Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Bulls earn their spurs with win over San Antonio
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By Sam Smith | 1.23.2015 | 2:24 a.m. CT
Oh, you mean those Bulls.
“We were win a game, lose a game, lose two games, win a game, lose two games; it’s not like we lost five games in a row or seven games in a row or something like that,” noted Derrick Rose. “It’s just something we’re not used to, which is losing games, period. We wanted to come out and see if we could have that edge and play with that edge the entire game.”
The Bulls sure did, taking off from a 46-40 halftime lead to dominate the mighty San Antonio Spurs, who had their full team playing and no one out injured in a 104-81 victory. Led by Rose’s 22 points in just under 27 minutes and Pau Gasol’s 12 points and 17-rebound subjugation of Tim Duncan, the Bulls in going to 28-16 held the Spurs to a season low 81 points, their fewest field goals in a game this season and lowest shooting percentage. In front of a TNT national TV audience in the wake of a lopsided Bulls loss in Cleveland Monday that had some local media critics and fans in hysterics calling for everything but the disbanding of the franchise, the Bulls outrebounded the Spurs 46-39, outran them 13-8 in fast breaks and held four of the five Spurs starters to single digit scoring. Their Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili combined for 17 points on seven of 22 shooting. In a major surprise, no one among the Spurs media asked coach Gregg Popovich if he’d lost the team.
That’s facetious, though Popovich wasn’t in the mood post game and before reporters could pose a question, Popovich had something to say about some of the things he read and heard from the Chicago media since arriving.
“Whoever asked me that question before the game (that) they’re not listening to Thibs and Thibs has lost them and that kind of bull***, you got your answer,” spat Popovich. “That’s baloney. Nothing could be further from the truth and hopefully whoever asked that question can figure that out instead of making stuff up. I thought the Bulls were physically and mentally committed to playing a great game. I thought our play was humiliating and embarrassing. But because of the Bulls’ tenacity and their sense of purpose.
“I thought their physicality was great,” Popovich said of the Bulls. “They had a sense of purpose as a group and with one mind and they carried out what they wanted to do. I thought they were great. We just played embarrassing basketball; I’d want my money back. I saw a laissez faire sort of entitled attitude game (from the Spurs). Like everything will be fine. I thought as a group they were mentally and physically humiliated.”
Yes, by those Bulls.
“We came out and competed,” said Rose. “Basketball, any sport, it’s all about competing. I think we lost that edge on the competing side where we were just playing the game. Just out there playing basketball; not taking on that challenge where really (you are) trying to stop your opponent, get mad if they score on you, get mad if anything happened wrong, show some emotion and get mad. Tonight we made an emphasis on that and it worked our way.”
It hardly means it’s on to a championship or we won’t see the sorts of games we saw in the Bulls losing six of eight before Thursday. Because it’s still a team with key players injured—Joakim Noah and Mike Dunleavy—numerous new players, young players and offensive oriented players.
And a team led by its best player returning from two years away with major knee surgeries, and Popovich said you just don’t understand how long that takes to recover.
“I think he’s getting better with each week that goes by,” said Popovich of Rose. “He’s getting more and more confidence. You come off an injury, it takes a while to get up to that final gear when he was an MVP. He’s getting there for sure. I also thought Pau was great, but as a group I thought their mental and physical approach was outstanding.”
That additionally was impressive coming in the wake of the losing streak, Rose angrily condemning the team’s play after the loss in Cleveland Monday and then specious reports of Thibodeau’s job in jeopardy, a cancelled practice, a team meeting Tuesday, a spirited but short practice Wednesday and then a complete game Thursday amidst the doubts circulated on national TV.
Everywhere but in the locker room.
“Tonight we came out with the right attitude, set the tone defensively,” said Gasol, who learned pregame fans voted him to start for the Eastern Conference in the NBA All-Star game, his first ever start in fifth All-Star game and joining his brother, who is a West starter. “We were getting to loose balls, we were hitting people, rebounding the ball well, active from the weak side. All those things make such a big difference and tonight we did it from beginning to end pretty much.
“We needed to have more of a sense of urgency,” said Gasol. “We needed to approach games with that mindset of making sure we were active, solid defensively, do everything we can to win the game and after losing six of eight games it needed to happen. Now it’s a matter of staying at it and building on it and not being complacent and being consistent and finding that consistency on the defensive end of the floor.
“It’s a relief to win,” added Gasol. “But I think it shows us what we are capable of doing. We can play this defense against the top team in the league offensively and the champions, (then) we can do it against anyone.”
The Bulls get another firm test Friday night in Dallas, but they showed vividly Thursday the capabilities, especially with some time off, which is more common in the playoffs. Until this week, the team hadn’t had more than one consecutive day off in more than a month, a relentless stretch of in and out travel and with players falling off injured regularly.
So they were challenged by Rose, by their coach, by one another, by the media and the community, though the latter two didn’t matter much.
“We shouldn’t come in here and just feel we have a 9 to 5 (job), and that’s no disrespect to people who have 9 to 5 jobs,” said Rose. “But when you play a sport for a living you should not have that feeling, have that joy you remember when you were younger and in the park and the joy of just winning games and competing and giving it your all while you are on the floor. Appreciating the game. It came back (Thursday), but we have to see how long it will last
“Maybe that’s one of the reasons we got loose was winning so many games in a row (last month),” said Rose. “I think we’re learning from our mistakes and learning as a group, so that’s a good thing. The way we’ve been playing doesn’t have anything to do with Thibs. He’s preparing us right; he’s doing and did everything possible. It’s up to the players to give that effort.”
The Bulls did Thursday in a basketball tour de force that staggered a Spurs team that had won six of its last seven and was playing its best of the season. Rose rolled over Tony Parker, Gasol pushed aside Duncan, Taj Gibson got the best of Tiago Splitter, Aaron Brooks ran out Manu Ginobili. Kawhi Leonard did have some early success against a foul plagued Jimmy Butler, but Butler rallied late for 17 points and back at the free throw line for seven of seven.
“We understand we have enough to win, but we have to get our defense right,” said Gibson. “It was good for our confidence; guys were flying around, believing in each other. We understand teams will go through rough spots. It’s up to us to go through and put forth effort and go after guys.”
The Bulls’ start wasn’t inspiring, 38.9 percent first quarter shooting, though Rose was heads above, attacking the basket with a pair of drives and rising in a crowd for a rebound over Duncan and putting it back in left handed. Still, the Bulls trailed 22-21 after one.
With Dunleavy out an 11th game, Thibodeau went back to Tony Snell to start and he was somewhat less tentative, finally going to the basket and finishing with 12 points. Thibodeau also gave Nazr Mohammed a surprise call in the first quarter and the veteran was physical and obviously bothersome to the Spurs big guys. Though Butler with foul problems had trouble containing Leonard in the second quarter, Rose began to control the game. He had nine points and four assists in the second quarter as the Spurs trapped and double teamed him wherever he went, opening up shots for teammates and Rose carving his own way through the meat of the Spurs defense for scores and a pull up three in transition.
The Bulls led 46-40 at halftime, but the players talked.
“We really got on each other about coming out in the second half and coming out right,” said Rose.
It became an avalanche of hustle and muscle that buried the Spurs, Gasol grabbing every rebound over Duncan with nine in the quarter, Gibson powering up inside, Rose with another three after Butler opened the quarter with a three as the ball hopped around to four players. In the middle was a 14-2 run for a 73-48 lead that had the United Center crowd up for a standing ovation for the effort and turmoil. The Bulls were closing out on Spurs three point shooters, fighting over every screen, pushing the big men well off their spots and boxing out while Gibson had four offensive rebounds (15 points and nine rebounds overall) and the Spurs’ starters combined for five.
The Bulls led 77-60 after three and continued to pile it on with a 9-4 start to the fourth quarter to extend the lead back to 22. Thibodeau put Rose back in a bit later, but Rose asked out after about 45 seconds.
“We were up 20, so what is the point?” asked Rose. “I wanted to give the other guys a chance to go out and play. I feel fine.”
The deep reserves came in and continued to pummel the Spurs.
“This could be a blessing in disguise,” Rose said about the mini slump. “We know it’s a hard challenge, but with the team we have and where we want to be we have to take on this challenge.”