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Anyone get the license plate number of that Spurs’ truck?
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 12
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.
These are some things I was thinking about during Tuesday’s Bulls/Spurs game: If a mime is arrested, are they told they have the right to start speaking? If I loan someone $20 and never see them again, that has to be money well spent. How do deer know to cross the road by those yellow signs? And if Jimmy cracks corn and nobody cares, why is there a song?
I was thinking of those things because, wow, was that the opposite of an interesting basketball game, the Spurs’ 104-96 win over the Bulls that was disguised as a competitive final.
Pssst. It wasn’t.
“We got our (tushies) kicked,” observed Joakim Noah, who had 13 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two blocks and many, many frustrations.
How bad was it? Let us count the ways.
At the end of the first quarter it was 16-14. Not bad, really. Except that was 16 for Tony Parker and 14 for the Bulls as the Bulls closed to within 38-14 after the opening quarter.
“Tony was huge,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He was aggressive for himself and his teammates. He made a lot of things happen.”
The Bulls then made a run to cut their deficit to 21 points by 19 seconds into the second quarter before the Spurs then hit the Bulls with a 13-2 shot behind a pair of Manu Ginobili threes to lead 51-19 with 7:33 left in the first half.
Fifty-one to nineteen! Yes, that deserves words because it was so startling. Really, these guys just beat the Miami Heat like they did on national TV?
For the benefit of someone who actually looked this up, it was the 12th worst first half in Bulls franchise history. The Bulls never have won trailing by at least 28 at halftime. In case you were wondering.
“Best first half we have played in a long time,” admitted Ginobili, who finished with 22 points in 20 minutes and four of five threes to lead the Spurs. “We carried the third a bit (90-66 Spurs going into the fourth quarter). We made many shots in the first half. We got up early and that makes it a lot easier.”
Sure, you can find all sorts of reasons for a game like this for the Bulls, the old letdown-after-the-big-win theory of the Miami victory Sunday being the most popular. Though Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, as one might expect, didn’t much accept that one.
OK, class, did anyone have “Readiness to play?”
“Thirty eight to 14, 61-33 at the half. Readiness to play; that’s the biggest thing,” said Thibodeau. “Like I told them, it’s completely on me. My job is to have them ready. We had no edge to us. That’s a championship caliber team playing on all cylinders and they’re going after it. If you don’t match that intensity to start you are going to get in a big hole. I didn’t prepare them the way they needed to be prepared.
“There has to be an edge in shoot around, the day before in practice, a concentration level and speed and intensity,” added Thibodeau. “You have to match that. When one team is playing like that and you are not you are in trouble.”
Look, sometimes you are the bug. You can have a heck of a buzz going and then just, splat!
No, it wasn’t the best this Bulls team has played. But they didn’t quit and they didn’t lie down and they did try. But the Spurs, led by Parker, were simply amazing to start as they won their seventh straight with having their full team together for just the last few weeks, 13 of 16 with the league’s best road record and, by the way, the best record in the NBA at 47-16.
“We have turned the corner,” said Tim Duncan, who had an efficient four points, nine rebounds and five assists. “We have the bodies back.”
Not that the Bulls, now 35-29, can’t play with a team like that sometimes. They defeated the Spurs in San Antonio back in late January. But this was remarkable shooting by the Spurs, advanced teamwork, the sort of basketball clinic the Bulls can put on defensively with pressure, help, fighting over screens, trapping and recovering, making every shot and move contested.
“I thought our defense was excellent,” said Popovich, not normally one for effusive praise. “We got our hands on a lot of balls, a lot of deflections, a lot of good contests. I thought the defense was great followed by the boards. We didn’t give up any offensive rebounds. It fueled us offensively. We were able to get some open shots and we knocked them down. The defense and the boards really fueled us. That gave us our good start.”
Teams just don’t do this to the Bulls.
At halftime trailing 61-33, the Bulls didn’t have a single second chance point and were being outrebounded 22-14. Someone on the Spurs watched some tape of Bulls games. The Spurs still were shooting 61 percent and 70 percent on threes at halftime after 71.4 percent in the first quarter and 80 percent on threes the first 12 minutes.
It was hardly the Bulls at their best, obviously, as there were some unusual breakdowns, like Kawhi Leonard with 16 points driving in from the right wing untouched for a slam dunk, Ginobili getting an open three on an inbounds pass, Marco Belinelli with 10 points with open threes in transition and Parker with 20 points and nine assists in just over 24 minutes.
But Kirk Hinrich was bumping Parker and pushing him and trying to go over screens and cut off Parker, and Parker was simply terrific. Sometimes a guy does that and you just have to admit he was too much for you that day and they were the better team. The Spurs were. They are better than the Bulls. It takes the kind of effort and efficiency the Bulls can bring out to beat them. The Bulls have shown they can do that. Not that often, however.
“They’re a great team, championship team,” said D.J. Augustin, who led the Bulls with 24 points. “Around this time they are making their push for the championship. We felt like we were ready; we were fired up before the game. We weren’t thinking about that Heat game anymore. We were on to San Antonio. They just came out and jumped on us and we couldn’t match their intensity.
“When we’re not scoring and it seems like they are coming down and making every shot… I think we were playing hard on defense, but they were just beating us to the spot and making tough shots,” said Augustin. “It’s hard when you are down by that much in the first quarter. It’s hard to fight back the whole game. (But) no matter who’s on the floor, no matter what the score is we’re always going to fight to the end of the game. That’s how we’ve been; that’s our motto.”
Augustin was in a group with Nazr Mohammed, Tony Snell, Taj Gibson and Jimmer Fredette, the latter with five points in 7:47 and some effusive cheers from the United Center sellout, who got it within 10 with two minutes left.
“In the second half when we subbed all the way down (the end of the bench) we got a little rickety,” noted Popovich. “I stuck with them, took a chance with a heart attack and left them out there.”
But there wasn’t enough time to come back from trailing 96-68 with 8:54 left in the game, though a Jimmer three with 3:40 left got the Spurs lead to 100-87 and the fans clamoring loudly for “Defense!” But Popovich and the starters sat there and it would have been difficult for the Bulls even to get to 100 at that point.
“They were whupping our tail from the very beginning,” acknowledged Butler. “They were the more ready team than we were. We just came out stagnant, a few turnovers, not making shots. That led us to not playing the type of defense we normally play. I felt like that was the biggest key.
“It’s on us,” Butler said when told Thibodeau said it was on him. “We’re the ones out there playing. We’ve got to bring it each and every night. Thibs can only do so much. You learn from it. We knew they’d be ready; we weren’t. It’s in the books. They’re (Houston Thursday) the same type of team San Antonio is, make shots, get in the open floor. We’ve got to be ready.”
Undoubtedly, the Bulls will be, though that hardly guarantees a win over another of the league’s hottest teams, the Rockets. But one thing about these kinds of losses that happen occasionally to the Bulls: Thibodeau offers a glimpse of the kind of messages he gives to his players, what he expects of them and why they are so successful despite the limitations on overall talent.
“Great lesson,” Thibodeau said almost gleefully as this kind of loss opens the door to more preparation and attention to detail. “You have to learn about that game (you played), what did you do well, how did you win and then get ready for the next one. And then you are sitting there and you’ve got another team similar, deep, edge, playing great. They’re strong on both sides of the ball.
“You’ve got to sprint to screen,” explained Thibodeau. “You’ve got to set a great screen, cut hard; you’ve got to do all the things that will loosen up a defense: Get the ball moving, make quick decisions, play great defense. You’ve go got know what the strengths of the guy you are guarding are. You’ve got to know what the strengths and weaknesses of the team are. We didn’t do that.”
It’s true the Bulls didn’t do that as well as they often do and as well as they can do. You suspect they’ll do so Thursday against the Rockets. Which is why nights like this aren’t all bad. And, hey, the fans got to witness Jimmer’s first Bulls points with a three pointer.
So why does the doctor leave the room while you take your clothes off and then examine you while you are naked? And if pizza is round, why is it always in a square box? By the way, are the Bulls still down 30?