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