The Margin: San Antonio Spurs 101, Chicago Bulls 83

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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.
  • lvmainman

    The only thing that I didn’t like in this game, was the inability of both big men to score in the post. Splitter was terrible against Boozer with an air ball finger roll and no ability to back Boozer down. Duncan made one incredible shot across the lane and was then stymied by Noah with ease in the post, especially when he got fired up. This doesn’t bode well for the playoffs if the 2 bigs continue to struggle in the post one on one.

  • junierizzle

    Honestly I’m not worried about that. The system is to move the ball. At this stage in his career TD is best at PNR and spot up shooting. Have you noticed his best games are when he is hitting that elbow jumper? He can turn back the clock here and there but a steady diet of post moves is not what the Spurs need. And Tiago’ s way of “dominating” the post is also PNR and cutting.

  • junierizzle

    I thought this was a good physical test for the Spurs. Bulls are still tough defensively even without Rose. And nice to see Manu getting into rhythm as expected with TP out.

  • Easy B

    Good win today. We need Manu to play like this in the playoffs. Keeping his minutes to 26-30 would be ideal. We need Green, Tiago, KL, TD on the floor big minutes to have that defensive identity.
    Maybe Manu and Patty can come on as a tandem to spell TP when playing the Thunder to keep him fresh for the 4th quarters. It is an attacking look that gives us foot speed at point defensively and top notch playmaking on offense. It would keep Westbrook working for 48. They likely won’t let us play Tiago and TD big minutes as they are a stronger tandem than perk and ibaka or ibaka and collison.
    That means we need to find advantages in other lineups. If we throw MG and PM with KL and either TD or TS and rotate Green, SJ and Diaw depending on lineups, we can maintain pace and pressure whilst allowing tony rest 10 solid minutes – which he will need against Westbrook.
    Looking at remaining schedule, I think the spurs will likely have another 6-7 losses with this schedule, and I see Thunder only losing 4….meaning we probably finish with 2nd seed and get the high octane rockets or warriors first round.

  • neverthehero

    I see how schedule appears to have 6-7 losses built in but if I may offer hope against that. The Spurs have only went 13-7 once this year (during that 4 losses in 5 games stretch). The Spurs have only lost 6 times to start the new year, with 3 of those losses coming in OT. For me, it’s going to take a lot of bad bounces for the Spurs to pile up 7 more losses.

  • Tim

    To junierizzle’s point, I would add that Noah is one of the best defensive big men in the game, on one of the best defensive teams. TD and TS were still able to get their respective double-doubles against them.

  • Andrew G

    The first 6 minutes in the game were a treat. Kawhi took it upon himself to create offense. One of the most impressive shots that didn’t go in was his second possession: he takes the ball down the court in transition, penetrates, takes two huge strides while palming the ball with his right, looks like he’s going in for the jam, then switches the ball to his left and goes for a finger roll bank, only it rimmed out.

    The possessions right before and right after that were just as great, he took it to Luol Deng and simply beat him to the basket. Our youngs are making huge strides this year and I think it’ll show in the playoffs (as Tony hinted at in his interview).

  • Titletown99030507d

    I agree more movement and keeping the game uptempo and making shots from the perimeter/arc can shake the opponent pyschologically in those kind of spurts alowing the game to open up for the bigs in the paint. It’s those kind of runs that leave the opponent confused from all the ball movement and scoring. and as tim mentioned double doubles from our starting bigs is nothing to overlook.

  • DorieStreet

    6-7 losses is going to have the Spurs losing to their Western Conference brethren -and potential playoff foes – a lot, seeing how their are only 4 games out of the 20 left vs. the East (Cleveland and Miami in March, Orlando and Atlanta in April). The very tough stretch will be from March 27-April 6: 7 games in 11 days, with 2 h/a back-to-backs included in the 5 games the week of March 31-April 6.

  • DorieStreet

    It seemed to me everyone played hard; there were some mistakes made, but the effort and intensity were there all game.

  • assistman

    Noah and Chandler are the two toughest matchups in this regard, we won’t face either. Howard, Marc Gasol, and Asik are the most our bigs would have to deal with. Howard isn’t fundementally sound, Asik’s inexperience will show over a full game and full series, and I think we’ll all take our guys in a mathcup versus memphis.

  • assistman

    Agreed, but against OKC and MIA but the Spurs will need more than the PnR. I believe that in order to steal wins against those squads, TD will have to dust of his low post moves and take advantage gainst small frontlines. He won’t need need to play in the paint all night, just when it counts down the stretch. Otherwise, our guys will basically need a string of miracles to lift the trophy.

  • Sir Timothy

    The Spurs are just so fun to watch and so fun to be “a part of.” My wife does not like basketball very much, but she gets how the Spurs are different than other teams. The Spurs are classy and mature and wise and yet determined and enthusiastic.

    The Spurs are like Roger Federer – they have been there and know how to be classy win or lose. They also make it look effortless.

    The Heat are like Nadal – determined and relentless and really talented.

    Oklahoma City is like the upstart wanna be Djokovic who might be a good player but you could never root for the fool.

    I am rooting for Federer – Nadal final in the French Open and a Spurs – Heat final in the NBA! And if Djokovic could go out in the first round and OKC did as well I would be happy!

  • junierizzle

    Exactly. There was that play where Tiago made a touch pass to TD for a dunk. The Bulls were playing good D on that possession buy it was that one last pass from Tiago that broke through. You can see the Bulls just exhausted physically and mentally after that play.

  • junierizzle

    Yeah, I was concerned that the Spurs may have been caught off guard especially after they blew them out in Chicago. I think they have been more focused since they blew that game against Phoenix.

  • assistman

    I have been a CoJo believer since day one, that he can be groomed into a career backup for TP. Having a guy that just owns that role, and knows the schemes as well as anybody is a real asset, and one that we haven’t really had (outside of MG), and could use going forward.

    As for this year’s playoff run, the 4th guard behind the TP, MG, and DG is up for grabs, and is essentially our 9th man. For me, Nando is out of the running since all he brings is playmaking (he was most valuable with Ginobili out). Neal is clutch, but every opposing gaurd from D. Fisher on up just feasts on him, negating his value. Patty is a fearless scorer, additional ballhandler, and pressures the ball. I hope either he or CoJo takes most of minutes as the 4th guard, since Jackson is used more as a combo-forward than swingman. It’s a shame to lose Jackson as a big gaurd to help TP and Manu handle the rock against OKC and Thabo, so it’s nice to see KL coming along with his handles and as an occassional lead guard. The closing lineup in our toughest series will have TP, MG, KL, SJ, TD as often as it does TD and Splitter.

  • Tim

    Agreed – loved KL’s aggressiveness in the beginning of the game. Also, throughout the game he had a few Blake Griffin-esque dunks, in that he began with his right hand and dunked it through with his left. I saw at least two plays like that during the game last night.

  • junierizzle

    Of course. But it can’t be the main thing. How many times did TD try and post up last year in crunch time and got nothing? They have to keep moving the ball.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brian.ross.9212 Brian Ross

    They’re really moving well without Tony Parker!