Game Recap #56: San Antonio Spurs Play Proverbial China Shop to Chicago’s Bulls, Lose 99-109

Stifling defense and efficient offense? Hey! That's our formula!

Well, looks like I am one of the lucky few to recap a Spurs loss this fine season. A rather successful road trip ended on a sour note. This really isn’t a game I care to relive, but I will do my best, fellow Pounders. My three year old crawled out of bed and sat in my lap for the last minute and thirty-seven seconds of this one, and helped me realize that things just aren’t that bad, life goes on, etc. Thanks, AJ.

I took notes on stuff I noticed as the game went along. But somewhere late in the third quarter I ate my pencil, so things get a little iffy after that.


First Quarter

The Spurs started off a little flat, except for Manu. I thought to myself in those first few minutes, Manu came ready to play tonight, hitting a couple of nice shots early. Blair looked lost to me. The Bulls started the game really sharing the ball. I think every Bull was on the board within the first three minutes. They don’t have great shooters, really, but they work hard as a team to get good shots, and they made sure to get everyone involved. They remind me a little of the Jazz, but maybe it’s just the sight of Boozer.

On defense, the Bulls were very effective at crowding our 3 point shooters early on. I don’t remember more than one or two real wide open shots by a Spur in the entire quarter. They also did a great job of getting their hands in the passing lanes, discouraging passes or tipping them. They looked like they knew what the Spurs like to do on offense, and were actively trying to make us uncomfortable on offense. And they were succeeding.

OK, why do Tim and Boozer have the same hair? Shave that stuff, Timmy. Nobody should consciously try to look like Carlos Boozer. Come on.

Officiating. All right, I really hate it when people whine about the officiating. And when I look at the box score, I see that the personal fouls and free throw attempts were even for both teams. But, it felt like the Spurs were getting completely shafted all game long. Maybe this is just my own bias creeping in. I’m willing to admit that possibility.

When we started subbing in our bench near the end of the first, I was hoping Hill, Blair, Dice and company would go on a little run. But the Bulls’ bench played right on par with ours, nullifying what is often a strength for us this season. Drat.

At the 3:07 mark, Jefferson hits an easy three off of a penetration and kick play. This was the first really open shot I saw.

At the end of the quarter, I felt like the Bulls were pretty much winning every facet of the game. The score was 25-30, and I actually thought we were lucky to be that close. The Bulls could not miss, and were making us work our tails off for every shot. Hey, remember when other teams used to feel that way about playing the Spurs?

Second Quarter

Pop was really giving it to the officials when this quarter began. This makes me think that I am not so mistaken in the way this game is being reffed. I kept thinking that the Bulls are playing the kind of defense that Pop would like the Spurs to be playing. And then I had a sad. But look, can I really get sad about what has so far been the best regular season in franchise history? More on that later...

Bonner got his first three pointer blocked, but he went to the line. Man, the Bulls are really good at closing out on that three point shot. They try to contest every single shot. Had to leave the room for two minutes to do some fatherin’. When I got back, the Spurs had made a little run and it’s 33-34. Maybe I should just look away for the rest of the evening.

So this back-and-forth goes on for several minutes. At about the 5:50 mark, Duncan makes a beautiful pivot into the lane and hits the shot. He is being mauled by Kurt Thomas. No whistle. Hoo boy. At this point, I felt the Spurs were getting manhandled when on offense, and getting touch fouls called against them on defense. OK, that’s my last whimper on the refs. Blair makes a little flipper shot, and the Spurs are up 44-43. How do we have a lead? Blair then draws a charge from Boozer. That’s my man! I thought this might be a turning point for Blair, but DeJuan really did not have a very effective game. Foul trouble, six points and three rebounds. Duncan, Parker and Ginobilli all played pretty well tonight, but outside of Gary Neal, they did not get much help. I should also give some love to Jefferson, who pitched in 12 points with only one miss.

Third and Fourth Quarter

I wonder what Pop had to say at half time. I bet it had something to do with the sixty percent the Bulls shot from the field in the first half. I thought the Spurs did a better job on them in the third, and by the end of the quarter the two teams were shooting about the same percentage. But the Bulls kept getting to loose balls, and they were dominating the boards. Several second chance shots in this quarter just killed me. Keith Bogans hits a 3. Ouch. I check the stats and they are out-rebounding us at this point 14-25. The final tally would be 29-41, and this is a huge factor in this game, especially those 9 offensive rebounds they got. It seemed like nearly all of them were converted into points. Yuck. Another thing, the Bulls are getting to the line, and they are making their free throws: 17 of 20 on the night. Somewhere in here my pencil is gone, and I’m just watching. Several times during the game the Spurs pull it close, and the Bulls always answer with another little run of their own. The Spurs end the third with a truly awful offensive sequence, but I really think a lot of this had to do with the way the Bulls disrupted the play the Spurs were trying to execute, and then they just stayed locked into their defense for the entire possession, the kind of defensive work that a Spurs fan has to admire. The fourth quarter it all added up, the Bulls kept hitting shots, the Spurs kept missing and getting out-rebounded, the lead ballooned to about fifteen at one point, and that’s your ballgame.


Takeaways

I saw the Bulls early in the season and really didn't know what all the fuss was about, but I see now this is a really good team. They do a lot of the dirty work and little things that can win games, especially in the postseason. I doubt the Bulls can shoot much better than they did tonight, but even on nights when they aren't hitting shots they will be hard to beat because of the other things they do: play tough defense, crash the boards, share the ball, get to the line, hustle. They have a better bench than I thought, too, with some long-armed guys that can protect the basket, and everybody plays with the same intensity. Thibodeau has to be given a lot of credit here. When Noah gets back, they'll be even better.

I think offensively they did a good job of striking a balance between Rose's freewheeling forays into the paint on one hand, and on the other a lot of disciplined, team-oriented offense that gets them good open looks with well executed cutting, screening and passing. That combination of styles gave the Spurs fits tonight. I don't think the Spurs played an awful game defensively. But the Bulls got an awful lot of open looks, and made them. Often the Spurs were caught flat-footed and out of position when the shot went up, resulting in a demoralizing rebound and second chance shot for Chicago. And there were quite a few extra passes to open jump shooters that had the Spurs a step or two late on the close-out. These are the kinds of things the Spurs often do to other teams, and we got a heavy dose of our own medicine tonight, for sure.

Speaking of the Spurs' defense, it's, in my opinion, a concern. There are a handful of teams in this league that can play pestering, relentless defense for forty-eight minutes. I would certainly put Chicago in that group based on what I saw tonight. The Spurs are nowhere close to that. It’s hard to adjust to this idea as a Spurs fan, because it’s been our calling card for so long now. Maybe the Spurs tighten things up as the playoffs near. Certainly this is what Pop is trying to make happen, and he has publicly stated this many times. But I kind of think the Spurs are not going to have a great defense this season, that the best we can hope for is a good defense to complement a great offense. I know the style of play the Bulls have can win come playoff time. As a longtime Spurs fan, I have seen it work. I am less confident that the Spurs’ style of this season can be as effective in the postseason. This was just one game, and I don’t want to read too much into it. But I am pretty sure Popovich has a lot of concerns about this, and that he can point to the Bulls and say, The way that team beat us tonight, that’s what we need to be able to do to an opponent. Does this Spurs team have that kind of defensive play in them? Time will tell, Pounders, time will tell.

Your Three Stars

3--Manu Ginobili. Manu started the game looking great, and had some key moments for the Spurs that helped keep things close. But Manu finished up with 6-18 from the field, 1-5 from behind the arc.

2--Tim Duncan. Fourteen points, nine rebounds, a block. The Spurs went to Duncan in the post quite a bit in this game, and the Big Fun generally delivered. Zero free throw attempts. That’s just not right. Duncan should have definitely had a few trips to the line in this game.

1--Tony Parker. Parker put up 26, but had only 4 assists. At times he was brilliant, stealing a ball and taking it full court for an amazing and-one layup, for instance. The Bulls made him, along with the rest of the Spurs, work very hard for his points tonight.

Next Up

All Star weekend, lots of rest, and back home to face the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 23.

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