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What we learned from the Spurs loss to the Bulls

San Antonio couldn’t hold off Chicago’s fourth-quarter comeback, led by their own former closer.

San Antonio Spurs v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

San Antonio played really well for three quarters against the Chicago Bulls on Monday, playing solid defense, forcing 15 turnovers and scoring 20 points off of them on the night. But in the fourth quarter, one of the Spurs’ biggest weaknesses proved to be their downfall: they are still struggling to find THE guy in crunch time.

Dejounte Murray is great and he can fill those shoes in spurts, but a lot of his points come in transition, ad when other teams start feeding their go-to guy and stop turning the ball over, they have time to set their defense and make it much more difficult for San Antonio to score. Murray hasn’t proven himself to be a guy who can consistently carry the Spurs through those moments yet — the Spurs only scored 20 points in the fourth quarter against the Bulls, falling 120-109.

It was especially noticeable when juxtaposed to the fourth quarter that DeMar DeRozan had. DeRozan, the Spurs’ former go-to guy, dropped 19 points in the final period of the game. He demanded double teams from the Silver and Black and still couldn’t be stopped. Murray just isn’t on that level yet, but he’s the closest San Antonio has.

Another problem San Antonio had in the fourth quarter was no one else stepped up to help. Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott, Jakob Poeltl, Devin Vassell and Lonnie Walker IV combined to shoot 4-11 from the field in the fourth quarter, even after Walker had been amazing the first three quarters. That’s not going to cut it, and neither are turnovers like Murray’s floating pass to Poeltl over two defenders that picked got picked off and put the game out of reach.

It’s frustrating to see a team fall apart at the end after playing an otherwise really good game of basketball. Gregg Popovich is frustrated, too, even giving us one of his classic curmudgeon postgame interviews from the years of yore.

Pop has generally been patient with his young team, so the fact that he went old school and delayed postgame interviews for a film session shows he expects and knows they are capable of more.


  • Fabricio Oberto looks fantastic in a cowboy hat. Can we get him to say “Yeehaw!” next time in his bassy, monotone voice?
  • DeRozan ran over the Pop right before tip-off to give him a hug. They had a few things to say to each other with grins on their faces, and Pop sent DeMar on his way with a love tap on his rear end. They chatted a bit after DeRozan ran away with the game, too. (It even looked like Pop was jokingly trying to “steal him back”, and Billy Donovan wasn’t going to allow it.) It made me miss having DeMar, around and I’m glad that the two of them are still on good terms. They are the Valentine’s Day couple everyone should strive to be.
  • Coby White started for the Bulls in place of Zach Lavine, who hopefully doesn’t have too severe of a knee injury. He came out scorching hot, scoring 11 points in the first seven minutes with Murray guarding him. It’s something that happens a little too often for the Spurs — an opponent’s best players get ruled out, the Spurs let up against the replacements and then get burned. It definitely seems like the quality of a young team.
  • When Pop sent in his first batch of subs, Devin Vassell became the de facto power forward by merely being the second-tallest player on the floor for the Silver and Black. Keep in mind: Vassell is only 6-foot-5 and not nearly as thick as someone like Keldon Johnson. Rolling with four guards and one true big isn’t the worst idea ever, especially with the number of guys who deserve minutes, but the lack of size will come with disadvantages. On one play in the first quarter, Derrick Jones Jr. had three cracks at a tip-in (all of them misses). It took four players in black jerseys to finally get the board.
  • Dejounte hit a sick crossover with Matt Thomas guarding him that gave him a wide-open midrange jumper at the top of the circle. The ball hit the back iron, bounced off at what must’ve been a 91-degree angle and came back down through the hoop. “Bill, that’s the one,” Michelle Beadle said on the broadcast. “That one was silly.” You know what else is silly? This stat that ESPN found, that “Murray is the first player to record back-to-back games with at least 30 points and 10 assists with one or fewer turnovers since turnovers were tracked in 1977-78.”
  • More good stuff from Beadle: Nikola Vucevic shot a 3 in the third quarter that rimmed out. Bill Land goes “No luck on that rim.” And Michelle goes “Just like it did the Spurs. As long as it’s fair.” And Bill says something to the effect of “Or if it helps the Spurs.” And Michelle goes, “That’s right, that’s fair too.” She later found out she had the power to direct the broadcast and started shouting things like “Change camera! Replay! Commercial!” She got a good chuckle out of Oberto after asking him if he realized he was sitting next to a witch. I love it when she joins the call.
  • “Gravity” is a word that usually gets used when describing the way a shooter like Steph Curry completely bends a defense. It doesn’t get tossed around much when describing Doug McDermott, but it probably should be. McBuckets, who ranks second in the league shooting 43.5% from beyond the arc this season, helped keep San Antonio afloat through the first half with 14 points on 6-9 shooting. He hit a 3 in each of the first three quarters, but a lot of his points came from drives and backdoor cuts when his defender was playing him a little too tight.
  • It’s good to see Lonnie return to form after a rough couple of games to start the month. As they pointed out on the broadcast, Vassell got the nod into the starting lineup after the Derrick White trade, but Lonnie’s soaked up a lot of Vassell’s minutes off the bench. It’s a role that’s suited him well — he had 17 points against the Pelicans on Saturday and had another 21 on Monday against the Bulls.