you could see the Bulls outplaying the Spurs with hustle (10-1 on the offensive boards) as the Spurs hung in with good shooting and Duncan banging in a series of bank shots.

Perhaps the last play of the half symbolized the Bulls night as John Salmons missed. But Deng fought between three Spurs for the ball, his momentum carrying him out toward the free throw line as he struggled and grabbed, finally controlling the ball and passing to Kirk Hinrich, one of six Bulls in double figures with Brad Miller adding nine—for a three pointer.

“I thought Luol was very solid,” said Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro. “Luol fighting for (that) rebound, kicks it out and we get a three. Those are the little things. The end of the game they’re making a run, Luol sets the side screen and pops out and hits a jumper. I thought Luol was very solid the whole night. I told the guys before the game, ‘Play the right way. Play hard. Do your job, work your minutes.’ It’s a team game. Be ready to play. I thought the guys were ready.”

There had been plenty of questions—Rose’s ankle, Thomas’ consistency, Noah’s commitment, Deng’s recovery. But it all looked smooth Thursday.

“I know I feel great,” said Deng. “I’m healthy and I know I’ll play hard. Good things will happen when you play hard. My shot felt great and I was getting the lift back on my shot. I’m just happy the season started. There were a lot of questions. I always said I’m going to let my game speak for itself.

“I thought we played harder than them,” said Deng. “Not taking anything away from them. They’re a great team, but I thought we won the game with our energy.”

That was the difference, and there’s no reason a team like the Bulls can’t use that as a weapon. Youth doesn’t have to be a negative if you don’t view it that way.

Plus, this group seems more together and comfortable with one another than any Bulls team in the last decade. They genuinely seem to get along well and seem open to playing hard and unselfishly. Yes, yes, I know. It’s early.

It does suggest one issue regarding Ben Gordon. Gordon had a great opening night for the Pistons, hitting big shots in a win. But the ball seemed to move better Thursday. The shot chart was more evenly distributed. And Salmons, though he didn’t shoot well at three of 15, and Hinrich got up on their man aggressively and kept guys like Ginobili in control.

And Salmons did finish one of the signature plays of the game when he was on the receiving end of the third quick pass, the ball first going inside then around the perimeter until Salmons hit a three for a 42-38 lead.

Also, I thought the Bulls plan worked well.

Though Duncan was impressive, he wasn’t able to beat them alone. The Bulls limited their double teaming of Duncan in the first half, and then used an old defensive tactic we saw a lot of with the defenses of the championship years with the middle closing and help coming late off the baseline to make passing out difficult for Duncan.

The Bulls did a good job of slowing Parker’s penetration by loading up the middle and recovered to the shooters so well the three point guys for the Spurs—four of 21—were short arming their attempts as the Bulls closed fast.

“We have unselfish guys and guys playing for the right reasons,” said Noah. “Sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice your offense and stick together on defense and (if we do) I think we’ll be pretty tough.”

After Rose showed in the second quarter he was fine with a highlight, crowd gasping spin and twist move, the Bulls took control after halftime. Thomas hit a pair of jumpers, one off deep Rose penetration and a pass. Noah followed a miss after three offensive rebounds and the Bulls closed a 21-6 run with Hinrich firing behind his back to Miller on top, who faked a shot to draw both Duncan and Antonio McDyess and then hit Thomas underneath for a slam dunk.

The Bulls led 74-64 after three quarters and then held off the Spurs, leading 87-76 with about three minutes left coming out of a timeout. The pass went in to Miller, who faked a shot, drawing Duncan. Miller then slashed, sort of, to the basket for a layup. Yes, it was the dagger. A Miller drive.

Popovich got up immediately to send his reserves into the game and pull the rest of his starters.

“Just happened that way,” said Miller. “Just a high pick and roll and I just went. I shoot enough to try to get him to do that.”

Yes, it was a fun evening all around for the Bulls as rookie Taj Gibson was first off the bench and had six points and six rebounds in outplaying the lately touted DeJuan Blair, whose six points and four rebounds mostly came late after the game was decided.

Blair talked before the game about how he was surprised he wasn’t selected by the Bulls after draft visits to Chicago.

“I just went out and worked my minutes,” said Gibson, who said he and Blair talked before the game and are friendly. I just tried to fill in the gaps. The coach said he was happy the way I played and I’m glad we won.”

It was a nice touch before the game as the Bulls players were introduced and ran in down the rows from the first level to the court, slapping high fives with fans along the way.

Now it’s off Friday to Boston, where the Bulls felt they took some slapping around in that classic playoff series last spring. But now Kevin Garnett is back and the Celtics already are 2-0 and looking impressive.

“Now let’s see how we do it with 20,000 cheering against us,” said Noah. “It’s exciting. We’re looking forward to it. They’re very talented. Everyone saw the games so far. They’re very good defensively. KG is KG. Bringing ‘sheed in there, they’re definitely better than they were last year. It’s up to us to show them we can compete and compete in there.”

The Bulls showed them last spring, and the way they look for now perhaps they can surprise the Celtics again.

What do you think? Leave a comment below: