The Bulls, spurred on by the return of Doug McDermott and every starter scoring in double figures, defeated the San Antonio Spurs 95-91.
The Spurs fought back from an 18-point third quarter deficit, but big plays down the stretch from Taj Gibson and clutch free throws from McDermott enabled the Bulls to hold on for their 16th consecutive home win on the TNT Thursday national game.
The Bulls were led by Dwyane Wade with 20 points. Jimmy Butler had 13 points and nine rebounds and the other three starters, Robin Lopez, Gibson and Rajon Rondo all had 12 points. Rondo also had 10 rebounds and nine assists. Wade called it the team’s best defensive effort of the year. Kawhi Leonard led San Antonio with 24.
The Bulls broke a three-game losing streak and moved to 12-10 while the Spurs fell to 18-5. The Spurs had won 13 of their last 14. The Bulls have sandwiched wins over the Cavs and Spurs around losses to the Mavericks, Trailblazers and Pistons.
The Bulls welcomed back McDermott after he missed 11 games with a second concussion and the Bulls in the interim fell to last in the league in three point shooting. He scored eight points. It was a daunting assignment with the Spurs coming in working on 13 straight road wins. The Bulls started out going inside to Gibson and Lopez, in part to stay away from top defender Leonard playing Butler. Gibson responded with three jumpers. It was tied at eight at the first timeout when the Bulls played a video tribute to returning Pau Gasol and McDermott returned to the game. McDermott made his first shot a three and combined with Rondo for a fast break and the Bulls took a 21-17 lead after one quarter, holding the Spurs to 38 percent shooting.
The Bulls continued the defensive pressure on the Spurs in the second quarter, taking a 32-21 lead midway through the second quarter as the Spurs shooting fell below 30 percent. Cristiano Felicio gave the Bulls a nice lift with active inside play and a tip in and slam dunk on a swift inside pass from Nikola Mirotic. But it was the defense, especially inside as the Bulls pressured the Spurs into multiple misses in close and 31 percent first half shooting. The Bulls led 45-32 at the half as Wade scored nine points and even with Butler scoreless.
The Bulls continued to go inside and Lopez responded with a hook shot and tip in as the Bulls moved ahead 58-45 midway through the third quarter. Butler was scoreless in the first half, zero fro five, and didn’t get his first basket until just under seven minutes left in the third. He followed that with a three after a McDermott miss and the Bulls led 70-57 with 2:19 left after a Mirotic three. The Spurs closed aggressively while the Bulls missed six of their last eight shots and the teams went into the fourth quarter with the Bulls leading 72-63. The Spurs opened the fourth quarter with a three to cut the Bulls lead to six. But Felicio came flying in on a McDermott miss for a powerful followup dunk and the Bulls held onto a 78-68 lead with 8:38 left. The play became fierce as Kawhi Leonard made a pair of unlikely three-point plays before a hard Butler drive for a score, though the Spurs pushed back within 84-78 with 6:08 left. The Spurs kept coming, as expected, but the Bulls got a slam dunk from Gibson on a clever inside pass from Wade, three McDermott free throws fouled shooting and Butler with a jumper than rolled around three times and through for a 93-86 lead with 2:09 remaining.