Chicago Bulls 109, San Antonio Spurs 99: Popovich singing Thibodeau singing Popovich


Over at the Daily Dime (Friday morning edition), I make an argument that tonight’s Bulls game might well have been an NBA Finals preview. And if that’s the case, the Spurs will need to figure a few things out between now and June.

The most obvious place to start is Derrick Rose, who torched the Spurs for an MVP-worthy 42 points.

“He’s taken a monster leap this year,” said Gregg Popovich after the game. “What’s really great about him is that he seems to love the pressure of putting his team on his back. He has the character and the demeanor to do that. Superstars have that character and leadership gene.”

For his part, Manu Ginobili was just as complimentary. “Derrick Rose has turned into a really hard player to guard…because of his explosiveness. He’s very reliable with his teardrops and 15 footers. He’s hard to guard.”

And then there is the Carlos Boozer problem. Boozer was a pest for the Spurs when he played in Utah and not much has changed since he left for Chicago. Boozer’s numbers are not overwhelming—15 points (7-14), 6 boards, and a pair of assists in 28 minutes. But he got whatever shot he wanted. If not for Rose’s big night, Boozer may have had one of his own.

The Spurs even had trouble sticking with Luol Deng. It was a rough night. And it could get worse between now and the next meeting between these teams.

The Bulls, of course, are in the market for a shooting guard to pair with Rose. They have a week to make a move in that direction, and such a move would certainly improve their team. And the return of Joakim Noah will help Chicago’s already top ranked defense.

And, whoa, is that defense good.

Gregg Popovich and Tom Thibodeau are coach of the year candidates, and, in truth, they’re really the only two guys who should be mentioned in that conversation. They’re 1a and 1b, but the pecking order is not at all certain.

“Tom [Thibodeau] is an obvious coach of the year candidate,” Gregg Popovich opined after the game. Pop was employing sincerity, not flattery.

Pop must see a lot of himself in Thibodeau, who has spent the last decade making defensive juggernauts of NBA teams—those teams were Houston (under Jeff Van Gundy), Boston and, now, Chicago.  Thibodeau’s recent defensive accomplishments closely mirror Popovich’s best defensive teams of the last decade.

In December of 2009, I wrote the following about Thibodeau’s Celtics:

During the 2007-8 season the Boston Celtics displaced the San Antonio Spurs as the league’s premier defensive team. Tom Thibodeau and the Celtics personnel trumped Gregg Popovich and San Antonio’s squad, and the Spurs spent the better part of the last two seasons with a loose grip on their once proud defensive stalwart status. One of San Antonio’s goals for this season is to re-discover themselves as an elite defensive ball club, and they’re showing steady improvement. But they’re still a long way from the night in, night out dominance that once characterized the team.

In the early 90s, David Bowie covered Morrissey’s “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” on the album Black Tie, White Noise.  It sounded odd to hear the rock icon singing a tune of his musical disciple, but somehow it worked. When asked about the choice, Bowie quipped “That’s me singing Morrissey singing David Bowie.”

Just a moment ago, I briefly outlined a scenario in which the Bulls could improve mightily between now and the end of the season. If the Spurs improve upon their historic start, it will be because Popovich begins singing Thibodeau singing Popovich.

This, it should be noted, is not simply a reaction to tonight’s game.

One game is one game. Popovich was quick to remind everyone that the Spurs have been on the road for several days. “I told the team we were not playing as sharp as we needed to be. I hate to admit it but 9 straight road games could affect your execution.”  My argument isn’t one of knee jerks.

What I’m reacting to, and what makes the Bulls such a formidable opponent is the fact that Tom Thibodeau is not a Johnny-come-lately. The same defensive execution which took Boston to two NBA Finals and one championship has reared its ugly head in Chicago.

The Bulls are for real. And it’s not surprising that, along with the Celtics, Chicago may be San Antonio’s most difficult postseason match up.

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  • Igor

    I have been Spurs fan since Jordan had retired and Duncan came to the NBA.
    I love the Spurs, I love their couch for what they have done in last decade.
    They have been very good this year, having best NBA record so far.
    But after watching games like yesterday, and one with Portland, when Aldridge did the same to the Spurs as did Rose last evening I have a concern.
    Spurs have been playing excellent, unselfish team basketball, and were rightfully praised for that. Besides loosing badly on the boards, they couldn’t do much with excellent Bull’s defense.
    In games like that it is very important to have a go to guy, who can put team on his shoulders and bring it to the victory. That exactly what Rose did and Aldridge did. That what was Jordan, Bryant and other great stars did, when team isn’t playing that well. Tim has done that in the past many times (2005 finals game #7 comes to mind).
    Yesterday I have not see that guy on Spurs team.
    Nobody was taking this responsibility with game on the line. This year Manu did some heroics, but I don’t remember anybody taking a game over this season. During a regular season it is no big deal, but in the play off time it can really hurt this team. I hope Spurs will figure out who this person should be.

  • fkj74

    Guys 46-10. Get a grip.

  • TD = Best EVER

    Parker’s numbers are about what TD was last year. And he is getting 2.5 fewer shots this year, And he spends WAY too much time shooting Jumpers in this new Offense. So I would say that he hasn’t lost anything from last year to this year. He can still get 18 and 10 if he had a few more post up attempts per game. But like I said earlier lets focus on something we all can agree on – Trade Tiago Splitter for someone Better.

    Golden State –

    We get way more athletic and a better shooter than Tiago. GS gets a big that they can start fresh with. We would have to throw in and 2nd rounder probably.

  • Hobson13

    February 18th, 2011 at 7:27 am
    “@hobson13 It is ridiculous to claim that they suddenly are a poor road team when they’ve just finished their ninth road game in a row against a very hot team (especially in Chicago) and a bonafied MVP candidate.”

    I honestly have no idea what you are talking about. Where did you see me say that the Spurs are a bad road team?

    February 18th, 2011 at 3:42 am @Hobson13

    “Both Ginobili and Parker are “forcing” issues way too much. Making really stupid decisions and playing out of control. Same could be said for Blair in these games.”

    Agreed. Manu, Tony, and even Blair took some dumb shots last night.

    February 17th, 2011 at 11:30 pm
    “I’m just happy they beat the LAKERS. Lucky bounce? MCDEEZY sealed off ODOM and worked for that tip in.”

    Yes. After the Spurs got 3 offensive rebounds, a missed charged call on Parker, and a tip by Dyess with .1 of a second left. This all happened in the last 20 some odd seconds of the game. Do you want to rely on those series of events to win a game if we play the Lakers in the WCF? The point is that the Spurs were VERY lucky to win that game and go 6-3 for the RRT.

  • Len

    For those focused on the fact that the Spurs haven’t controlled Rose in either game, I will say this.

    The Spurs RARELY has success in stopping Dirk all these years. However, the Spurs have won so many of those ball games because they kept the supporting cast from doing much. That has been the Spurs formula for success against extremely talented players. Remember that next time you think Rose and therefore the Bulls are too much to handle.

  • Brandon in LA

    Just watched the ESPN recap, and it’s hilarious how excited the anchor was that the Spurs lost. When Antonio McDyess was shown, he quipped, “Antonio McDyess is still in league?!” as if revelling in the opportunity to once again beat the “Spurs are old” drum. Then at the end, his voice went high-pitched and cracked like a 13 year old girl meeting Justin Bieber as he exclaimed, “Spurs defense totally lacking right there inside!!!”

    Really seemed weird to see the team at the top of the NBA standings getting trash talked for one loss against another quality team in an “objective” sport report. I don’t recall ESPN guys getting so orgasmic or cracking wise as they showed clips of Kobe shooting airballs against the Cavs.

    Naturally, if the Spurs had won, it would have been reported as another ho-hum victory by a boringly effecient team. But the Bulls win and it’s so exciting to make the Spurs look like huge losers!!! Oh my god, the boring Spurs lost, let’s have a party! Eff you, — I’m glad I dropped my “Insider” membership last year.

  • JR

    Yeah, they’re really out to get the Spurs. It’s practically the grassy hardwood.

    In reality, ESPN only cares about the Lakers, Heat and Celtics in any form or fashion.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Len
    “The Spurs RARELY has success in stopping Dirk all these years. However, the Spurs have won so many of those ball games because they kept the supporting cast from doing much.”

    To compare the Mavs supporting cast to Boozer/Deng/Noah is an absolute joke. Oh and btw we didn’t stop the supporting cast last night did we.

    But back to my daily theme – This time its Tiago to the Bucks

    Bucks have a TON of SF/PF on the roster ( more than they have minutes for) and not much in the way of C/SG so here we go. Neal can really help them in the scoring department.

    We get a true PG, young SF and some more muscle inside – and they can all help us THIS YEAR

    This one is similar – we just get 2 SF(one of which can play PF) and the PG

    Which do you like best?

  • Bry

    @Hobson13 You seemed to be using the ‘failure’ of this road trip to say that you’re ‘not sure’ about this team. I was pointing out that ANY win on the road, unless you’re playing against a wounded horrible team that is coming off a back to back, is significant. It is hard to win on the road in the NBA and every victory matters. I find it weird that people ignored the fact that Chicago has been dominant at home as of late, and the Spurs road record is still outstanding despite the loss.
    That’s what is important. The Spurs are 25-2 at home right now, so I really am not worried about their home games. Because they’ll have the top seed in the West, all other teams have to figure out how to beat the Spurs four times (including at least one time in San Antonio).
    You add that to the fact that pretty much every team is getting up for the Spurs all season, and frankly I think both the Mavs and the Spurs will go farther than the Lakers in the post-season. The Spurs have come away with victories in a bunch of the most difficult places to win in the NBA. The Lakers have failed in all but one of their so-called statement games. I could care less about the Eastern Conference teams. If the Spurs play them they’ve already made the finals, and we have no idea which one of them will be there anyway.

  • TrooperJoe73

    These are some amazing comments. Does anyone remember when the Spurs were considered soft? That was their biggest knock. They were branded a soft team and it stuck, because they kinda were. Fortunately, that label is history. Unfortunately, they passed the torch to their fans. The fans are kinda soft now. No matter what the team does, Spurs fans are always trying to talk their way into a loss. Spurs fans continue to look at the team and saying the glass is half empty. I understand you don’t want to count your chickens but give this team some slack. Road wins are difficult, in and of themselves. Now add it to the last game of the 9 game swing and it (I’m sure) becomes even more difficult. The Bulls were playing their 3rd game in 8 days. Top team in the league, at home, well rested and motivated to be playing … the best record in the league, road weary, tired, mentally fatigued, Spurs team! Now the fans want players traded, kicked out, and making panic moves? Soft!

  • Daniel T


    Your trades see to be deteriorating to the point of trades for trades sake. Recent players you’ve suggested seem to have more DNP-CD’s than Tiago for much worse teams. If they can’t get playing time for Philly or SF, how would they ever get more minutes than Tiago for the Spurs? If Tiago has lost the confidence of the Spurs, which I don’t think he has, why would another team want to trade for him while giving up anybody worth getting?

    I don’t particularly disagree with some of your comments regarding how if the Spurs were to be a more perfect team they need to improve their frontline. Whether or not they could pick up anyone in midseason that would be an improvement is the question.

    I would think that if they were able to get someone that could make a worthwhile contribution, that they wouldn’t so much be cutting into Tiago’s minutes as they would of Blair, McDyess and Bonner. Of those, McDyess has the highest salary to be useful in a trade; and while he may play the best defense of the current bigs you are looking for someone that plays even better defense. The others have the potential to make greater contributions in the future, whereas McDyess’ career is winding down. Not that any other team would be looking to pick up McDyess for his contribution, but rather for the buyout of his contract to make room under the salary cap.

  • Hobson13

    February 18th, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    “You seemed to be using the ‘failure’ of this road trip to say that you’re ‘not sure’ about this team.”

    I looked back at my posts and can confirm that I never used the word “failure”. But you’re right about my uncertainty with the Spurs. Here are the records of the teams we beat when we played them:

    Sacto 13-40
    Detroit: 19-33
    Toronto: 14-39
    Washington: 14-38
    New Jersey: 17-40
    Lakers: 34-16

    Here are the teams records that we lost to:

    Blazers: 26-22
    Philly: 25-28
    Bulls: 38-16

    Here’s how I break this down: We beat 5 bad teams who win totals are in the teens. We got fortunate against an elite team (Lakers). Lost to two decent teams (Philly and Portland) and couldn’t get over the hump despite being well rested against another elite team (Bulls). Bottom line: we went 5-0 against bad teams and 1-3 against decent or elite competition. That doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence.

    “I was pointing out that ANY win on the road, unless you’re playing against a wounded horrible team that is coming off a back to back, is significant.”

    I disagree. Besides, 5 of our wins did come against bad teams. Not all wins or losses are equal. I submit that the Heat, Celtics, Mavs, and Bulls would have at least gone 6-3 over the same schedule and absolutely NO worse than 5-4. I never said that the RRT was a failure or horrible, but neither was it a resounding success or a time where the team seemed to take their game to the next level like many had hoped.

    “the Lakers have failed in all but one of their so-called statement games. I could care less about the Eastern Conference teams. If the Spurs play them they’ve already made the finals, and we have no idea which one of them will be there anyway.”

    Ok, I agree about the Lakers and for the most part about us playing the Eastern Conference teams. However, IMO, the Spurs are only 1 of about 5 or 6 teams that have a chance at the title. I had hoped that we would really clamp down and improve during the RRT, but I don’t think it happened. We are in no way, shape, or form a favorite to win ring #5.

  • paul a sports junkie

    I didn’t check the box score so my data is skimmed from memory…
    Too many O rebounds for Bulls to get better looks at the basket. Once they had a second chance opportunity they executed on it to a higher efficiency than the initial possession.
    It took Rose 42 points and a career night to ice the game, while the Spurs attempted to take the same strategy for the past 5 games prior to Chicago. I thought it was Memphis v UKansas all over again.
    Duncan was 7-12 on FG’s and if the Spurs gave Timmy the rock say for 19 shots; the Spurs ball movement may have been more effective (Inside-Out); the Bulls would be forced into more half-court sets in transition.
    Credit to Thibodeau, I was surprised with the level of execution on both ends of the floor. Boston better hope they don’t get the same match-up from last yr.

  • Len

    “We are in no way, shape, or form a favorite to win ring #5.”

    I only partially disagree with you Hobson. But I’ll submit this question for you.

    “When have the Spurs ever been a favorite to win a ring???”

  • Titletown99030507

    First off, Why do people want to show Parker the door? He was game high with 26 points. Yeah Rose scored 42 on us but he was just playing out of his mind and circled this game on his calendar. Secondly the real damage was Blair, Bonner, and Hill a no show last night in regards to offense. WTH, that hardly ever happens. And thirdly, we need an agile shot blocking big to swat away those pesky little flies that keep coming in to the paint for some sh*t. Someone to swat away points like David used to. If Tiago wasn’t hurt I could see him at least getting more into NBA game shape to keep up in that respect. Of course nothing like Big Dave but better than what I saw last night.

  • Titletown99030507

    Don’t freak out people. All the Spurs need to do is turn it on (offense) and the defense falls in to place. Really. That’s exactly how they gotten to this point in the standings isn’t it? Add a healthy Tiago or someone that big to throw the opposition off from time to time and we’ll be fine in the playoffs. Not concerned about the west. It’s the east that we need to figure out. And it’ll get figured out. Pop’s not letting this team come this far just to easily fall to the east. The plan is coming. When you least expect it something crazy is going to happen in Spur land. I’ll let you guess what it is.

  • DorieStreet


    Re: your post about last night’s loss—not only was Rose motivated to play against the league’s best; his team is ONLY 2 games down from having the best record in the eastern conference. And then there are the teams that were treading water or just adrift eariler in the season but now are focused and winning (PHL, IND (new coach), MEM), getting above .500 and going for the 6th-8th spots in the postseason matchups.

    The Spurs need to avoid stumbling over squads that are totally out of the playoff picture (as of now there are only about 6-7 of those games remaining). We know they will work hard to improve on defense, and go out and compete every game. As long as they avoid losing streaks (only one -2 BTB road games-that’s excellent!!) and fall into a win 1, lose 1 pattern (playing .500 ball). But I feel as long as the Mavs are winning at a pace even with the Spurs, there can be no let up—at least for the next 20 games. You know Dallas’s goals are to (1) catch San Antonio, or (2) secure the 2nd spot in the west ahead of the Lakers.

  • Bankshot21

    Good evening all. I am here to vent about something. Bear with me. While on the ESPN website I happened to notice a section entitled “Did You Know?”. This is normally where the ABC affiliated sports giant posts little known tidbits that many people may not be familiar with. Today’s tidbit read as follow: “Did You Know Denver Nuggets are the only team this season with multiple buzzer beater victories?”. Now I’m guessing with Melo’s status in the air they were attempting to familiarize the average Joe with the team and info about them but this statement is COMPLETELY FALSE. Our San Antonio Spurs have multiple buzzer beating wins this season as all of us know. Manu beat the buzzer against the Bucks and McDyess beat the buzzer against the Lakers. This is just the ultimate disrespect to me. We have the best record this year and get no credit for even our most minute accomplishments. Its a damn shame.

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Daniel T

    “Your trades see to be deteriorating to the point of trades for trades sake. Recent players you’ve suggested seem to have more DNP-CD’s than Tiago for much worse teams. If they can’t get playing time for Philly or SF, how would they ever get more minutes than Tiago for the Spurs?”

    Easy, because they are all better players than Tiago. Or at least ready to contribute to our title run NOW and not later. Many players have fallen out of favor with this coach only to go on and have a break out year with another team/coach. Think Brandon Haywood, Kris Humphries, Brandon Bass.

  • rob

    Sometimes it’s depressing to read what’s being posted. I mean…I can understand the “wanting” to be perfect. But c’mon people…we are witnessing a great experience with this team. Something NONE of us expected this year. If it all falls apart tomorrow this place will be filled with I told you so’s. Don’t be the ESPN’s and TNT’s Spur fans.

    I respect conjutive discourse if our favorite team doesn’t do well and has a bad record…and there are some things that could help the team be better. But some are talking as if they DON’T have a chance at all just because they just lost their last game of a LONG RRT.

    Count me guilty as charged in some instances, but the big picture as it stands now…this team is playing pretty damn good. Their record is record setting in the annuals of pro basketball. Granted it’s obvious some players do need a short break or some relief. But I still believe the second half of this season (even though they might lose more than the first half just because of talent they will be playing against), this team will develop a toughness because of that that will carry them not only into the playoffs but esculate this team into solid contention for a title.

    Would all of us “HOPE” for another Solid post player? It’s been WELL documented by many of us that is what is felt is needed.

    And if that doesn’t happen according to what some think should happen…is that your saving grace at the end of the season to prove you were right? What will your reaction be IF at the end of the season the Spurs win it all? Um…Huh…Well…It could’ve been better if…

    I for one am enjoying this season. A season so far that I NEVER would have expected. If for some reason this team doesn’t go all the way…then it wouldn’t be any less than I expected to begin with. But all the positives that have transpired so far this season would only give me hope that this team is not on it’s way to peverbial decline more so than it’s done wonders to stay competitive.

    The second half of this season will be upon us soon. I suspect more losses than the first half will be logged. But my hope remains that because the second half will be filled with playing better talent/teams that it sharpens our players/team to becoming better in the long run then they have managed to do thus far. Which by the way so far has been pretty damn impressive.

  • rj

    d rose is ridiculous. we needed someone better defensively to cover him. if james anderson is healthy and in shape. i would give him a shot at defending some of the better perimteter players. he has the length and youth to cover some of these perimeter threats, but he will no doubt endure a learning curve. blair played good defense on boozer and i think splitter would cover him well too, but any perimeter shooting big man causes serious concerns. i could see an adjustment of moving bonner into the starting lineup in a playoff situation against these bulls. he would force noah or boozer to cover him on the perimeter and i doubt they would start taj.0 gibson, who almost covered bonner exclusively. no trades.

  • Bankshot21

    Excellent post Rob. Could not have said it any better if I had 10 tries.

  • rob




    “no trades.”

    There would be one trade at this stage that I would not be opposed to. Bulls are looking for a scorer/guard to compliment Rose as well as keeping in the mode of defense.

    James Anderson could very well be that type of player to develop and would be an excellent compliment to Rose if Anderson ever develops into the player many have speculated him to become. Noah is expected to return soon after recovering from injury.

    Straight up Taj Gibson for Anderson works. Don’t know if either team would be interested…but it sure would solidify San Antonio in the post. Neal developing into the player he is becoming might just allow the Spurs to part with Anderson with no harm done and acquire Gibson if the Bulls think the return of Noah along with adding Anderson wouldn’t compromise what Chicago has been building this season.

  • Gebo

    To the strong advocates of trades on this blog: I don’t understand. I know that you know that you have absolutely, completely, and totally zero power/ability to make trades for the Spurs organization and that you are arguing to sway to your views other bloggers who also have zero power to make the trades happen that you advocate. In my opinion there is nothing to be won or lost in these arguments. In this vein I suggest that we get Bill and Ted to fire up the phone booth, go to the University of San Francisco in 1955 and ask William Fenton Russell if he wants to go on a most excellent adventure to San Antonio in 2011. My scenario (like yours) is completely pointless, because I do not have the real world ability to make any of it happen. Hell, I don’t even have Bill and Ted’s phone number.

  • JTEX

    Hobson13 is pretty much dead on correct. The Spurs are a very good team but they have a couple areas of weakness that if corrected by an aquistion or the right pickup of combos in a trade, it would be worth it. Splitter just hasn’t came around but most figured he wouldn’t this first year. The Spurs are still are really a small big team(Blair is great but just doesn’t have the height), but they’re a fast team, they need another good really big man and another good role player because if it comes to a trade the Spurs will have to give up at least 2 player and maybe a draft pick. We all should know that, come playoff time, games will slow down to a defensive battles of the boards and there’s the Spurs weakness. With a basketball genius for a coach, no one better than Pop, to figure out what should be done. Anything less than a trip to the finals after such a successful season will leave the team flat and demoralized. Why not pull the trigger on a trade that would make the Spurs an odds on favorite for a run at multiple titles. They are not there at that this point.
    Go Spurs Go!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • TD = Best EVER

    @ Hobson13 & JTEX

    We do have a few holes that we need to fill. I know that all teams do, but our really can only be filled by a change in our roster.

    SA, LA, Dallas, OKC, and Portland round out the top 5.

    LA – Motivation and team speed. 1st – playing for a title should get them motivated. 2nd – the game really slows down in the playoffs so their lack of speed should factor in less.

    Dallas – Defensive Toughness and Scoring. 1st – Butler(out for season), Stevenson, Chandler, Marion – All bring the Defensive toughness to the team, or at least enough to win a title provided their scoring holds up. 2nd – the loss of Butler hurts them in scoring, but they added Peja and Roddy B. is now back healthy.

    OKC – Only issue they have is playing consistent D. Remember the game slows down alot in the playoffs. So that will help them out tremendously. Add to that playing Ibaka more than Kristic will also help out the D.

    Portland – Offensive firepower and Depth. These 2 issues can both be addresses as 1. Brandon Roy/Marcus Camby are both close to returning. I know they both may not be back to their old selves anytime this season. But if Roy can just be Gary Neal from our team that will make them very dangerous. Camby will still be able to block shots and rebound even if he isn’t 100%

    Now back to the SPURS – We have shown on several occasions this year that we simply CAN’T defend Athletic players on the wings. Or quick/powerful forwards. Wings like D.Rose, D.Will, Step Curry, Ray Allen. Forwards like Melo, Deng, Aldridge, LA’s front line, Dirk. As you can see our biggest problems aren’t mental(motivation, toughness etc.) They are mostly physical (quickness/size). Which is why we are in need of a trade more so than other teams. At least to cover one of these holes. SF or PF positions.

  • hurm66

    Considering how important this game was for Rose, at home, before the break – and he had a career night when it seemed even the other lesser Bulls couldn’t miss a shot – and the Spurs were finishing a their long RRT…it isn’t a cause for panic.

    Blair had a terrible game. There are nights when McDyess simply doesn’t have it.

    Manu seemed frustrated and TP tried to make it about him against Rose (which I like when he does that against other elite PG’s – but this wasn’t the night for it).

    Pop won’t do it, and he may have his reasons (conditioning perhaps), but we really need(ed) Splitter to contribute more this year. He needs more run and we’re going to need him this year.

    We do seem to have a too many samey players at SF with RJ, Neal and Anderson. I suspect one will be gone eventually. I can’t see a trade that won’t impair our identity and really improve the team – but if there is one, Pop and the front office will find it.