It happens so quick and yet, it doesn’t feel devastating even though it’ll show on the boxscore that the San Antonio Spurs win every game by a margin unmatched in NBA history.
The Bulls were every bit the Spurs’ equal Thursday night but overall couldn’t match their execution, falling 109-101 at the AT&T Center.
Every time it seemed the Bulls were ready to grab some momentum, something worked against them.
Trailing by five late in the third, they had a chance to cut it to two but Nikola Mirotic missed a wide-open triple from the corner, followed by Kawhi Leonard having one bounce softly off the rim then back in again, pushing the lead to eight. It seemed to be that way all night for the Bulls, fighting uphill against a buzzsaw and against their own limitations.
They hit five more triples than the Spurs, made 12 of 13 free throws and outrebounded them by a 50-40 margin, but their own worst energy came back to bite them, with 21 turnovers leading to 16 Spurs points.
“That was the game,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Played well for the most part except for the turnovers. You can’t give a team like that, especially in their home building, extra opportunities.”
The Bulls leave San Antonio feeling they let yet another winnable game get away.
“It was a game for the taking,” said Taj Gibson, whose missed dunk led to Hoiberg getting the first technical foul of his career late in the fourth quarter, both believing he’d been hacked on the way up.
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“We turned the ball over a lot, a little myself. There’s plays you wish you could take back. We had great looks, the energy was good. We just came up short.”
By the time Danny Green snuck behind E’Twaun Moore for a follow-up dunk with 4:09 left to put the Spurs up 10 and re-establish some breathing room, it seemed fait accompli the Bulls’ effort in ending the Spurs’ 30-0 home start would be for naught.
“They’re so experienced, so talented and they just know the game,” Derrick Rose said.
Moore had a standout game, hitting four triples, most of them when the Bulls were teetering in the first three quarters and the threat of being out of the building was high.
Moore finished with 20, starting in place of Jimmy Butler, but they sure could’ve used Butler on the Spurs’ best player.
Derrick Rose was guarded by Kawhi Leonard, the premier perimeter defender the NBA has to offer. And without Jimmy Butler, not only was Leonard free to roam offensively but to hassle Rose on the other end.
Leonard led the Spurs with 29 points and seven rebounds to go along with two steals and two blocks. LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 with 10 rebounds in 33 minutes and Tony Parker, who kept Rose’s head spinning all night with constant activity, scored 20 in his return from injury.
Rose, along with Moore and Justin Holliday (12 points), played exceptionally well in spurts to keep the Bulls in it. He scored a quick seven in the first four minutes to start the third quarter and the Bulls made the Spurs sweat.
The Spurs had moments where shots rolled in and out, which Rose pointed out succinctly.
“They missed a lot of wide open shots, too, so that was our reason to hang in the game a little bit longer,” he said.
Rose scored 21 points with six assists, and only committed one turnover in 36 minutes.
“I wouldn’t say one play away,” Rose said. “A couple plays away. We had plays where we didn’t box out, (they) pitched it back out for open shots. We had plays where they got all the way to the lane.”
But he was one of the few who was unfazed by the Spurs’ perfect position defense.
They didn’t make many mistakes but when they did, the beauty of the Spurs was revealed. Although the giveaways didn’t come in spurts, they didn’t have to because the Spurs capitalized, seemingly every time.
The Bulls had their turnovers and to boot, could only force eight out of the Spurs, limiting their chances for easy opportunities.
“That’s that great experienced teams do,” Hoiberg said. “They’ve won 30, 40 games in a row at home. You shoot yourself in the foot giving up so many easy opportunities.”
Then the other aspect of this team is when Gregg Popovich sits down and allows his team to run its offense to perfection.
Flawless cuts to the basket. Precise picks. And most of all, perfect passes.
The Spurs tallied 29 assists on their 44 field goals, with Parker dishing out 12 helpers.
Hoiberg won’t complain about effort, as they fell to a superior team in a perfect atmosphere in a building that hasn’t seen a loss in over a year.
But it didn’t stop the Bulls from sliding back into ninth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, with the Miami Heat meeting them in Chicago Friday.