Game Recap: Bulls 96, Spurs 89

The Bulls entered last night’s road contest — the second of back-to-back games – with a merely ”okay” record against teams .500 and above (10-4). Meanwhile, the Spurs were fresh and 13-1 at home.

Despite the tough circumstances, the Bulls gutted out a huge win. Here are some thoughts about the game.

Battle of the point guards:
There was a panic-inducing moment in the first quarter when Derrick Rose banged knees with Tony Parker. TP was fine, but Rose fell to the ground and spent a minute or two writhing in pain.

Said Rose: “For sure, [there was pain] when I first hit him. It was a lot of pain in there. But after laying down there for a little bit, I got up, I was good.”

He sure was. Rose shook off the collision and finished with a game-high 29 points. Rose also hit back-to-back clutch baskets to help hold the Spurs off. The first was a one-handed bank shot from nine feet out with 1:46 left. The second was an 18-foot jumper over the outstretched hand of Tim Duncan with 1:09 remaining.

The Bulls didn’t lose much when C.J. Watson was in the game. Watson scored 12 points in only 13 minutes while shooting 5-for-8 from the field and 2-for-4 from downtown. He also had 4 assists and 2 steals.

Meanwhile, Tony Parker struggled, finishing with only 11 points on 5-for-16 from the field. Parker did have 9 assists, but he couldn’t get his shots to drop or contain Rose.

Said Rose: “I told you, playing every point guard on the planet is fun, where I love the challenge. He’s a veteran point guard, knows all the moves, plays great for that team.”

There was also a great first quarter sequence in which Rose blocked Parker’s shot, Parker grabbed the offensive rebound and tried to go back up with it, but Rose forced him behind the backboard and Parker turned the ball over. Rose may not be a lockdown defender, but he is a much improved defensive player compared to his first two seasons in the league.

Horrible mid-range shooting:
The Bulls were great at the rim (15-for-21) and solid from beyond the arc (7-for-15), but they were clanking away from mid-range. Chicago went 2-for-9 (22.3 percent) from 10-15 feet and 4-for-23 (17.4 percent) from 16-23 feet.

And let me tell you: There were some baaaaaad misses last night.

I get that it was the second night of back-to-back games and they didn’t have their legs under them. But still.

Carlos Boozer, powerless forward:
No discussion of bad jump shooting in this game would be complete without mentioning Boozer. He was 3-for-5 at the rim…and 0-fer from every other range: 0-for-2 from 3-9 feet, 0-for-2 from 10-15 feet and 0-for-2 from 16-29 feet. Booz was missing so badly it was like he was blindfolded.

Boozer also got benched in the fourth quarter, likely for his defense, in particular a third quarter moment in which Tim Duncan beat him down the floor for an easy dunk. That should never happen at this stage in Duncan’s career.

The Spurs bench:
Their raw numbers aren’t terrible: Thanks to Gary Neal’s team-high 21 points (including 15 in the fourth quarter), San Antonio’s reserves finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocked shots. Not a bad night’s work.

But…they got outscored pretty badly. Matt Bonner had a plus-minus of -16 in 22 minutes, Neal was -14 in 24 minutes, James Anderson was -13 in 24 minutes and T.J. Ford was -6 in eight minutes. Meanwhile, four of five Spurs starters had a positive plus-minus and Duncan finished with a 0.

The Bulls bench:
On the flip side, Joakim Noah (+3) and Rose (+1) were the only Chicago starters to have a positive plus-minus score. Richard Hamilton (-8), Boozer (-5) and Deng (-1) were in the red.

Meanwhile, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer were both +12, Kyle Korver was +11, C.J. Watson was +6 and Omer Asik was +4. On the road on the second night of back-to-back games versus a hot team, the Bulls’ depth made the difference.

Luol Deng:
Deng had a rough night from the field (3-for-8), but he still stepped up and knocked down what may have been the biggest shot of the game. The Bulls were clinging to an 83-82 lead with under a minute to play. With the shot clock winding down, San Antonio’s defense forced Rose to give up the ball, which found it’s way into Deng’s hands.

BANG.

Lu drilled a triple with 39 seconds left to put the Bulls up 86-82, virtually locking up the win.

Tim Duncan:
Timmy D is having the worst statistical season of his career, but he still finished with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds to go with 2 steals and 2 blocked shots. It was the 721st double-double of Duncan’s career, which makes him the leader in that category among active players (Kevin Garnet is in second place with 701).

After a terrible 1-for-7 start in which Duncan looked more like The Corpse of Duncan, Tim scored 13 points in the third quarter, a scoring spree that included two dunks and three long jumpers.

Not coincidentally, the Spurs outscored the Bulls 24-15 in the third. There were moments when Duncan’s turn-back-the-clock scoring was going to finish the Bulls. Fortunately, Duncan couldn’t sustain his run in the fourth.

A little help from his friends:
As I mentioned above, Rose hit two clutch shots, but he didn’t have to do everything himself in the fourth quarter. Brewer scored Chicago’s first six points of the final 12 minutes by drilling a 20-footer and converting two layups off a couple nice feeds by Watson.

With 5:48 left and the score tied at 71-71, Korver nailed a huge three off an assist from Rose. A little over a minute later, Deng hit a three of his own, also off a dish from Derrick. Another minute-plus went by and then Brewer connected on another long jump shot. And of course Deng threw in the big triple with 39 seconds left (see above).

The Spurs did what they could to limit Rose’s looks and force other Bulls to beat them, especially down the stretch. It was nice to see that strategy fail.

Said Noah: “This is a team game. Derrick is special and we know that, but get out of the way? Guys are setting screens for him, guys are moving. I think everybody has a role and I think everybody plays it pretty well on this team.”

Rip Hamilton:
It’s good to have Rip back. It’ll be even better when he doesn’t play like a poor man’s Keith Bogans. Last night, Hamilton finished with only 2 points on 1-for-8 shooting. He also missed his only free throw. Rip’s presumed ability to take some of the backcourt scoring load off Rose will likely be a key factor if and when the Bulls face the Heat in the playoffs. Hopefully, Hamilton will shake off the rust soon.

Extras:
Recap, Box Score, Advanced Box Score, Play-by-Play, Shot Chart, Photos.

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    [...] Over at our fellow TrueHoop site Bulls by the Horns, Matt McHale points out that while the Spurs starters held their own, the bench, despite Gary Neal’s best efforts, were pretty handily defeated. [...]

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