The Spurs gave away another win on Saturday night against the Bulls. After building a 21 point lead, the Spurs still had a 20 point advantage with 7:30 to go in the 3rd. But they were outscored by 25 over the ensuing 19 and a half minutes to lose a game they appeared to have in the bag.
It would be easy to look at the Bulls’ 31 points in the 3rd that ignited the comeback and blame the Spurs’ apparently porous defense, but that’s not completely accurate. Their half-court defense wasn’t great in the quarter, but they held the Bulls to 91.7 points per play in the half-court over the course of the game, per Cleaning the Glass. Instead, the Spurs dragged the Bulls back into the game by handing them free possessions.
The Bulls only had to take the ball out of the basket and attack a set defense 8 times in the entire quarter. The Spurs gave up 4 live ball turnovers and missed 11 of their 18 shots, including all 4 from three in those 12 minutes.
Here’s the Spurs’ 3rd quarter in a nutshell.
Jakob Poeltl misses the brief window where Davis Bertans is open early on his dive to the basket from the left wing, but after that, the Bulls cover up just about every option. With only a couple seconds left on the shot clock, Ryan Arcidiacono times his gamble on Poeltl’s roll perfectly and comes away with the steal. On the other end, the Spurs’ poor transition defense strikes again, and the Bulls get an easy dunk.
Early in the 4th, with essentially the same group on the floor, the Spurs forced the Bulls into one of their two shot clock violations on the night.
The Bulls swing the ball to the weak side and set up to get Shaquille Harrison coming out of the left corner over multiple screens so he can receive the ball on the move up top. Patty Mills reads the switch and the action and prevents Harrison from coming off the Robin Lopez screen cleanly, so Harrison has to rest out near the logo.
The Bulls run a brief pick and roll attempt up top before moving the ball over to the right side for a two-man action between Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis. Portis gets Marco Belinelli on his back in the post, but Belinelli fights for position and forces the Bulls to burn a few seconds working for the entry. Poeltl uses every bit of the 3 seconds he’s allowed to be in the paint then hits Portis with a hard double.
As soon as Portis dribbles out away from the post, Poeltl recovers, allowing Bertans to get back to Dunn out on the left wing just in time. Dunn drives to his left, but with Poeltl waiting and Bertans in good position, he’s forced to throw a grenade back to Harrison at the top of the key, and Harrison is unable to get the shot off in time.
The second shot clock violation came with just 3 minutes to go and the Spurs clinging to a 1 point lead.
The Bulls don’t initiate anything until there’s just 9 on the shot clock. Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. are jumbled up together as they move towards the top of the key in attempt to get Carter a free run up for the screen and confuse the Spurs’ coverage. But when Arcidiacono comes off the pick, LaMarcus Aldridge is waiting and escorts him back out of the lane.
Arcidiacono kicks the ball back to Markkanen up top, but Bertans recovers in time to prevent the three. Markannen drives to his left, so Mills, who had picked Carter up down low, steps up to stop penetration. Carter is open for a moment, and Markkanen hits him with a bounce pass. LMA picks him up, and Carter tries to create space with a shoulder, but gets nowhere. He resets with a few dribbles and surveys his options before realizing the shot clock is almost up. His last second attempt is late, though, and the Spurs manage to get the ball back with their lead intact, at least for the moment.
The Spurs good defense stretched into their next possession, too.
The Bulls are looking for Markkenan on DeMar DeRozan here, with Markkenan sealing DeRozan in the paint. Rudy Gay denies the pass and DeRozan fights for position, forcing the Bulls to transition to an entry from the wing. When Markkanen finally gets the ball, he’s out by the three-point line with just 5 seconds on the shot clock.
He takes one dribble into DeRozan’s chest then turns over his right shoulder for a 20 foot fadeaway. DeRozan contests as well as he can without fouling, but the ball drops through, tying the game up with just 2:17 left.
Though much improved, the Spurs defense still isn’t nearly good enough to win games when the offense isn’t clicking, so when the offense is giving the ball away, they don’t stand a chance. The Spurs have now had 12 live ball turnovers in 4 games this season, and have lost those 4 games by a combined 80 points.
If they don’t take care of the ball, they aren’t going to win no matter how well they communicate on D.