We might’ve just witnessed the most frustrating and exciting game of the season, all rolled into one. For most of the night, the Spurs played without energy and looked discombobulated on both ends of the floor. Thankfully, they flipped the switch and turned it on when it mattered most, mounting a furious comeback to win 106-99 against the Bulls.
Right from the tipoff, San Antonio’s offense sputtered, missing wide-open shots and throwing wild passes that were hard to corral at best, or went straight to Bulls defenders at worst. Jakob Poeltl was the only player keeping the good guys in the game, as he scored the first six points for the Spurs while being the team’s rock on defense. However, with the Bulls going five of six from beyond the arc to start the game, San Antonio quickly found themselves down by double digits. A few unforced turnovers gave Chicago some easy baskets too, with one leading to a wide-open dunk for Zach Lavine.
Dejounte Murray had an especially rough start, missing his first five shots and coughing the ball up on multiple possessions. The Spurs resembled a team that was playing together for the first time, as they got in each other’s driving lanes and didn’t seem to know where to pass. On the defensive end, the good guys were getting carved up by Chicago’s motion offense, which produced beautiful ball movement that often led to wide-open shots from three. Through the first two quarters, the Spurs made just two of their 16 three-point attempts and were lucky that the Bulls only went 6-19 from beyond the arc given the quality of looks that they had.
The start of the third quarter wasn’t much better, as San Antonio trailed by 20 with five minutes left in the third. Fortunately, they got some impressive plays from Lonnie Walker IV. With his shot not falling, Walker instead decided to drive more, resulting in several beautiful finishes around the basket. Patty Mills also provided his usual spark off the bench which forced Chicago to chase him every time he stepped past half-court.
The game’s turning point came late in the third when Pop had the team use a full court press. Applying extra pressure to the Bulls’ ball handlers resulted in a 12-0 run that continued into the final quarter, and the Spurs cut Chicago’s lead down to one with less than 10 minutes left in the game. It seemed like the basketball gods had pulled a Freaky Friday on the teams. San Antonio was clicking on offense, as they moved the ball efficiently and generated good looks for open shooters, while the Bulls suddenly forgot how to pass, giving the ball away multiple times with the clock winding down.
In Demar DeRozan's absence, Murray became the alpha dog on both ends, as he made life difficult for Lavine while also swishing one mid-range jumper after another to build San Antonio’s lead. The Spurs’ discipline played a huge factor in the comeback too; their first foul of the fourth came with just over two minutes left in the game, and by that point the win was all but guaranteed. Lavine made things somewhat interesting by hitting some threes with time winding down, but the Spurs completed the comeback with some timely plays from Derrick White, and ended up outscoring Chicago 39-19 in the final frame.
Wednesday’s game displayed the resiliency of this team, which is especially impressive given the amount of youth on the roster. Like all young teams, the Spurs can work on their consistency, and it’s obvious that they miss DeRozan’s calming presence and playmaking abilities. San Antonio has one of the hardest remaining schedules in the league, and they’ll need to play more like they did in the second half if they hope to make the playoffs.
- DeRozan missed his fourth straight contest as he continues to take some time off due to the passing of his father. As much as I’d like him to return to the court, it’s good for him to take the time he needs as everyone remembers that there are things are bigger than basketball.
- Poeltl stocks are shooting to the moon! The big man had one of the best games of his career, finishing the night with 20 points and 16 rebounds. He was the only player keeping San Antonio within shouting distance of Chicago in the first half and made nine of his 11 shots in the game.
- As I previously mentioned, Lonnie Walker had some impressive finishes around the basket, which is a great sign considering that this has been one of the biggest weaknesses of his game. With his explosive first step and uncanny body control, Walker could become one of the more difficult players to contain if his finishing continues to improve.
- After a cold first half, Murray really took the reigns down the stretch by slowing down Lavine while creating on the offensive end. With DeRozan out, it was clear that Murray was the go-to guy for San Antonio and he did not disappoint.
- Derrick White played over 30 minutes for the first time since returning from COVID protocols. He struggled mightily with his shot, going 4-14 from the field but still contributed by hustling on defense while creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. It’s only a matter of time before we see Maximum Derrick again.
Next game: Vs. Cavaliers on Friday
The Spurs will look to build on their momentum when they face off against the Cavaliers on Friday. With a brutal remaining schedule, San Antonio needs to take advantage of a struggling Cleveland team and earn another win on the road.