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Bulls fail to defend in San Antonio
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 7
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.
There are many ways to know you’re tired, like when you decide to take a bath because standing in the shower is too grueling. You know you’re tired when you fall asleep while having a root canal without Novocain. You know you’re tired when you brag about running a race over the mountains in Iowa. And you especially know you’re tired when Tim Duncan blows by all of you in a fast break.
Just as the 36-year-old, 15-year veteran did late in the Spurs’ going away 101-83 victory over the Bulls in San Antonio Wednesday.
“I don’t know what Duncan’s been drinking from the fountain of youth, or something, but he had five blocked shots,” cracked Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who was actually not in all that jovial a mood after the Bulls were outscored 54-31 after halftime by a Spurs team without the injured Tony Parker that shot 54.1 percent for the game.
Duncan also had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Manu Ginobili 18 points and nine assists off the bench, and since this Spurs team without Parker, Duncan and Ginobili defeated the Bulls in Chicago last month you figured this wasn’t going to be easy. And even as the Bulls got themselves a 14-point late second quarter lead on hot shooting from Marco Belinelli and rookie Marquis Teague with three three pointers, the 48-14 Spurs aren’t a team to sleep on.
“That’s a championship team right there,” said Joakim Noah, who had eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks while having four of his shots blocked by Duncan. “They do all the little things. Play together defensively, everybody on the same page. They make very little mistakes. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. They picked up their intensity in the second half and we crumbled. Right now we’re average, pretty average.”
The Bulls were led by Belinelli with 21 points and a career high seven assists and Luol Deng with 19 points. And while the Bulls’ motto is no excuses, it’s difficult to continue to accept there’s enough when there certainly isn’t.
Derrick Rose, of course, remained out, though he did not sit on the team bench, which renewed suggestions that he is farther away from a return. Of course, there also was the possibility he got lost in the cavernous AT&T Center or that he wasn’t tired and decided to stand. But Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Kirk Hinrich remained out with injuries. And no matter how much you try—and the Bulls have done so wonderfully this season in being 34-27 despite more than 100 games missed from injury and Wednesday’s starting lineup playing just its fourth game together this season among 10 different starting lineups—these losses have an impact both subtle in being a step late or slow and in that lack of production.
“We’ve got to get guys healthy,” said Noah, collapsed into his locker stool. “You can’t play this game not healthy. We’ve got injuries; it’s no excuse. But it’s frustrating to lose the way we lost today. We’ve got to stick together and keep fighting. It’s frustrating because the potential is there. But we all have to look at (ourselves) in the mirror, every single one of us, me included because I did not play well tonight, and do more. I think we’ll be fine; we’ll be fine.”
But you got the sense listening Noah was trying to convince himself as well as anyone else.
The issue is against teams like the Spurs, who are just too good for a team like the Bulls now. The Bulls the last two years used to beat teams like this, the best teams in the league, or play them to a last error or play. Now they are too difficult. What must ESPN think.
It was another ESPN national game, and we’ve seen more of these lately since the NBA and ESPN had Rose slated to return and you can see in the Bulls schedule a heavier load of TV games and supposed marquee matchups late. I was talking with ESPN analyst Jon Barry before the game and he was saying how he’d basically been to nothing but Bulls blowouts with losses to the Thunder, Clippers and Rockets. See any pattern there? High level Western Conference teams who score a lot. The Bulls can pretty much handle themselves without Rose and various others in and out in the weaker Eastern Conference. But when they go west and have to sustain against high scoring, athletic or highly disciplined teams like the Spurs it’s too much without a full complement. Forger Rose. But that’s three of the team’s top six players out not counting Rose.
So Teague again has to play big minutes with Nate Robinson way out there Wednesday, cranking up seven misses to start the game, then celebrating on a breakaway layup, then hitting a few shots and then with the score tied at 68 with 1:49 left in the third doing what we all figured was coming after Robinson believed he was hot following that poor start.
Robinson fired off the next three Bulls shots to end the third as the Spurs closed with a 4-0 run. And then the Bulls started going all-Nate with him on the bench as Jimmy Butler and Teague missed threes early in the fourth and the Spurs added on a 13-3 boost to start the fourth quarter, an overall 17-3 barrage with the Spurs throwing big guy after big guy at the Bulls and pulling away for the victory.
“Shot selection and lack of discipline got us,” Thibodeau said initially in a not particularly expansive mood when asked about that portion of the game.
“You can’t hold on to the ball against them,” said Thibodeau. “The ball has got to move side-to-side. They’re too good defensively. They’re active, disciplined and they made it tough. In the first half, the ball moved side-to-side and in the second half, it didn’t. We took some poor shots. Against a team who has the depth that they have, they’re going to make you pay. I thought when (Boris) Diaw came into the game he gave them a big spark because of what he could do in the high post. That hurt us and we have to play tougher, a lot tougher. When you look who they’re bringing off the bench for example, Patty Mills. He’s a terrific shooter, so you can’t come off the body. Ginobili is an All-Star, Stephen Jackson has been a great player in the league for a long time. Diaw has been a starter in the league, so there’s a lot coming at you. They’re big with (Tiago) Splitter and Duncan. The thing is, there’s good shots and bad shots. You have to know the difference and you have to know when you have the hot hand and when you don’t.”
You also, of course, have to know when to hold them and when to fold them. And walk away and when to run, though the way things are going for the Bulls this season they’d obviously trip and get injured.
Deng got banged on his right hand and was wearing a thick wrap after the game on his good hand. He said he was fine.
“They have a great lineup, great team,” said Carlos Boozer, who struggled again after being back with the team after leaving with personal issues for a few days. “We’re super shorthanded. If we have our full lineup in the game it’s different. You’ve got to remember we are playing without three of out best players. Not to make any excuses, but facts are facts. The reality is what it is.
We’re OK. We’ll get a great win Friday (against Utah at home) and keep moving.”
Which would be back out west Sunday to play the hot Lakers and then the Kings and Warriors before high scoring Denver back home.
Gibson looked to be getting closer, but Hinrich still was in his walking boot with swelling in his foot and Hamilton remained back in Chicago with back problems.
Yes, everyone has injuries and blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda, yadda, da, da, da, bleh, bleh, bleh. But there’s only so faryou can go even if someone had told you the one about the pope and Raquel Welsh on the life raft.
For the Bulls Wednesday it was late into the third quarter in a game that actually did look possible. Those other ESPN games were against the high flying athletic, high scoring teams that give then Bulls trouble without Rose. Though having three more down makes that margin of error much less against a team like the Spurs, which won’t beat you with youth but savvy.
“They have a very good team at executing,” said Thibodeau. “When you play a team like that you’ve got to stay disciplined the whole 48 minutes. They do a good job of just staying focused and staying with the game plan. You don’t see too many people trying to do things outside of what they’re trying to do. That’s what makes them so unique as a team, and they’re hard to beat. They’ll see the mistakes we made defensively out there and try to get easy baskets.”
Which the Spurs did as the Bulls usually stout defense was punctured again. The Spurs got 22 fast break points and a 46-22 edge in points in the paint. The Spurs won the rebounding, and though the Bulls had just eight turnovers and nine of 20 threes, excellent for them, they just don’t have enough resolve so short handed once again to sustain for the long stretches of games.
The mind tires and the body follows. Yes, minutes played have been a topic of conversation at times, but Wednesday showed the no win for a coach on that. Noah played just under 34 minutes, well below his season average, yet he was steaming coming out of the game with 2:53 left in the third and the score tied at 65. Thibodeau was trying to find Noah a few minutes rest, but the offense stumbled at that point. Noah was back to open the fourth, but the Spurs now were making their threes with the Bulls a bit late on the close. And then running out on misses. Noah went out again four minutes into the fourth with the Bulls trailing by 11, and two minutes later the Bulls were down 17 as Thibodeau rushed Noah back again. But the closest the Bulls would get the rest of the way was 11 before it was the turtle passing them in the race.
“They pass and cut,” said Boozer. “They’re a constant movement team, which is hard to guard. They made some shots and great plays and we missed our shots.”
It wasn’t long ago teams were saying that about the Bulls.
It was a spotty start for the Bulls as the Spurs came flying out, catching the Bulls easing into a game the Spurs don’t play. They are a truly wonderful team to watch and Ginobili is one of the most skilled and clever players in the league. He’s a joy to behold, though not if you have to defend him. And he was just brilliant with the ball, fitting through the most unlikely seams on the perimeter and zipping passes, running that same play he’s run for years down the left side of the lane and pitching into the right corner for a three, and the Bulls fell for it to open the fourth quarter that started the Spurs’ closing run.
“He’s very clever with ball,” said Thibodeau. “He’ll make you pay for mistakes. He got lost in transition against us and if he gets any crack or seam he’ll beat you.”
Duncan, though, was the marvel to start, blocking three Noah shots in one amazing three-second span that got the crowd and his team going as the Spurs sped off to a 15-6 start.
But the Bulls impressively gathered themselves behind Belinelli’s shooting and Deng’s penetration to lead 23-22 after one. Though you felt a bit uneasy as Robinson with those seven first quarter missed shots made a fast break layup after a steal on DeJuan Blair and began acting out. His enthusiasm and hustle has helped the Bulls win several games. But sometimes you wonder what he’s thinking.
Thibodeau then went to Teague to open the second and he played his best for the Bulls this season, eventually with a career high 11 points and those three three pointers in the second quarter as Belinelli played more with the ball and Teague again off the ball. And this time Teague didn’t hesitate shooting as he went into the game zero for 12 on threes.
“My teammates keep telling me when I get open to shoot, that it hurts the team when I pass up open shots,” said Teague. “I’m confident. I just have to let it go. I let it go and it went in. I just always penetrated my whole life because I was so much quicker I could always get to the lane. In high school and college I always knocked it down, but in the NBA it’s a longer (three point) shot. You have to get used to it. I’ll try to build from here.”
And while it was the best Teague has done, Thibodeau wasn’t all that thrilled Mills got open on him and with some breakdowns helping back on runouts when Deng or Noah penetrated.
“I’d say some good and some bad,” Thibodeau said as reporters were trying to pull some superlatives out of him about the rookie. “You got took at the whole game. We want him to be a compete player.
“We’ve got to be more competitive,” Thibbodeau continued about the team. “We’ve got to compete out there, we’ve got to be into the body, we’ve got to be disciplined; we’ve go to get things done defensively. A team shoots 54 percent or whatever. That’s not good.”
Though it looked good for the Bulls for a while with Teague’s threes, Deng coming back hard against Stephen Jackson and Belinelli with a long three for a 46-32 Bulls lead. But the Spurs got a run late as the Bulls failed to finish a pair of drives and Ginobili began to work his magic.
“The end of the third got us,” said Thibodeau. “We (also) got hurt at end of the second. We had a pretty good cushion and we were reckless.”
The Spurs got within 52-47 at halftime, and then they came out running the Bulls off the three point line after the Bulls were six of 11 threes in the first half.
Noah skirmished with, of all guys, Duncan, midway through the third quarter as Duncan took exception to Noah fronting him and taking him down accidentally and had words with Noah.
“I grabbed his leg, so he was mad,” Noah said. “It’s OK.”
Actually, Noah waited after the game and walked toward midcourt where Duncan met him and the two shook hands and had a laugh. Really, how could anybody not like him?
Robinson got pumped up with back to back threes that gave the Bulls a 68-66 lead with 2:11 left in the third, their last lead of the game as the Spurs left them in the distance from there with Duncan leaving them gasping late and the Bulls mostly considering what will and could be.
Wednesday also happened to be the anniversary of the fall of the Alamo in San Antonio, and you couldn’t blame the Bulls’ defenders about their lack of reinforcements.
“I can’t speak for everyone,” said Deng. “But as a team, we haven’t talked about it or relied on that. Our main focus is how good can we be with what we have in here and when we have Kirk healthy and Taj healthy and Rip healthy, I think we can play with anyone. We all believe that.”