Bulls start road trip with win over Spurs

Bulls start road trip with win over Spurs
January 29, 2014, 10:45 pm
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SAN ANTONIO—Perhaps the most daunting test on the Bulls’ (23-22) six-game road trip was passed with flying colors Wednesday night with a 96-86 win over the mighty Spurs (33-13) at the AT&T Center, courtesy of placing seven players in double figures.

With All-Star center Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, four blocked shots) back in the lineup after a one-game hiatus due to illness, the Bulls jumped out to an early advantage, buoyed by Carlos Boozer’s (16 points, 12 rebounds) quick start. While the Spurs’ duo of future Hall of Fame big man Tim Duncan (17 points, 12 rebounds) and All-Star point guard Tony Parker (20 points, six assists) were effective, the Bulls’ stout defense and rebounding, coupled with San Antonio’s lack of ball security enabled the visitors to build a cushion.

At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls, who also saw the return of veteran Kirk Hinrich (11 points)—in a backup role, behind point guard D.J. Augustin (15 points, five assists)—held a 21-15 lead, despite not shooting terribly efficiently from the field.

The Spurs’ second unit quickly closed the gap early in the second quarter, going on an 8-2 run, leading to a Bulls timeout. Whatever adjustments Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau made didn’t immediately take, as San Antonio seized the lead and extended it, acquiring a comfortable margin of separation, with familiar face Marco Belinelli (11 points) and fellow guard Patty Mills each making their respective presences felt.

However, with the likes of Jimmy Butler (19 points) and Taj Gibson (15 points) getting it going, the Bulls took control of the game and their momentum continued to build as halftime approached, with a 12-0 run heading into the intermission, making it a 40-36 affair in their favor.

After the break, the Bulls clung to their slim edge and maintained it through the midway point of the third quarter. But the Spurs stayed within close contact and the game eventually evolved into a back-and-forth affair.

A bizarre sequence occurred in the middle of the period: Noah, after missing a layup, picked up a technical foul for arguing a non-call by the game officials. Then, on the ensuing foul shot, the ball appeared to slip out of Parker’s hands, but the whistle blew and he was awarded another free-throw attempt, which he promptly sank, despite the Bulls’ protests.

Whether or not it served as motivation, the Bulls’ play improved toward the end of the period, reflected mostly in Butler’s scoring, Noah’s all-around play and Boozer’s work on the interior, leading to a double-digit edge at one point and heading into the final stanza, a 68-61 advantage.

The fourth quarter saw the Bulls again create more distance between themselves and the Spurs, with Butler making plays on both ends of the floor, Noah and Gibson making their usual impact, and Augustin’s typical blend of playmaking and scoring also helping matters. But although experienced San Antonio squad didn’t wilt, the Bulls didn’t relent and kept their hosts at bay as the game entered its stretch run.

Butler, who apparently is out of the shooting slump that bedeviled throughout most of January, and Augustin made clutch shots, while hustle plays from Hinrich, Noah and Gibson were just as crucial in preserving the Bulls’ winning margin. Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich would insert his reserves to finish off the contest, though his counterpart on the opposing sideline wouldn’t take any chances.