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What we learned from the Spurs win over the Bulls

San Antonio fends off a last-minute comeback attempt from a shorthanded Chicago squad.

Chicago Bulls v San Antonio Spurs Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

The San Antonio Spurs outlasted the Chicago Bulls down the stretch in a back-and-forth battle as they overcame a magnificent performance from DeMar DeRozan in his AT&T Center homecoming. Despite slipping behind by as many as ten points in the first half, the good guys bounced back in the second half and pounced on their shorthanded opponent.

Dejounte Murray led the charge for the Silver and Black with 29 points, nine rebounds, 12 assists, and three steals. Keldon Johnson added 23 points, while Jakob Poeltl notched 21 points, 11 rebounds, and four dimes. Seven Spurs scored in double figures, including Derrick White (14), Devin Vassell (11), Lonnie Walker IV (11), and Doug McDermott (11).

Head coach Gregg Popovich continued his steady ascent towards the all-time regular-season wins record, and the Spurs could very well sneak into the play-in tournament. San Antonio is playing .500 basketball over their last eight games, which might be enough to surpass the Trail Blazers and hold the Pelicans, Kings, and Thunder at bay.


  • The Spurs welcomed Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge back to the AT&T Center earlier this week, and they hosted DeMar DeRozan for another heartfelt homecoming on Friday night. The pregame tribute video highlighted the countless late-game heroics, mental health advocacy, and professionalism the five-time All-Star delivered over his three seasons in Silver and Black. While that era of San Antonio basketball won’t go down in the record books, DeMar was a pillar for a team that probably would have bottomed out without him, and he deserved the round-of-applause from everyone in attendance.
  • Something about those fiesta jerseys makes San Antonio rise to the occasion. The Spurs are 6-5 when they trade their trademark Silver and Black threads for a splash of teal, orange, and pink. Perhaps there’s some truth behind “look good, feel good, play good.” Whatever the case, the good guys should consider suiting up in their city edition uniforms more often.
  • In the latest episode of the Alamo City Limits, I communicated moving on from DeRozan was in the best interest of both parties. DeMar has brought his game to new heights alongside Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic, and elite support cast members. San Antonio has finally been free to remove their training wheels and evaluate the young talent across their roster. No one has benefitted more from all their newfound opportunity than Dejounte Murray, and the sixth-year point guard showed what he could do without having to concede touches and shots to another ball-dominant scorer.
  • Dejounte Murray notched 29 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists on 12-of-24 shooting from the field as he barely missed securing his 11th triple-double of the season. The former 29th pick of the 2016 NBA Draft came into the league as an erratic shooter with a loose handle and questionable decision-making. But Murray has added a new wrinkle to his game every summer, and the endless hours spent in the gym were on display against the Bulls. Murray fired precision pocket passes out of the pick-and-roll, finished through contact at the rim, nailed a one-legged fadeaway off the glass, came away with three steals, and stepped into a pair of spot-up threes for good measure. Although the 25-year-old floor might not make his first All-Star Game this season, there is no doubt he deserves genuine consideration as a reserve or replacement.
  • Despite Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, and Keldon Johnson having their way against Chicago, it would be misleading to suggest they dominated a respectable defense. Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball have arguably been the best defensive backcourt in the league but neither guard dressed on Friday night. As a result, head coach Billy Donovan had no option but to throw an assortment of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Coby White at San Antonio’s top scorers. And if you’ve watched any NBA basketball over the last couple of seasons, then you know they’re not exactly what you would call premium stoppers. Kudos to Murray, White, and Johnson for capitalizing on a shorthanded defense, and sorry to the Bulls fans who sat through 36 minutes of Nikola Vucevic getting cooked to the tune of 40 points between ill-advised switches and poorly played drop coverage.
  • Who told Jakob Poeltl to bust out his best Tim Duncan impersonation? No, seriously. The sixth-year center has been on a heater since he sat out against the Los Angeles Clippers with back tightness, posting 19.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 2.9 blocks across that seven-game span. Poeltl kept things rolling with 21 points, 11 boards, and four dimes. Poeltl doesn’t have the most appealing offensive repertoire, but all that matters is the colossal Austrian always finds a way to put the ball in the basket at an efficient clip. Friday witnessed an array of baby hooks, pop-a-shots, and below-the-rim finishes from the starting big man, and he even mixed in a thunderous putback and one-handed rim-rocker.
  • The Silver and Black have been somewhat of an enigma throughout the first half of the season. They took down the Utah Jazz on the road and lost to the Houston Rockets at home. They dropped a winnable game to the depleted Detroit Pistons and pulled off a nail-biter over the Golden State Warriors. Most teams can count on beating San Antonio, yet many opponents struggle to put them away until the final frame. Poor fourth-quarter performances have hurt the Spurs through their first 40 games. And while they almost allowed the Bulls back into the contest down the stretch, the good guys hung onto the lead and sealed the deal behind a combined crunchtime effort from Dejounte, Derrick, and Jakob.
  • Keldon Johnson has made massive developmental strides as a stationary shooter, going from a below league-average three-point shooter (33.1%) to the third-most accurate long-distance marksman in the NBA (44.4%) in one year. That standstill shooting prowess was apparent as the third-year forward knocked down a quartet of trifectas against the Bulls. Though 23 points is a solid outing by ordinary standards, Johnson left me wanting to see more than your run-of-the-mill catch-and-shoot triple. The 22-year-old teased us with a pair of splendid spin moves that set up feathery soft floaters, but he couldn’t find the touch on a step-back three, multiple off-the-dribble mid-range jumpers, and a couple of fadeaways. Keldon still likes to drive with his head down, which leads to reckless sequences at the expense of missing open teammates. That said, the young bruiser is coming along as a passer, and his willingness to expand his arsenal only highlights his unshakable confidence.
  • The Hawks have allegedly called about Derrick White, and the idea of moving on from the 27-year-old combo guard is both intriguing and terrifying. Terrifying probably isn’t the right word, but since my mom graduated from the University of Colorado Boulder, my Buffalo bias will always make a part of me want to keep him around no matter what. Still, when he stuffs the stat sheet with 14 points, four rebounds, and nine assists like he did on Friday night, it makes you wonder if he could be the trade chip that convinces Atlanta to ship John Collins to the 2-1-0. The asking price for the highflying forward is reportedly a starting-caliber player and a first-round pick, two things San Antonio can give up without compromising the timeline of their recent draftees. Defensively, Derrick and Dejounte make a lot of sense together, though upgrading at a position of need while pairing Trae Young with White almost makes too much sense. Matching salaries would require other moving parts, and that’s why I’m glad PATFO get to make these decisions.