The Margin: San Antonio Spurs 101, Chicago Bulls 83
AT&T CENTER — For tonight’s 101-83 San Antonio Spurs victory over the Chicago Bulls, I’m going to start my post game coverage with The Margin format in an attempt to stretch my game observations to their limits in an 18-point gap. Per the Margin format, that’s 18 points of observation. Deep breath….and here we go:
- The matchup between the Spurs’ Tim Duncan and the Bulls’ Joakim Noah was an absolute treat tonight, with Duncan (18 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks) getting the better of it. Both are dominant defensive big men (Combining for nine blocked shots), with an edge to Noah due to him being in his prime and being able to cover more ground and minutes. While Noah is a frenetic ball of energy, seemingly everywhere on the court at once, Duncan simply lurks—calculating the proper angle and timing to meet challengers at the rim. Duncan had an efficient 7-of-13 shooting night, but many of his drives couldn’t have been defended better. Nothing was easy, and the shots hardly quality, but chalk it up half a lifetime of hitting such difficult shots for Duncan.
- Cory Joseph is getting more than a token nod and minutes as the Spurs starting point guard in Tony Parker’s absence. In a small sample size Joseph has showed he has a legitimate NBA role as a defensive point guard that can function as a caretaker for the offense. That is, not necessarily making plays, but not turning the ball over. Joseph was able to pressure full court, delaying the Bulls ability to get into their sets. An underrated factor against a team that lacks quality shot creators. He also fights through screens, locking and trailing well for a player of his stature and inexperience. He’s shown an improved shot, though it remains to be seen if it holds up at the NBA level.
- For the first half, Joakim Noah was the Bulls’ best offensive weapon whose contributions went beyond his 4-for-8 shooting. His two blocks and five offensive rebounds in the first half bought the offensively-challenged Bulls extra possessions and opportunities in transitions, allowing the Bulls some moments to operate before the Spurs defense could set itself.
- Carlos Boozer possess, quite possibly, the laziest go-to move in all the NBA. It’s a three-step process that’s easy to replicate and hard to be efficient with. Jab. Fade. Shoot. He’s effective enough with it to be a secondary option in brief stretches. But not for what they’re paying him.
- Tiago Splitter deserves some praise simply for his demeanor against the Bulls, especially in the second half. Splitter matched the Bulls physicality for much of the night, but three sequences stand out in the second half. Facing a hard double, Splitter (perhaps for the first time in his NBA career) simply dropped his shoulder and powered through the defenders for a strong basket. He followed that up by two-handed dunk from a Manu Ginobili pass, then towards the end of the night attempted another two-handed dunk in transition, earning free throws. Toss in a fake-pass-on-the-drive layup and I’m wondering if he got an Argentinean blood transfusion before the game.
- Manu Ginobili had another fantastic game as the primary ball-handler, flowing like water through cracks in the defense. There wasn’t a wall of defenders that could hold back the tide that is an attacking Ginobili. The nine assists are expected these days, provided he has the ball in his hands enough, but more welcoming was the return of those long strides he takes in driving to the rim. The ones that can step through a defense moving in any direction.
- Ginobili was the hammer that broke the Bulls defense. Against a team as disciplined as the Bulls, simply moving bodies and ball doesn’t create enough opportunities to exploit. It takes a player forcefully breaking that defense down. Duncan had a good night, but hit the type of shots that don’t require double teams. It was Ginobili and to some extend Kawhi Leonard that loosened the Bulls defense.
- Over the past few games Ginobili and Leonard are displaying an emerging chemistry, with Ginobili passing the ball to the exact location Leonard seemingly teleports to from out of nowhere. Right now you can see the players communicating with simple eye signals, but it won’t be long before that chemistry borders on telepathic.
- The basic box scores won’t show it, but Kawhi Leonard owns Luol Deng. It’s a fun chess match to watch, really, but Deng simply doesn’t have the shot creating skills or off the ball ingenuity that Leonard possesses.
- Kawhi Leonard is improving a great deal off the dribble. It’s exciting to see him confidently turning the corners. Earlier in the season I mistakenly thought he simply lacked that explosive burst necessary, but as he’s grown more confident he has discarded all hesitation and is getting to the rim easier. Perhaps my favorite move was a crossover-hesitation-and-go combination he showed in the second quarter he capped off with a dunk.
- And now Leonard is threading one-handed bounce passes to Duncan in transition?!
- Patty Mills has a specific role on this team, and it’s one that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says won’t really change much due to Parker’s absence. Mills is an energetic, skilled shooter who thrives on spot-up opportunities and coming off curls while lacking creativity off the bounce. Defensively he’s perhaps the most active looking player in NBA history, and manages to apply pressure at the point of attack, but is easily taken out of plays by a simple screen.
- For those wondering, just as the Spurs efforts to replace Parker’s productivity has been a team effort, in Mills’ absence from the bench it takes a team approach to waving his towels. Not everyone has the expansive repertoire Mills boasts, but they each contribute different variations of his waves and together create a reasonable impression.
- Boris Diaw took three shots on three consecutive possessions, which I believe is a first during his Spurs tenure and possibly career. They were damn good shots too, aggressive and attacking the rim. It was a brief 12 minutes (he’s still on a heavy minutes restriction) but they were very effective.
- The high-low passes between all of the bigs were impressive tonight. There were plays where the ball went from guard-to-big-to-big with no one holding onto the ball for more than a fraction of a second. Perhaps the most impressive example is a top of the key pick-and-roll run between Leonard(!) and Splitter, who tapped the ball to Duncan on the baseline for a dunk.
- Danny Green had a nice little seven-point run in the third quarter, punctuated by a left-handed drive in which he made an off-the-dribble move and finished through contact. He’s made some small strides lately in this regard, but still needs work.
- Credit Stephen Jackson for hounding Deng, chasing shooters off the 3-point line, and pulling down five defensive rebounds while working between both forward positions.
- In all, the Spurs bench outscored the Bulls bench 45-17. Tony Parker is needed to make things easier in the playoffs, but over the course of the regular season the system needs only the most basic levels of penetration and shot creation to survive long stretches. The Spurs struggled early tonight, but once Ginobili found his game everything else easily fell into place.