Spurs refocus in second half to shut down Bulls



The Chicago Bulls came into San Antonio Wednesday with a defensive reputation. The Bulls were ranked third in the NBA in opponent points per game (91.3 points), third in opponent field goal percentage (43%), and third in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (39%). You can even throw in the fact they have a better road record (17-13) than home record (17-14).

For one half of basketball the Bulls looked like the team they were supposed to be, but then came the second half.

In the second half of the Spurs’ 101-83 victory over the Bulls, Tim Duncan (18 points, 10 rebounds, 5 blocks), Manu Ginobili (18 points, 9 assists), Kawhi Leonard (14 points, 7 rebounds) and the Spurs flipped the script on the Bulls as the Spurs became the defensive juggernaut and poured the points on Chicago.

Aside from scoring 10 more points than the Bulls usually give up, the Spurs shot 54% from the field and 57% from 3-point range on the night.

Here are five key points from the Spurs’ double-digit win over the Bulls that was a tale of two halves.

1.     The struggles of the first half

"The first half we didn't play our game," said Spurs forward Stephen Jackson after the game.

The Bulls’ defense disrupted the Spurs’ offensive as San Antonio turned the ball over 10 times in the first half. The Bulls at one point created a 15-1 run in the first quarter and then a 15-0 run in the second quarter to go up as much as 14 points.

The Spurs would battle back, as Leonard led the group on an 11-0 run late in the second quarter to get the Bulls’ lead down to five going into halftime. The Bulls though, went into the half having made 6-of-11 three pointers. The high-percentage 3-pointers were something Ginobili knew probably wouldn’t last all night.

"In the first half they made a lot of tough shots,” said Ginobili after the game, “but we turned the ball over a lot.”

2.     The defensive second half

"I was just pleased they scored 31 in the second half after we threw the ball all over the gym in the first half,” said Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich after the game.

The Spurs stepped up their defense as they held the Bulls to just 16 points in the third quarter and followed the fourth quarter up by holding Chicago to 15 points. The Bulls ended the night shooting 37% from the field and they went cold from beyond the arc, as they only shot 3-of-9 from the 3-point line in the second half.

“We really stepped it up,” said Ginobili of the Spurs’ play in the second half. Patty Mills (13 points) knew a second half comeback needed two components: "Just discipline and executing,” said Mills after the game, “Spurs basketball"

The Spurs would only turn the ball over three more times in the final 24 minutes of the game.

Mills and Tiago Splitter (13 points, 10 rebounds) were key in the Spurs’ second half route of the Bulls. Mills described what his role is after the game. "That's my role,” said Mills after the game, “to come off the bench with a lot of energy."

3.     All-Star Battle: Duncan vs. Noah

Throughout the night, one of the most physical matchups of the game was Duncan and Joakim Noah defending each other one-on-one for a majority of the possessions. Noah finished the game with eight points and 13 rebounds, but it took him 13 shots. Duncan scored in a variety of ways: outside jumpers, dunks, and even hook shots over Noah for his 18 points, 10 rebounds, and five blocks. In fact, in the first quarter, three of Duncan’s blocks were on Noah alone.

4.     Leonard vs. Deng

Another matchup throughout the night was Leonard defending Luol Deng and vice versa. Though Deng finished with 19 points, Leonard made him take 17 shots. Leonard meanwhile dunked several times on the break to finish with his 14 points. His game continues to keep expanding day-by-day as he’s showing more offensive skills when he runs plays.

5.     And then came Manu

If there’s one player who can take over a game with Tony Parker recovering from injury, it’s Ginobili. Ginobili started the fourth quarter with a baseline-to-baseline bounce pass to Mills for a 3-pointer and then drained his own 3-pointer for a 6-0 run to start and give the Spurs the double-digit lead. Whether it was his passing or his ability to knife through the Bulls’ defense for layups, Ginobili was the game changer in the second half for the Spurs.

Even though he wasn’t selected in February, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had this to say of Ginobili after the game: “Ginobili’s an All-Star.”

Trailblazers in San Antonio Friday

The Spurs will have one day off before resuming play where they’ll host the Portland Trailblazers on Friday.  The Blazers are 3-7 in their last 10 games, and are 8-22 on the road. The Spurs though did fall to the Blazers once this season in Portland.

Where San Antonio stands

Here are a few stats showing where the Spurs stand in certain categories in the NBA.

Season record: 48-14  

Home Record: 25-3

Vs. teams above .500: 23-10 

Vs. the Eastern Conference: 22-4

In wins by 10 or more points: 28-4

As Parker heals: 2-0 (defeating opponents by 28.5 points per game)

Winning Streak: 3 games