I'll confess: My DVR did not capture the first 10 minutes of the game, so I'm not sure who started (if it was different than ATS' preview) or how the early tempo of the game went. I picked up the action with about 2:20 left in the first quarter and the Spurs leading 21-16. Stupid DVR.
1st Quarter (what I saw of it):
One of the first things I saw was Manu making a sweet pass to Tim from a pick-roll and Tim being so shocked to get the ball, he muffs the bunny lay-in. The chemistry is going to take a little time to get back. Then The Sickness makes a drive past Rose and Gooden for a lay-in. In the last minute of the quarter, he blocks a lay up attempt by Larry Hughes. He's not 100%, but Manu at 85% is better than all but a handful of the players in the NBA. Interesting lineup near the end of the first: Manu, Hill, Mason, Bonner, Timmeh. End of the quarter: Mason drives the lane, misses a layup, but KT is there to pick up the trash.
Spurs lead: 25-24. Manu: 6 minutes, 7 points, 2 boards, 1 assist. 1 block. Wow. Just wow.
Spurs gave up a lot of 3-point shots in this quarter. I was going to chide them for poor defensive rotations, but in watching the tape again, it's really much more a function of Chicago's style of play, which I'll mention more at the end. Hill plays well this quarter: he starts out missing a layup, but tipping in his own miss. We'll see that again before the end of the day.
Score goes back and forth. Defense is OK, not great, and the Bulls get some open jumpers, many of which they hit. Bonner plays well also - nice drive and dish to KT, who misses but gets fouled by Nocioni. Mace Windu is clearly not shooting well, but he's continuing to look for his shot in rhythm. Have to love the way he plays - never tries to do too much and knows when to shoot and when to pass.
Spurs finish the quarter shooting poorly, with only a couple of Duncan baskets and some free throws contributing to our point total for the last 3 minutes of the quarter. But after all of that, it's tied at 45 and the Spurs have shot like CRAP for most of the first half. So, we got that going for us.
Spurs tied: 45-45. Tim has 18 at the half, by the way.
Fab opens the scoring with a low post reverse and spinning layup that I did not know he was capable of. Then, Windu hits his 2nd three from a high post pass from Timmeh. This followed a bit later by a feed from Tim to the Findog cutting down from the free throw line. A beautiful play.
But, the shooting cools off and the Bulls keep hitting (open jumpers from Gooden (x3), Rose, and Gordon). The defense from SA is not great, but not awful. The jumpers Chicago is getting are not uncontested - except Gooden from 18, which I think you give him - but when they are hitting their jumpers, they could beat anyone....
...until the 5:20 mark of the third, when Manu takes a pass by the 3-point line on the left wing, drives baseline, gets hammered (no call), tucks the ball ("like a running back" says Sean Elliott), and hits a reverse layup that announces to the world that The Sickness has officially returned. The ankle is fine. Opponents, fear him now.
After that, the game changes dramatically. The score was 67-58 Chicago before the reverse layup. After that, Bonner hits a 3, Tim hits a free throw, and Manu hits a sweet layup (he goes left, Bulls). Gooden hits a jumper to make it 69-66, then Fatality goes off with back-to-back triples, the 2nd one on a pass from Manu that I had to watch 3 times. I can't describe it, other than to say it looked like a left-handed hook shot going 90 mph over the key to the right corner. The Spurs lead 72-69 and the rout is on.
The Bulls only add a bucket before the end of the quarter (a 16-4 run for our guys) and the Ginobilis lead 76-71.
George Hill owns this quarter. He hits a jumper from the the top of the key and a lay up high off the glass to extend the lead to 10 with 8:30 left. KT hits a jumper (assist from Hill) to make it 12, followed by another Hill foray through the paint for a layup (Gooden got juked) and then, steals from Gooden on the defensive end.
The Bulls get their 2nd basket of the quarter on a jumper by Gooden with 5:00 minutes left in the game. Read that again, I'll wait. Yes, the Spurs played great defense and the Bulls went cold. It's 89-75 and SA pretty much cruised the rest of the way. Tim sat most of the 4th, as did Manu.
Final: Spurs 98-88.
- My assessment of the Bulls: This is a Suns-like team in many ways. They rely heavily on the jump shot and have little rebounding to go with it. They have several players who tend to take those jumpers out of the rhythm of the offense, meaning that the other players on the team are still getting in position to receive the ball and not getting in position to rebound, which leads to 1-shot-and-done possessions. Derrick Rose can play. Flat-out play. But this is a tough team for him to be on. He needs a team where he can initiate the offense and get the ball back. Except for Deng and maybe Noc, this is a sticky hands team. If they can remake this team around Rose, I think they can be very successful in a few years. Also, Lindsey Hunter is getting 2nd team minutes from them at this point. He is old. And doughy. That tells you what you need to know about Chicago.
- The defense is still improving. The rotations are better, which we all began noticing a week or two ago, but the pick-and-roll defense has improved as well. The bigs are much more active.
- Manu is not 100% as I said above. They showed him stretching the ankle during the 2nd quarter, so I suspect it's still stiff and sore. It may be a few more weeks before he gets into full-on Manu mode.
- The top 5 +/- stats tonight: IUPUI (+24), Red Rocket (+19), CrazyEyes (+10), The Sickness (+7), and Fatality (+4). In other words, our entire second unit.
- The JV: DNP-CD. My heart is aflutter with joy.
- I am loving every aspect of this team. It looks like a Spurs team ought to look. I am excited to get to our second unit now, which I have not been since the Manu / Kevin Willis / Stephen Jackson days. If their good play continues, we won't have stretches of the game where we have to pray that we can hold serve until the Big 3 get back on the floor. The negatives are as described: rebounding and a defensive big to guard Gasol, Bynum, Garnett, Powe, 'Sheed, etc. And we still have not played top-notch competition in the past few weeks. But with this bench and two key additions (Windu and IUPUI), this is going to be a fun season, and that's not something I was prepared to say when we kicked it off in late October. I look forward to bantering about it with all of you here.
3. Tim - I have a philosophical issue with excluding Tim from the 3 stars ever. He is the foundation. He played great in the 1st half and wasn't needed much in the 2nd. 28 minutes, 8-12 from the floor, 21-8-3 with 2 blocks and a +3. He is great. The sky is blue.
2. Manu - His stats were great (18 minutes, 15-3-4, with a steal and a block) but his energy changed the game in the 3rd quarter. It will be interesting to see if he ends up a starter or coming off the bench again when he's fully healthy.
1. George Hill - Followed up his 20-point games with 19 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, a steal, a block, and a +24 in 32 minutes. But the stats don't tell the story. He played extremely well. He dominated the 4th quarter and iced this win for the Spurs. All of us (myself included) who questioned the Braintrust after the draft need to formally apologize. Pop, RC, I was wrong to want Mario Chalmers. Just wrong. G Hill is the right guy for this team.