It’s always a tall task trying to beat the San Antonio Spurs, a franchise whose name is synonymous with “well-oiled machine.” They’ve been able to plug in players and win consistently year after year, always contending for a title under Gregg Popovich. But beating them this year at home proves to be particularly impossible. With a starting lineup that includes future Hall of Famers and established stars alike, along with arguably the deepest bench in the league, the Spurs came into tonight unbeaten at home this season, at 30-0.
The Chicago Bulls have fared well against the Spurs in recent contests, able to knock them off three out of the previous five games, a feat hardly any team can boast. Tonight, the Bulls hung tight with strong performances from E’Twaun Moore and Justin Holiday, but without Jimmy Butler, they would ultimately fall short, 109-101. Let’s dive into some of the BULLet Points:
- As stated, E’Twaun had a stellar game, stepping in for Butler by carrying the largest minutes load at nearly 36. He finished with 20 points, six rebounds, four assists, and a steal, shooting 8/12 overall and 4/5 from downtown. Several of those threes came in clutch spots, either stopping a Spurs run, or helping close the gap during a run of the Bulls’ own. Justin Holiday also stepped in nicely and shot with confidence, contributing 12 points, five for eight from the field.
- Derrick Rose‘s box score doesn’t tell the full story, although it is promising: 21 points on 9/21 shooting, 1/2 from beyond the arc, six assists and only two turnovers. But the troubling thing is just the two free throws. For at least the first half of the game, Derrick elected to shoot off-balance jumpers, step-backs, and contested bank shots, rather than drive to the hole. His shot selection still needs improvement – now that his speed and quickness are back, he should focus on attacking early, rather than the other way around.
- FRED HOIBERG TECHNICAL FOUL ALERT. That’s right: Mr. Calm, Cool, and Collected drew his first ever technical foul as a coach or player in the NBA. After playing ten seasons in the NBA and coaching over 60 games this season, he finally caved. In a 10 point game that started slipping from the Bulls, Taj Gibson went up for a dunk and got hit on the arm by the smaller Tony Parker. Taj blew the jam, there was no call, and Fred lost it on the ref (which, for him, probably sounded something like, “Terrible call, sir! Just terrible! Hogwash!”). Although I’m ecstatic to see some tech-worthy emotion on the part of Fred, sticking up for his players, I wish it would’ve come earlier in the game, when the foul may have resulted in some additional calls for the Bulls. But, beggars can’t be choosers. You can catch it here:
- Per Sam Smith, “Since his return from back surgery, Mike Dunleavy is averaging 9.5 points in 13 games and shooting 50 percent from threes in about 23 minutes per game. He’s averaging 12.2 points over the last five games and a season high 18 points in Monday’s win over Milwaukee in a season high 35 minutes.” Tonight, Mike struggled a bit, after having such a great chemistry with Butler back on the court a few nights ago. Tonight, just seven points on 2/8 shooting in 30 minutes. If anyone benefits the most from Butler being on the court, it’s Dunleavy. In their whopping 24 minutes together this season, their OffRtg is 123.0, DefRtg is 68.6, for a team-best net rating of 54.4 (!!!), a PIE of 91.7, and an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.89. I love small sample sizes.
- The Bulls struggled down the stretch with mental lapses, turnovers, and missed assignments. It didn’t help that Taj was ineffective and racked up four fouls early into the third quarter. Pau notched a double double with 21 points, but committed an unforgivable seven turnovers, trying to thread the needle on too many passes.
- Odd stat of the night: the Bulls scored exactly 27 points in three of the quarters, while the Spurs scored exactly 27 points in two of them.
- This was the 40th straight home win for the Spurs, tied for 3rd all-time with the Orlando Magic. This Spurs team is quietly only three games behind Golden State, at 55-10. Kawhi Leonard led the charge tonight against the Bulls with 29 points, going +19, alongside 26 from LaMarcus Aldridge and 20 from Tony Parker.
- Coming up: The Bulls endure a back-to-back against the Heat at home.