If basketball was a three-quarter game, the Spurs would have been able to hang their hats on a hard fought loss to a talented team at the start of a long road trip. Unfortunately, there is a crucial 4th quarter that has caused San Antonio problems this season. Zach LaVine and Andre Drummond led the Bulls to a dominant 4th quarter where they outscored the Spurs 38-19. Turnovers and sloppy defensive play caused a Spurs team that seemed to be in control late in the 3rd quarter of play to completely collapse in the last 12 minutes.
For rebuilding teams, it’s necessary to find silver linings, and there were some in Chicago. Keldon Johnson continues to prove himself as a forceful slasher, tallying 21 points on 8/12 shooting from the field. He thrived on straight line drives and dribble handoffs that got his momentum heading to the basket.
With the trade deadline looming this Thursday, Spurs fans may wonder if key contributors such as Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson could be on the way out in exchange for more draft capital to help future editions of the roster. If that ends up being the case, they can expect the team’s defensive woes to carry on in the last third of the season.
- The Spurs defense was inconsistent, giving up big runs in the 1st and 4th quarters, but it also kept them in the game in the 2nd and 3rd. During the two bad quarters, the Bulls shot over 60% and were able to get to the basket with ease, resulting in 74 points in the paint and catalyzing those major runs. Porous perimeter defense allowed their guards to get downhill and find easy looks on kick outs to shooters or lobs to Drummond. In the good quarters, when the Spurs made runs of their own, they held the Bulls to 42% and 55% from the field to keep the game competitive, forcing turnovers and getting out in transition to score 20 points off of takeaways. Young teams are at their best when they are using their athleticism and energy to create turnovers and score in transition, but the Spurs could not sustain that effort down the stretch.
- The Spurs lead the league in bench scoring but could not get the same type of production on Monday night. With key contributors on the injury report, the lack of depth hurt them when the starters rested. The Bulls bench has not been great this season, standing at 24th in the NBA in bench scoring, but you couldn’t tell by Monday’s game. Back-up center Drummond bullied the Spurs inside, posting 21 and 15 in just 21 minutes of play. He punished the Spurs for foolish mistakes, causing a few turnovers under the Spurs own basket, and grabbing 3 offensive rebounds. After being visibly upset over a Zach Collins foul in the 3rd quarter, Drummond turned it on, tallying 12 points and 5 rebounds while dominating the 4th quarter. On the Spurs end, rookie Blake Wesley showed flashes of an uber-speedy guard who can shoot off of the catch, but remains an inconsistent young player who is learning the NBA ropes.
- Malaki Branham came back to earth after stellar showings in his last two games, dropping 15 points on an inefficient 6 of 18 from the field. The 19-year-old rookie struggled against some smothering perimeter defense from Ayo Dosunmu and played at a more frantic pace than we had seen in his smooth, mid-range heavy scoring outputs against the 76ers and Kings. That being said, he did hit 3 of his 8 three-pointers, which is pretty good efficiency for a player who is shooting just under 30% from range this season. Despite having a troubling first half, he turned it around in the second, calming down a bit and playing more at his pace. It’s a good sign to see a rookie stay resilient and learn from his mistakes, especially on a night when his scoring was needed. After all, this season is about developing young players who will contribute to playoff teams in the coming years. A night like tonight is a necessary step in Branham’s development.