Although an ultimately meaningless fourth-quarter run salvaged what would have been quite the embarrassing defeat on the heels of Sunday’s triumphant home win, Tuesday night’s 104-96 loss to the Spurs (47-16) at the United Center was still a huge letdown for the Bulls (35-29), who were never in the game.
Being on the wrong end of a 7-0 start to the evening wasn’t a good omen, as Spurs All-Star point guard Tony Parker (20 points) and small forward Kawhi Leonard (16 points)—the high school teammate of Bulls rookie swingman Tony Snell—led the way with torrid shooting in the early going. The Bulls were almost the opposite when they were on the offensive end of the floor, shooting 2-for-12 to start the contest, in comparison to San Antonio’s 9-for-11 start, digging themselves a double-digit hole in the first quarter.
The deficit continued to balloon and while Jimmy Butler (23 points) managed to be somewhat effective, he was the only Bulls player to do so, as the team shot 5-for-19 for the period, with the Spurs going 15-for-21. Veteran sixth man Manu Ginobili (22 points) joined Leonard and Parker, who outscored the hosts singlehandedly, in having a hot hand upon entering the contest, and at the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed, 38-14.
Former Bulls fan favorite Marco Belinelli (10 points) jumped into the fray in the second quarter and with their second unit in the game, the Spurs didn’t miss a beat, extending their lead to as many as 32 points. The Bulls played hard, but simply couldn’t stop their guests from scoring or knock down shots themselves, which was compounded by a lack of execution, including nine unforced first-half turnovers.
The wide gap between the two teams persisted throughout the period, with the highlight of the affair at that point being Jimmer Fredette, already a fan favorite, checking in to replace starting point guard Kirk Hinrich, just before halftime. At the intermission, the Bulls were down, 61-33.
After the break, the Bulls played somewhat better, slightly trimming the deficit, though they were unable to make a sizeable dent. Butler continued to play well and got help from the likes of All-Star center Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and backup point guard D.J. Augustin (24 points), though the Spurs maintained control and heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were in a 90-66 hole.
The extended garbage time that was the fourth quarter saw the Bulls gradually cut into the seemingly insurmountable San Antonio lead as time went on, with the likes of Fredette, Snell and veteran center Nazr Mohammed keying the push, along with Augustin and sixth man Taj Gibson. A spinning Fredette layup in transition with under a minute remaining made it an eight-point game, but a miraculous comeback was just too much to ask for after such a wretched opening three quarters of play.