Bulls blow 17-point lead and lose to Spurs


Nov 18

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Coaches have these little markers in games they use as indicators of how their team is playing and what they can expect.

“First five minutes of the game,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau was saying late Wednesday night.

OK, check.

“Last five minutes of the second quarter,” he went on.

Not very good, as it turned out.

“First five minutes of the third quarter,” Thibodeau added.

Fatal, unfortunately.

“Last five of the game,” concluded Thibodeau. Those are the times you have to be at your best.”

But the Bulls were in those segments average to horrific, which, at least to Thibodeau, went a long way toward explaining a 103-94 loss to the San Antonio Spurs in a game that seemed there for the taking with the Bulls with a 17-point lead late in the second quarter.

“We had it going,” said Derrick Rose, who tried in vain to rally the Bulls back with 13 fourth quarter points in his game high 33. “But they are too good a team and they stopped it. We had them.”

But they still are the Spurs with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and a quiet 9-1 as Parker led them with 21 points and seven assists as Rose had trouble tracking him, and Ginobili added 20, drawing his usual share of fouls with rag doll flops. He also made the play of the game with a behind the back driving move that baffled Joakim Noah as Ginobili went in for a layup late in the game when the Bulls were desperately trying to get back into the game.

“He’s hard. On the pick and rolls, the bigs can’t show out on the pick because he’s gonna flop, go into their body and he’s going to get the call,” offered Rose matter of fact. “He’s a really tough player. He can shoot the ball, make tough lay-ups and shoot free throws. That’s why he’s one of the best in the league.”

But the Bulls had plenty of issues this time of their own making and were a bit outmaneuvered by the Spurs, who sprung a smaller, quicker lineup on the Bulls after halftime and broke the game open with an 18-4 run to open the third quarter before the Bulls responded by removing the slumping Taj Gibson, who was zero for seven and scoreless after shooting one of nine against Houston Tuesday.

Gibson had been the surprise of the early season home stand shooting above 60 percent before the trip started, and it’s somewhat unique for him because he’s never been in a shooting slump.

Though basically because until this season he never shot jumpers before.

“I’m shooting 15-, 17-footers now,” said Gibson. “I haven’t been a shooter before. Now, I’m coming off screen/rolls, trying to shoot. It’s been kind of tough the last two games because I had open looks and they did not go.

“But Derrick and coach told me in the huddle to keep shooting, don’t hesitate,” said Gibson. “My reaction is to keep playing. If I’m having a rough night to contribute in other ways, rebounding and defense. There’s going to be ups and down. I’ve got to keep pushing through.”

For his part, Thibodeau, who is always publicly supportive of his players, said Gibson has been playing well and helping in other areas. Though Gibson is not the kind to make excuses, I read into his “up and down” comment that his plantar fasciitis, which never truly went away this summer, continues to bother him at times, and he didn’t seem to square up on his shots.

He was sort of fool’s gold, to use a favorite expression of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. With the 5-3 start before the trip and Gibson playing so well, the absence of Carlos Boozer didn’t seem so acute.

But the Bulls desperately missed a player like Boozer Wednesday with Gibson off and clearly uncertain, too often giving up the ball as he continued to miss. The result, which showed itself in that brutal 37-12 Spurs third quarter which won the game, was the Bulls were unable to get into the post, where they could have slowed the rush of the Spurs and gotten some easy points, and were beaten on the boards 50-42 though Joakim Noah was back with a double-double of 10 points and 14 rebounds.

By going cold at that point and with the Spurs denying Rose, the Spurs were able to run out on Bulls misses, outscoring the Bulls 13-0 on fast break points in the third, and San Antonio spread the court with drive-and-kick as Ginobili, Matt Bonner and Richard Jefferson hit threes.

“Bonner has been playing really well. We were concerned with that going into the game,” said Thibodeau. “He spreads you out and the Spurs penetration got to us, also. Us settling for jump shots triggered their break. And our defense was poor, so we couldn’t get into the open floor.”

But the Bulls, led by Rose, of course, fought back into it and were an open Brian Scalabrine three with 6:18 left from making it a four-point game after Rose had scored nine points on jumpers in about a minute and a half.

So impressed were the Spurs with Rose’s shooting against the Rockets that perhaps for the first time in his career the plan was to go over screens against Rose and force him into the paint where he’d have less room to operate with the defense stepping up.

“We went over the top of screens with him and we tried to get him off that three point line,” said Duncan. “He shot the ball really well last night. We tried to get him inside the range and contest every shot he got. I was little bit too far back in the lane in the first half and he got some of that mid-range stuff going. So we tried to tighten up a little in the second half. It’s better if he gets some of those shots in the middle contested as opposed to giving up layups.”

Also, Rose has to do a little better, though you hate to question anyone playing that well and carrying his team, in not taking so many floaters and forcing more contact.

Rose attempted 27 shots and had one free throw, and that when he shot a technical foul after one of Duncan’s exaggerated complaints to the referees.

That’s right: 27 shots and zero free throws. We know Rose doesn’t get as many foul calls as he should, and he tries to be a lot more professional than say Ginobili—and I say this with respect as I’m a big admirer—who fakes himself into numerous foul calls with his trickeration.

Rose has to begin forcing the referees to make a decision by attacking the body of the defenders. We know he’s strong enough, as much or more than any point guard in the league. I know. Asking him to do more is like complaining about a blemish on Eva Longoria.

I actually shouldn’t have gone there, though that was as aside here Wednesday, the big story of the night in San Antonio, where Davy Crockett still was the city’s biggest celebrity until Parker married actress Longoria. The couple announced divorce proceedings before the game, and everyone was asked to comment in a Tiger Woods-esque environment with gossip about paramours and such.

Popovich at his pregame media session usually devoted to quips and basketball esotery said, “This is a difficult situation for everyone, obviously. Eva and Tony are two people that we love and care about. We wish them both the best as they move through this.”

Parker was even asked if he had an affair as I was personally offended in that it interfered with my plans to ask him about down screens.

Parker said such information was personal.

Anyway, back to the game as much as the Bulls might not have cared to.

They actually had a brilliant first half with a terrific bench effort in the second quarter when a group that included Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer and C.J. Watson ran up a 43-28 lead, the bench exploding after a Korver three pushed the lead to 43-28 with four minutes left in the half after a Brewer steal and dunk and follow tip.

A word about Brewer: He’s starting.

Well, not actually starting the game, but his play has improved dramatically with his health improving and he’s playing substantially more minutes than Keith Bogans. Thibodeau doesn’t like the public perceptions of demotions, so may not make an official move given the starting group hasn’t been in huge holes. But expect Brewer to be playing more minutes and more in vital times as he had 10 points and five rebounds and is looking like the athlete he was advertised to be in Utah.

The Bulls started the game well with a 25-18 first quarter lead as Deng and Rose each had eight points with Rose beating Duncan at the basket twice, once on a beautiful double pump that had Duncan doing a fly by like in Top Gun.

“We missed a lot of shots, shots we normally make,” said Deng, who was six of 17 after six of 21 against Houston. Deng came in leading the team at 38.6 minutes per game and played a team high 42 minutes against the Spurs.

Thibodeau relies on Deng for his defense and rebounding as Deng had seven rebounds Wednesday after a team high 10 against the Rockets. But you wonder if the playing time is affecting his legs, and thus his shot as he is two of 10 on threes the last two games.

With Houston playing small and the Spurs going small, Deng also has had to move to play more power forward in smaller, matchup lineups, which has kept him on the floor longer with James Johnson basically out of the rotation for now.

When the Bulls didn’t match small as quickly to open the third, they got burned and this time couldn’t recover after the Spurs had started the game with DeJuan Blair, who was ineffective, and never used Tiago Splitter.

With Deng at four late in the second, the Spurs took advantage running George Hill at Korver and cut the Bulls lead to 47-37 at halftime.

Then it was that avalanche as the Spurs opened the court with Bonner as the so called stretch four and took a 74-59 lead after three and stretched it out to 83-65 with 9:32 left in the game when I thought Thibodeau might pack it in.

But he brought back Rose soon after, and Rose began draining jumpers as the Bulls went on a 13-2 run.

“We fought and got back in position,” said Thibodeau.

But Deng went under a screen and Ginobili hit a three, Duncan hit a 13 footer—no, folks, he ain’t done yet with 16 points, 18 rebounds and five assists—and when Ginobili made that magical behind the back drive, it was just too late and too much to overcome.

“We felt we should have won the game,” said Deng. “I’m not making excuses. But we were playing a really good team. The same thing with Boston (overtime loss on the road). It’s a good sign to play teams like this, but we have to do better. Those teams are where we want to be.”

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