The good guys suffered more than they should have late in the game but besides that, the visit to Chicago went as well as it could have for the streaking Spurs.
Tony Parker came out of the gates hot, using his ball-handling to patiently probe the Bulls' defense for weaknesses, then relentlessly exploiting them en route to 16 first quarter points. Chicago's offensive plan was to get Boozer involved early on offense but Tiago Splitter did a great job of containing him and the Bulls were left reeling, unable to put points on the board. Leonard was outplaying Butler and Duncan was containing Noah. The Spurs' D was sharp, chasing cutters and shutting down the passing angles the Bulls were working for.
The Spurs, meanwhile, were absolutely rolling on offense. Parker was phenomenal but he wasn't the only one excelling. Kawhi Leonard scored ten first quarter points, including a couple of back-to-back buckets after 1-3 pick-and-rolls, a variation the Spurs have not used much this season. Then Manu Ginobili checked in and continue the onslaught with two three pointers and a pretty lefty layup to finish the quarter. As the Bulls' players looked like deer caught in headlights, the Spurs took advantage and secured a 24-point lead after just one period, 38-14.
When the benches checked in, the difference in offensive talent was even more evident. Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli quickly hit threes to stretch the lead. Everything seemed to be falling for the scorching hot Spurs while the Bulls were missing breakaway dunks.
(Courtesy of SARR)
That play perfectly illustrates just how badly things were going for Chicago on offense. And while the Spurs came back to earth a bit after a ridiculous first quarter in which they shot 71% from the field, the Bulls defense was simply unable to string together enough stops to make a game of it. At the half, the score was 61-33 Spurs and the result reflected how lopsided the game had been.
But the Bulls didn't quit. Their defense tightened and they started executing better on offense. Of course it helped that the Spurs seemed a little overconfident and unfocused but Chicago showed tremendous professionalism by giving a damn about a game that seemed well beyond their reach. They even cut the lead to 20 and seemed to have momentum in their favor, which put the plan of resting the starters in the fourth quarter in jeopardy. But Manu Ginobili came through to keep them at arm's length with ten third quarter points. Going into the fourth the score was 90-66, Spurs.
Both teams emptied the benches. The W seemed to be in the bag; it was just a matter of managing the lead. But the Bulls' subs kept fighting and put a scare on the Spurs near the end, cutting the lead to eight after a 30-point quarter and conjuring memories of the Spurs' late-game collapse against Memphis. But the deficit was simply too big to be erased in a single quarter despite the valiant efforts of D.J. Augustin.
The Spurs got their seventh win in a row and continue to lead the West.
- Danny Green barely played and apparently there's something wrong with his wrist. It didn't seem serious but I could see Pop erring in the side of caution and keeping him out of the Portland game.
- Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were amazing. Tony was instrumental in breaking the game open in the first half, scoring 18 points. When Tony is playing like that, he is one of the most dominant players in the league because he can get wherever he wants and can score from everywhere, even against a usually great defensive team like the Bulls. Manu closed the door with five consecutive points just when the Bulls were starting to think a comeback was possible in the third quarter.
- A very quiet scoring game for Tim Duncan, who couldn't get his outside shot going. But, as always, Big Fun found other ways to contribute, pulling down nine rebounds and dishing out five assists while playing very good defense on Noah.
- Kawhi Leonard played Jimmy Butler well and pretty much matched his impact. Butler scored more in more minutes but Leonard did a fantastic job on the boards with nine. I obviously loved the few times the Spurs used 1-3 pick-and-rolls to set him up for post ups and I'm hoping Pop keeps calling for that.
- Tiago Splitter was getting love from the officials in the past few games. That ended in Chicago, as Tiago was called for touch fouls and ended up playing just 14 minutes due to foul trouble. It might have been a blessing in disguise, since after shutting down Boozer early in this one he will be counted on to help slow down LaMarcus Aldridge.
- The Foreign Legion was great. Belinelli and Mills helped make the game a rout in the second quarter. Diaw didn't shine but contributed when the team needed him. And I already covered how amazing Ginobili was. Having those four off the bench is huge for the Spurs.
- Can we somehow merge Jeff Ayres and Aron Baynes? Every time Baynes gets extended playing time he shows that he is pretty much hopeless on defense. But he has a lot of really, really intriguing tools on offense. His touch around the rim is good and the form on his jumper looks fine. If only the Big Banger had Jeff's foot speed and defensive awareness, he would be the perfect fourth big. Alas, he doesn't, so I think the Spurs will only play four three bigs in the playoffs.
- The Bulls have a solid core of two-way players in Noah, Butler and Gibson and while they are not good enough to be a threat to come out of the East, I'm predicting they will put up a fight and steal a game or two from either the Pacers or Heat in the conference semis. It's a shame we never got a chance to see how good this group of players could be with a healthy Rose. It will be intriguing to see what the future holds.
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