Depleted roster, turnovers key as Spurs drop third in a row

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The San Antonio Spurs had gone nearly three months without losing more than one game in a row, but their current losing streak now stands at three after falling to the Chicago Bulls, 96-86, Wednesday night.

With Manu Ginobili the latest Spur sent to the infirmary, Gregg Popovich went with a starting lineup that mirrored that of a preseason game, going with Tony Parker, Nando De Colo, Othyus Jeffers, Jeff Ayres and Tim Duncan. The idea, which was revealed during the ESPN broadcast, was to allow Marco Belinelli to be the primary playmaker for the second unit in place of Ginobili and have Boris Diaw guard Taj Gibson. It crippled the offense early, as the Spurs scored just 15 points in the first quarter.

San Antonio opened the second quarter on a 16-3 run to take a 31-24 lead, and looked to be in control for a good chunk of the period before the Bulls made a run in the final four minutes to take a 40-36 lead into halftime. The Spurs could’ve pulled away during that second as Chicago went really cold on offense, but turnovers kept the Bulls in the game. On the night, the Spurs finished with 19 turnovers, which resulted in 16 points for the Bulls. Chicago also enjoyed a 14-5 fast-break point advantage.

The third quarter was less ugly to watch than the first half, but that doesn’t mean things improved much for the Spurs. They scored 25 points in the quarter, but the turnovers continued and they also allowed the Bulls to score 28, which is like letting any other team score 35. Chicago extended its lead to 13 early in the fourth quarter thanks mostly to Gibson and Joakim Noah taking advantage of the fact that they had Ayres and Matt Bonner guarding them.

Pop brought Duncan, Parker, Diaw and Jeffers back in the game after a few minutes of pain, but at that point the game was out of reach. Aside from the turnovers, the Bulls exploited their big-man advantage, scoring 52 points in the paint, double what the Spurs put up. Outside of Duncan, who scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds and passed Bill Russell for sixth all-time on the NBA’s double-double list, the Spurs big men combined for 10 points.

While there wasn’t much positive to take away from this game, one thing the Spurs can do is learn from the Bulls. This is a team that, even when they had Luol Deng, played without three of four of their best players for long stretches but managed to keep their heads above water. Wednesday night, anyone who played over 20 minutes scored in double figures. They play strong team defense regardless of who is on the floor. They have adapted their offense to run through Noah as much as anyone else due to his high I.Q. and passing ability. While Tony Parker should still be the primary focal point of the offense, putting the ball in Duncan’s hands as a facilitator out of the high post may not be the worst idea.

Tiago Splitter could return for Saturday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, and things get better after that. As Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney laid out, Green is next to return, possibly by the end of next week but most likely two Mondays from now against Detroit. Kawhi Leonard should be back by the West Coast swing of the Rodeo Road Trip. Ginobili, it looks like, will miss most of or all of the trip. The rough stretch may be next week, when the Spurs will routinely have three point guards playing at any given time; but given the competition level (Sacramento, New Orleans, Washington, Brooklyn and Charlotte), the Spurs could salvage 2-3 or 3-2 before Green returns.

  • lvmainman

    If I’d been Mark Jones of ESPN, I’d have asked Coach Popovich, what on earth would prompt you to start a guy from the D LEAGUE over players that have been on the team since the start of the year?

    The Bulls are an offensive rebounding team. To not start Baynes against Noah and have Duncan guard Boozer to start the game is DUMB. Did you see Noah try to post up Baynes in the 4th qtr on the last offensive possession of the game? Noah couldn’t move him an inch!!!

    Why on earth would you start the 4th qtr with BOTH Tony Parker and Patty Mills on the bench?

    Popovich has clearly lost his mind.

  • Aurora

    -The rationale behind the starting lineup was explained above; it didn’t work as well as Pop hoped which is fine since this is when Pop does his experimentation (not to mention the injuries). It’s the same reason why Cory Joseph starts when Parker’s out, you keep Mills with the bench unit to maintain some sense of stability.
    -Lacking Splitter and Leonard for rebounding and having to face the Bulls meant trouble from the beginning.

    -Noah have been able to outsmart Baynes and we all know how quickly Baynes lands in foul trouble.

    -Pop didn’t start Tony for rest, pretty sure Patty had 5 fouls.

    -You have clearly lost yours.

  • I need more cowbell

    Its the start of the end guys.
    This is it.
    we need to tank. F this season its not like we can beat OKC, Houston, or LAC in the playoffs. Were just beign set up to be let down.

  • rj

    Take some wellbutrin, man. Let’s see how we look healthy. I’m starting to like seeing Corey Joseph get minutes. I think mills will be a regular season hero, but Cojo will gets minutes in the playoffs because of his d, much like he did last year.

  • bevo86

    Tanking? We’ve already won more games than the half of the eastern conference teams will win by the end of the season. These injuries are 100% of the reason we have lost each of these past three games… Everyone is having to play out of their comfort zone, and we’re missing three of our four best defenders. Keep calm and carry on.

  • fkj74

    If we can go 500. until we heal up we will be fine. Sliver lining is rested wings for the push. Go Spurs!