Bulls fall to Spurs 109-101

Three players scoring at least 20 points Thursday still failed to spur the Bulls to victory as the Bulls lost 109-101 to the San Antonio Spurs.

The Bulls got 21 points, 12 rebounds and five assists from Pau Gasol, 21 points from Derrick Rose, 20 points and four of five threes from E’Twaun Moore and 12 points off the bench from Justin Holiday. But it wasn’t enough to offset 29 points from Kawhi Leonard and 26 points from LaMarcus Aldridge.

The Spurs remained undefeated at home at 31-0. The Bulls fell to 32-31 and to ninth in the Eastern Conference. The Spurs are 55-10. The Bulls are 11-20 on the road and have lost 12 of their last 18 games.

The Bulls committed 21 turnovers, seven by Gasol, while the Spurs had 29 assists.

The Bulls received good news earlier in the day with word that Jimmy Butler’s knee concerns weren’t warranted and Butler could play soon. Dr. James Andrews confirmed the Bulls’ diagnosis that there was no structural damage and Butler probably will play next week. But missing the game against the Spurs, and especially Leonard, was difficult for the Bulls. Mostly operating against Mike Dunleavy with Butler out, Leonard had 11 first quarter points as the Spurs rode out to a 17-11 lead about five minutes in. But the Bulls got six points from Rose slashing to the basket and Taj Gibson with a half dozen also competing inside as the Bulls tied the Spurs at 27 after one quarter. Rose also had three assists.

The Bulls suffered an issue to open the second quarter that had hindered them with the accumulation of injuries. When the opponent goes to a second unit, the Bulls, in effect, have to play a third string of deep bench reserves. With Bobby Portis being taught lessons from veteran David West, the Spurs pushed the lead out to 39-33 before coach Fred Hoiberg began cycling the some of the starters back in. The Bulls got aggressive offense from Holiday, who’d been uncertain. He scored seven points and was aggressive as the Bulls got back within one. It was easily Holiday’s best play with the Bulls. But West continued to dominate Portis and scored back to back inside. Moore continued his underrated scoring with a pair of threes and the Spurs still endured leading 54-47 at halftime.

The Spurs with four straight to close the first half made it a 10-1 run to take an early second half 60-48 lead. That with Taj Gibson drawing his fourth foul after two minutes. But Rose with a three jumpers, including a three, and Moore with another three sent the Spurs into a timeout midway through the third quarter with the Bulls trailing 64-60. The Bulls then got the fourth three pointer from Moore to refuse to go away and trail 66-65 midway through the third quarter. The Bulls with Rose going out then fell victim to their sloppy ball handling with six turnovers the rest of the third quarter with the Spurs taking an 84-74 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Gasol had 19 points and 13 rebounds after three with six turnovers. Leonard and Aldridge were a combined 17 of 28 shooting through three.

The Bulls kept coming back, however. After the Spurs took a 90-78 lead early in the fourth quarter, Rose hot a pullup, Holiday burst to the basket on a full court run and added a three as the Bulls got within 90-87 with about eight minutes left in the game. But the Spurs came out of a timeout with a pair of Tony Parker scores to push back out ahead as the Bulls never could take a lead except for early in the second quarter. Late in the fourth quarter, Hoiberg got his first technical foul as an NBA player or coach after the lack of a foul call on a Gibson dunk attempt.