By Art Garcia, NBA.com
Posted Nov 27 2008 1:03AM
SAN ANTONIO -- The night belonged to a rookie point guard picked in the first round. Just not the one you're thinking of when the Bulls hit the floor.
George Hill stole the spotlight and the Spurs walked out with a 98-88 win by pulling away in from Chicago in the second half. Many of the 17,000-plus inside the AT&T Center were curious to see Derrick Rose, the top pick in the draft whose career is off to eye-opening start.
But the Silver & Black faithful have also quickly grown to love their first-year quarterback and Hill added to his budding legend Wednesday night. Picked 25 spots behind Rose, the find out of IUPUI (it's in Indianapolis) outplayed his heralded University of Memphis counterpart.
"That's me," Hill said after a 19-point, 11-rebound surge off the bench. "That's what I'm here for. I think that's why they chose me to be here. I compete. I don't give up on things and I try to defend to the best of my ability no matter who is in front of me."
San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich couldn't have scripted those words any better or found a better fit for his team that deep into the draft. The Spurs were the only team that had Hill on their radar in the first round, but this franchise knew what it was doing ... again. San Antonio hit on Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker when everyone else passed.
Hill has been a mountain so far.
"George has had a good season for a rookie that is learning his position," Popovich said. "And coming in and having the pressure on learning that position, I think he's done fantastic. He does a lot of things that go unnoticed, but it helps the team win. He plays an all-around game."
Rose had been, too, but this was a night when he and the Bulls (7-9) ran out of gas. It was the finale of the six-game western swing of Chicago's Circus Trip. The Spurs have an annual Rodeo Trip that's billed as one of self-discovery.
Going more than three weeks without a home game, as the rodeo takes root every February in their arena, doesn't break the Spurs. They usually come out a tighter unit prepared to take on the NBA world as the season winds down.
The Bulls' less-celebrated jaunt, thanks to Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey, doesn't have that same noble purpose. It's more of an exercise in survival for Chicago, which last played in the friendly confines of the United Center on Nov. 15 and won't be back until Dec. 2. The seven-game trek actually ends Sunday at Philadelphia. The Bulls went 2-4 against six Western Conference playoff contenders. Rose definitely had his moments -- he scored 25 three times -- though this outing won't be on his personal highlight DVD when his rookie season wraps.
Ironically, Rose has quickly developed a rep for his killer instinct after halftime, but Hill outscored his fellow first-rounder 12-2 over the final two periods. The resurgent Spurs (8-6) made up a nine-point deficit early in the third with their returning supersub Ginobili, in only his second game back, and Hill leading the way.
"We had a nice lead and they made a couple of adjustments," Chicago first-year coach Vinny Del Negro said. "The boys got a little fatigued out there and they got us back on our heels."
Del Negro warned not to extract too much out of the roadie, at least compared to San Antonio's rodeo version. While the Spurs use their trip to refocus on what they do and bunker down for the stretch run, the Bulls are coming at it from a vastly different perspective.
For one, Chicago's trip comes too early in the season. The Bulls and their new coaching staff are still trying to get a feel for each other. While being away helps the bonding process, the lack of practice time slows the learning curve.
Not that Rose is lacking with it comes to basketball smarts. Del Negro admitted before the game he was happy his floor general didn't have to face Parker or Utah' s Deron Williams on the odyssey through the West.
But did Hill show up on Chicago's scouting report? Coming off three consecutive 20-point games, he should have been.
"George Hill and Kurt Thomas killed us with that pick-and-roll they ran," Bulls forward Drew Gooden lamented. "The game is like a chess match, especially when you go against a coach like Gregg Popovich. He always makes adjustments."
Hill sliced through the lane and finished at the rim repeatedly, ala Ginobili. The Bulls' frustration boiled over when Andres Nocioni hacked an attacking Hill across the shoulder to earn a flagrant foul early in the fourth. Obviously in pain at the time, Hill laughed it off later.
"I need to be like Ford," he quipped. "Built tough."
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