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Spurs lack firepower to keep up with Bulls late, drop 3rd straight

The game was close for three quarters, but the Bulls found another gear when they needed it and pulled away to get a comfortable win.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Chicago Bulls Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Spurs find themselves on a losing streak once again. After beating the Lakers a week ago, they have now dropped three straight. Their latest defeat came in Chicago, where they kept an ugly game close for three quarters before finally being outgunned by the Bulls, which finished strong to secure a 116-103 win.

On his return to action after missing the matchup against the Bucks, Victor Wembanyama struggled with his shot but was a force on defense and showed off his passing to start the game against the Bulls. Malaki Branham provided some much-needed scoring as Devin Vassell’s jumper was not falling and the decision to let Nikola Vucevic shoot from outside paid off early on. San Antonio looked more comfortable in the starting minutes, at least until Wembanyama took a break. The second unit struggled to score in the half court and relied on a couple of transition buckets to get points while Andre Drummond wreaked havoc on the offensive glass for the home team. The Bulls weren’t sharp but did enough to make up for a poor initial stretch and trailed by only one after the first quarter.

The execution didn’t improve in the second period, for either team. The Spurs started to cough the ball up a lot and had terrible spacing on most possessions, which energized a Chicago defense that pounced on an uninspired San Antonio offense that lacked ball handling. Vucevic moved inside the arc and destroyed Zach Collins, who played more than usual as Wembanyama had to sit for long stretches due to a minutes limit. Had the Bulls been more effective on offense, they could have created some serious separation, but they were also contributing to the ugly nature of the game with some poor offensive possessions. Their lead almost reached double digits before Devin Vassell came alive and helped the Silver and Black get some points on the board and keep the game close heading into the break.

The start of the second half mirrored the start of the game. Wembanyama pushed a little too hard on offense looking to get going without much success but was an absolute beast on defense, dominating the matchup against Vucevic. When Victor sat, the Spurs gave up more points inside to a Bulls team that for the majority of the night couldn’t hit outside shots. San Antonio executed poorly and had untimely turnovers but their opponent didn’t have the type of scoring punch needed to pull away. The difference this time was that Coby White started to wake up and DeMar DeRozan scored the type of buckets a star provides to close a period well. At the end of the third, the game had been ugly but still entertaining in part because it was close, as Chicago only led by seven.

The parity would disappear in the closing frame, as the Bulls finally started to make the threes that had not gone in earlier. The Spurs responded with a couple of long balls of their own, but San Antonio’s offense had struggled all night, so even when Chicagot’s league reached the low double-digits it felt like the game was slipping away. After a quiet 36 minutes, the home team finally found the firepower it had lacked before and simply cruised to victory. Another competitive loss on the books for the Spurs that only leaves fans wondering if the team is actually improving or just benefiting from opponents that know that they can simply step on the gas pedal when they need to against a group that is too limited to pose a real threat.

Game notes

  • Victor Wembanyama was dominant on defense and showed off his passing on this one, but scored just seven points in eight shots. It was his lowest-scoring game of the season and the big man was clearly not happy about it, as he was demonstrative in his frustration when his teammates couldn’t find him. The bad body language only lasted for a few seconds before he returned to normal, so it’s probably not something to worry about.
  • Devin Vassell scored an efficient 21 points and did a little bit of everything. His jumper was not falling early but he kept looking for his shot and eventually got into a rhythm. Good game for Vassell.
  • Malaki Branham and Keldon Johnson scored in double digits but Johnson missed his two threes and Branham disappeared for a while after scoring the team’s first seven points of the game. They also both had more turnovers than assists. The Spurs need consistency from them.
  • A harmful byproduct of the Point Sochan experiment is that now that he’s not the main ball handler, Sochan has no idea what to do on offense. He still gets some buckets and assists off talent and instincts alone but often seems like he’s mostly trying to stay out of others’ way, either sitting in the dunker spot or floating around the perimeter. He still tries his hardest on defense on the opponent’s best scorer but it might take him some time to find his way on the other end.
  • Zach Collins scored 14 but got killed on defense. Tre Jones turned the ball over five times. Cedi Osman missed his four shots and Doug McDermott missed three out of his four. The bench didn’t help on Thursday.
  • On a positive note, it was great to see the Spurs gang rebound on a night in which Wemby was on a minutes restriction. Six players had three boards or more and no one had more than six for a San Antonio team that only allowed five offensive boards. Chicago dominated inside but the effort on the glass was there for the Silver and Black.

Play of the night

A 7’4” center going coast-to-coast and dishing out a no-look, over-the-head pass in transition. Wemby does things that sound impossible.

Next game: at Dallas Mavericks on Saturday

The Spurs will face the team that beat them on opening night. Finding a way to keep the Mavericks' pick-and-roll attack under control will be a must for San Antonio to have a shot at leaving Dallas with a win.