Despite a huge advantage in free throws, the Spurs finished this SEGABABA without its much-needed road victory in the battle of ninth-place teams. Bulls guards Zach LaVine (23 points and 6 rebounds) led a balanced Chicago attack, while DeMar DeRozan (36 points and 10 rebounds, Jakob Poeltl (16 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks), and Patty Mills (25 points, 6-12 on 3-pointers) spearheaded another close loss for San Antonio.
- The teams honored Kobe Bryant after the tip - with Chicago ‘committing’ an 8-second backcourt violation and the Spurs responding with a 24-second shot clock ‘violation ‘- in remembrance of the two jersey numbers that Kobe donned in his career.
- I have nothing useful to add to properly eulogize Kobe Bryant - other than I am always deeply aggrieved when our children are deprived of the opportunity to outlive us in age and experiences. However, my enduring memory of Kobe’s playing days continues to be 2003 Western Conference Semifinals Game 5. If you recall, the Spurs escaped only after a game-winning three-point attempt by Robert Horry that went 3⁄4 of the way down and dribbled out - this coming after a furious Laker comeback from 25 points down. What left me gasping for air was Bryant’s singular effort in the fourth quarter to eat away at a comfortable 80-64 lead. It only seemed as if Kobe scored all 30 of his team’s points that quarter. On the last sequence, Kobe dribbled far into the cormner to create space for Horry’s catch-and-shoot. Pop designed a very similar play two years later in the 2005 Finals Game 5 finish against Detroit (the sequence went: Horry inbounds to Ginobili in the near corner who passed right out of a double-team back to Horry) to net Big Shot Rob another bow in his quiver of clutch moments and salvage another potential series collapse. Pop, prior to game six, quipped: “This’ll really sound crazy; what happened was the best medicine yet. We won by the skin of our teeth. I think our players are coming in here with some appropriate fear.” San Antonio went on to destroy the Lakers 110-82 in game 6.
- DeMar DeRozan came into the game shooting 53+% from the field!
- Jakob Poeltl started strongly in LaMarcus Aldridge’s absence with sweeping right- and left-handed hook shots. I’m coming around on his offensive game - and right as I typed this, he threw the ball directly to a Bulls defender. Poeltl also had an emphatic block on a LaVine drive along with turning away a Young dunk attempt, which makes it nine games in a row with two blocks or more for the gentle giant.
- Bryn Forbes went 2 for 4 early on, and got a strip on Zach LaVine in traffic on defense to boot.
- Chimezie Metu earned significant playing time in each half and didn’t look completely lost out there.
- FLOPPY PLAY: Once - Ran early in the first with a Bulls assistant yelling the name of the play loudly as it was being unfurled, yet it still netted San Antonio an open three for Trey Lyles.
- Big Man Appreciation: Early in the second, Lyles went on a meandered from the three-point line towards the basket and found a cutting Metu around two defenders for a slam.
- Hustle Appreciation: After his three attempt fell way short and caromed out towards the backcourt, Mills tipped the ball away from a Bull and re-directed it right to Gay under the basket for a layup. Mills also passed Danny Green for second in franchise three-point makes.
- Opponents that may have made decent rotation players on the Spurs: Since San Antonio drafted Ryan Arcidiacono, he doesn’t count. I will go with Thaddeus Young, who would have complemented Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge well in the frontcourt, and Tomas Satoransky, as he would seem like the type of playmaking swing man that would mesh well with the Spurs’ young core.
- The plethora of Bulls logos and various advertisements on the United Center court makes for distracted viewing. On the other hand, top five adorable NBA mascots? #1 Benny the Bull, #2 Coyote, #3 - Bango (Bucks), #4 Rocky (Nuggets), #5 Franklin the Dog (Sixers) .... #30 - SLAMSON (Kings).
- San Antonio and Chicago came out ice cold from the field, but the Spurs went to their star DeRozan for early offense while the Bulls had difficulty matching with Poeltl patrolling the paint. Patty Mills and Rudy Gay supplied a healthy dose of bench shooting, and the Spurs left the period up 28-21. Numerous second-chance opportunities on 50/50 balls for Chicago kept them in the game. Both teams resumed their awkward execution and went scoreless for over two minutes to start the second. Better half court execution helped the Bulls regain the lead midway through the second quarter, and the Spurs fielded a zone in response. Mills fourth three pointer of the half helped San Antonio regain the advantage. Despite the Spurs outshooting their counterparts from the field, Poeltl tried ambling up the court with his dribble as time expired and was stripped easily by Satoransky, who laid it in at the buzzer to give his team their sixth steal and a 50-48 lead.
- DeRozan scored San Antonio’s first six points coming out of the break, but the Spurs had trouble containing Chicago at the rim. Derrick White suffered a facial cut from a stray LaVine elbow and went to the locker room. The Spurs continued to gift their opponents second-chance opportunities. On an encouraging sequence, Mills’ miss was snared by Metu, and after a difficult miss by Chimezie, Lyles picked up the errant shot and slammed home the finish. Chandler Hutchison, Denzel Valentine, and Coby White led Chicago’s bench brigade to keep them within striking distance. However, DeRozan took advantage of a smaller Dunn to score at will and San Antonio surged back ahead. DeRozan and Mills teamed up slyly on the vaunted Hammer play to net Mills his fifth 3-pointer and push the lead to nine. Patty’s sixth long make and DeRozan’s free throws allowed San Antonio to leave the quarter up ten.
- The Bulls grew warmer from distance between the third and fourth periods to trim the deficit. The United Center scoreboard refused to cooperate with the humans, and the players garnered a lengthy break in the action. A LaVine corner three closed Chicago to within three. San Antonio tried to take advantage of a callow Bulls’ frontline on the offensive boards and with dribble penetration. However, Luke Kornet’s three and hook helped the Bulls regain the lead midway through the final frame. DeRozan converted a critical and-1 and several free throws to tie the game back up. Bulls coach Jim Boylen employed a ‘Hack-a-Poeltl’ to prevent DeRozan from doing more damage to some success for the home team. Jakob webnt 1-4 from the stripe and forced the Spurs to exchange Gay for Poeltl briefly.
- In a half-season already full of exciting finishes with varied results, San Antonio provided us with one more tonight. White forced an eight-second violation on LaVine with 90 seconds left. DeRozan converted a difficult fadeaway over two Bulls to close the Spurs within two. Yet another set of Bulls offensive rebounds by Young and Satoransky could have yielded disastrious results, but White forced a critical offensive foul - giving San Antonio another possession. DeRozan emulated Kobe, his mentor, by nailing another fadeaway in the paint to tie the game. LaVine was gifted a very late foul call with 2.1 seconds left and made both free throws. DeRozan was fouled on a fadeaway attempt and missed his second free throw.
Happy 71st birthday, Gregg Popovich (in a few hours)!