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Spurs' offense, effort disappear in 104-81 loss to Bulls

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The Spurs came out flat in Chicago and the Bulls' defense didn't give them a shot of stealing the game.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It's a long season. Games in which the main cogs don't play well are bound to happen. In those instances, the hope is that the bench will provide a spark but that's often not enough, not against good teams. It wasn't surprising that the Spurs lost to the Bulls considering only Kawhi Leonard played well out of the starting five and Manu Ginobili had a rough night. The way the game developed, however, was deflating since the Spurs had started to look much better since getting Parker and Leonard back.

The Bulls knew that the way to get the Spurs off their game is to be as physical as a team can get away with without fouling. They straddled the line with bumps and grabs that forced the officials to make tough calls. As a result, they took away the Spurs' preferred offensive options and first-quarter possessions ended with late shots or Splitter post-ups. On the other end, an electric Derrick Rose was driving to the rim for inside buckets while Pau Gasol punished the team with mid-range jumpers.

With everyone looking flat, Patty Mills took it upon himself to keep the Spurs in it early by getting himself to the line. Patty threw his body around, knowing that a call was due and then was fouled on a three-point attempt. Because he is always moving, he was the recipient of this beautiful Manu Ginobili pass.

San Antonio's defense, which was good in the first quarter, fell apart to start the second. The Bulls went on a quick 9-3 run to take the lead, which stretched to 10 at one point.  Once again the Spurs needed a spark and this time it was Kawhi Leonard who provided it. Leonard finished the second period with 14 points by being both aggressive and smart. He was also great on defense, bringing the physicality the Spurs were lacking and leading by example. It wasn't enough to give the Spurs the lead back but he single-handedly stopped the Bulls momentum. The score was Bulls 46, Spurs 40 despite San Antonio shooting 39 percent from the floor.

Unfortunately, there were no saviors in the second half. A 27-8 run in the first eight minutes of the third quarter by the Bulls sealed the result. Knowing that his starters  -- Kawhi Leonard excepted -- had been a disaster throughout, Pop threw in the towel. It was the right decision not only because the team will face the Lakers on Saturday but because the key players just didn't showed up for this one. The Bulls deserve credit for stepping on the Spurs' throat but San Antonio has no one to blame for the embarrassing blowout but themselves. You can't expect to have a shot against a good team without playing with energy.

Before the game against the Spurs Derrick Rose called out his team for not competing. It's not on Tim Duncan's character to do that but Gregg Popovich has no problem being the bad guy. When asked about whether fatigue was the reason for the loss, Pop said "I'm not going to let them off. We didn't lay an egg or anything like that. We stunk," according to the Express News' Mike Monroe. "They should be embarrassed. I'm embarrassed. I hope they are." It's not the first time Pop has had to deliver one of those speeches. Hopefully it will be the last, as the Spurs will need to start racking up wins if they hope to get home court advantage for the playoffs. 23-point losses are hard to watch but they can serve as wake up calls. Or so we hope.

Game notes

  • The more I watch the Bulls, the more I'm convinced Pau Gasol wouldn't have been a good fit next to Duncan. The defense would have greatly suffered from having two slow centers who should stay close to the basket. But Pau is so much fun to watch on offense. Few big men have ever been that skilled. 

  • Kawhi Leonard was great, bringing energy and aggressiveness to a game in which the Spurs as a team lacked both. Here's where I would nitpick about his court vision but he was the best Spur on the floor on Thursday and it wasn't close. It's amazing to have him back.

  • Duncan, Parker and Ginobili combined to go 7-22 from the field. The Spurs usually have a shot when the Big Three isn't scoring as long as they are focused and doing the little things. In this game, they were not sharp at all and that's a death sentence against any decent team, considering how many of the Spurs' possessions they use and how long they are on the floor. 

  • Patty Mills and Cory Joseph continue to play well whenever they step on the court. It's a luxury to have two good backups for Parker, who continues to struggle. At some point the front office will have to make its decision about who they want to keep but for now it's comforting to know the Spurs can count on them.

  • Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw could not handle the Bulls' bigs. Gibson is just too big for Diaw but having Splitter out there hurts the team's spacing significantly. It's a good thing the Bulls play in the East because the match up inside is not favorable.

  • JaMychal Green looks like he belongs in the league. He has the athleticism to make things happen on both ends even if his fundamentals aren't great and it would shock me to see him back in the D-League anytime soon. Someone is going to sign him for the rest of the season. I'd love it if the Spurs went with a cheap multi-year deal because he could get 15 minutes a game next season. There's some Darrell Arthur potential there.

  • The Bulls are impossible to peg. They have games like this one against the Spurs in which Rose looks all the way back and their defense is clicking and then they lay an egg against an inferior rival. They could make the finals or be unceremoniously eliminated in the second round and neither result would surprise me. The former seems more likely but they have negative records against all of the East elite teams except the Raptors.

The Spurs will face the Kobe-less Lakers on Friday at the AT&T Center looking for their 28th win. The game will kick off a six-game homestead that hopefully will result in a climb up the standings.

For the opponent's perspective, visit Blog a Bull