Spurs, Texas two-step too much for Bulls

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Spurs, Texas two-step too much for Bulls

Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010
Updated 1:48 AM
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

SAN ANTONIO The difference was the final result.

No, Derrick Rose wasnt quite as offensively prolific as he was in the fourth quarter of Tuesdays win over Houston, but he did throw a major scare into the Spurs with a 13-point final period as part of his 33 points for the night.

Unfortunately, for Chicago, a less-vulnerable opponent in San Antonio refused to succumb to Roses one-man gang efforts, holding off the Bulls, 103-94, Wednesday evening, snapping the Bulls four-game winning streak.

A racehorse tempo from the outsetsurprising the Spurs opted to push the pace so much against the much younger Bulls, instead of a more methodical style, since theyre capable of bothled to transition opportunities for both squads.

Each team was clicking offensively, with Luol Deng (18 points, seven rebounds) and Joakim Noah (10 points, 14 rebounds) getting off to extremely active starts for Chicago, with DeJuan Blair and Tim Duncan (16 points, 18 rebounds, five assists)guarded individually by second-year forward Taj Gibson initially, the future Hall of Famer took advantage with his savvy, skill and still-considerable abilitymatching their efforts for the home team.

With the game suited to his style, Derrick Rose took advantageone particular acceleration by Duncan for a fast-break layup wowed the AT&T Center fansand with his confidence in his perimeter jumper soaring after his previous nights efforts, he took the initiative to knock down outside shots when given the opportunity.

The contests breakneck speed yielded early substitutions on both ends, with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich inserting versatile young combo guard George Hill (14 points) for Manu Ginobili (a starter after so many years of being the teams sixth-man extraordinaire) to maintain a transition-friendly unit, veteran Antonio McDyess to give Duncan some rest (they would eventually replace every starter except point guard Tony Parker within the period), with Chicago counterpart Tom Thibodeau countering with reserve swingman Ronnie Brewer (10 points) for starter Keith Bogans to add a dose of athleticism and Kyle Korver (10 points) for Gibson to match up with a smallish San Antonio quintet.

Popvichs liberal use of his bench was an interesting aspect to the coaching chess match, as Thibodeau has thus far kept a tighter leash on his rotation, making it a possibility that the games pace could wear down Chicago.

Regardless, a strong offensive quarter from Noah and Rose propelled the Bulls to a 25-18 lead after a period of play.

As the tradition this season has beensave for Tuesdays surprising performanceChicagos second unit got off to a ragged start to the second quarter, even with starters Rose, Noah and Deng in the contest. The Spurs, however, werent markedly better and the Bulls maintained their slim cushion.

After a timeout, Deng remained with the group of reserves and provided valuable offensive contributions, bouncing back from a rough shooting performance in Houston. Deng was aggressive and expertly blended perimeter jumpers, tough finishes at the rim and moving without the ball for dives to the basket.

Meanwhile, the Spurs simply struggled to put the ball in the basket. Finding open looks wasnt an issue, but San Antonio had difficulty finishing at the rim and their shots from outside point-blank range were doggedly contested by the visitors, who adhered to one of Thibodeaus key defensive philosophies to a T. All of the above added up to the Bulls slightly increasing their winning margin, nothing to take lightly against an opponent of the Spurs caliber.

Brewer was a major part of the Chicagos burgeoning momentum, as he went on a one-man flurry of critical plays in a short sequence. The offseason acquisition knocked down a free-throw line jumper, exploded for a dunk in transition, followed a missed fast-break layup with a tip-in and smartly made an extra pass to an open Korver for a 3-pointer, aiding the Bulls as their lead swelled to 15 points.

Backup center Omer Asik and backup point guard C.J. Watson were also key during this stretch. Asik played solid post defense on Duncan, was a presence on the glass and capped off his solid play with a thunderous dunk off a pick-and-roll.

Watsonwho has been erratic at times in the young seasondid a nice job securing the ball as a ballhandler, maintaining the Bulls fast pace, making sure the offense ran well and generally being aggressive, enabling Rose to get an extended rest.

I always have confidence in them, explained Rose. In practice, they whip us sometimes.

Thibodeau would reinsert his starters to close out the half and while Chicagos offense continued to run smoothly, San Antonio would also step theirs up in an effort to play catch-up with the Bulls.

Parker (21 points, seven assists), in particular, made a concerted effort to get to the basket as the second quarter wore on, aiding the Spurs in their comeback attempt.

At intermission, however, Chicago held a 47-37 advantage over the home team.

San Antonio immediately sliced the Bulls lead to three to begin the third quarter, necessitating a Thibodeau timeout with just under three minutes played since the break.

The visitors momentum was snatched by the veteran squad, which played with an increased gusto, presumably following typically fiery Popovich halftime motivation. Even with Thibodeaus adjustments, the Spurs clearly had it rolling.

Thirty-seven to 12 in the third quarter. They got us back on our heels to start the third, said Thibodeau. The bench was playing great, then we wanted to get the starters back in before the end of the first half and then we were flat to close the second quarter, and thats how we started the third. That team over there, you give them easy scoring opportunities, their confidence goes up and theyre hard to guard."

Third quarter, we came out, we couldnt hit any shots. The shots that we usually take, they werent hitting and with a team like that, you cant do that, added Rose. Just in that third quarterthose three or four minutesthey just werent falling.

It feels bad. We had them. A team like that, youve got to continue to go out there and play the same way because theyre not going to stop. Right when we went up 10 and came out in the third quarter, we were supposed to keep on being aggressive going to the hole, he continued. I think thats where we made our mistake, not attacking the basket. But were going to look at film, go over it and next time, were going to have plays where guys are forced to go to the basket.

Its a good position to be in. we didnt end the half well, but we felt like, up 10, we could have came out better. The way we came out in the third quarter was terrible, concurred Deng. They came out in the third quarter, they kind of took the lead and never looked back.

A much more comfortable Richard Jefferson, in his second season with San Antonio, knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the contest, and two consecutive Duncan buckets from in close allowed the Spurs to overtake the Bulls midway through the period.

Another Chicago timeout ensued, with Thibodeau replacing Gibson and Bogans with Korver and Brewer for a quicker, more offensive-minded lineup. However, nothing seemed to work, as the visitors were on the wrong end of a 27-6 run to start the half, as San Antonios offense was clicking on all cylinders and the Bulls poor shot selection didnt do much to help matters.

Aside from Duncan, Jefferson (12 points, five reboiunds) and Parkers quick drives and savvy finishes at the rim, backup power forward Matt Bonnerwho Popovich enlisted to start the second halfwas a major contributor for the Spurs, giving them an unexpected source of point production.

Rose seemed to briefly quell the spurt with a slashing layup, leading to a Popovich timeout, but a Ginobili (20 points, five assists, four rebounds) driving southpaw slam and a subsequent Hill floater put an end to that notion.

Bonners been playing really well. We were concerned about it going in. He spreads you, a range-shooting four and their penetration got to us alsoTheyre quick and I think when Bonners out there, there were more pick-and-rolls and our coverages were very good in the first half and not so good in the second, observed Thibodeau.

So, 37 points in the first half and then 37 in the third quarter. We have to adjust better, keep the ball in front and we have to challenge shots. The rebounding was problematic.

Chicago was forcing shots, pressing too much and outside of Rose, the team struggled to manufacture offense or even good opportunities. Heading into the final stanza, the tables had completely turned, with the visitors trailing, 72-59, to the finely-tuned machine that calls San Antonio home.

We came out flat. We missed a lot of shots, shots we normally make and our defense, we didnt do what we were doing in the second quarter, surmised Deng. Thats a good team. Once they got ahead, they did a good job of keeping the lead and thats something weve got to learn when we get the lead like that.

Coach keeps talking about 48 minutes. I think to get to the next level, thats something weve really got to focus onthe whole teamguys coming in and the starters doing a better job of keeping their lead. Any time you put a team down like that, youve got to end it. You cant let them come back like that. The momentum was in their favor the whole second half.

Thibodeau trotted out an all-reserve lineup of Korver, Asik, Brewer, Watson and seldom-used (at least recently) Brian Scalabrine to start the fourth quarter, perhaps making Bulls fans think back to the end of the teams last loss, to New York at home. The group, however, was effective at the outset of the quarter, before the Spurs resumed their onslaught.

The deficit continued to widen, but the understudies remained feisty and gave enough of a semblance of hope that Rose came back into the contest to help mount a comeback attempt.

Rosewith Watson alongside him, freeing him to concentrate on scoringvaliantly tried to once again shoulder the offensive load, hitting four consecutive shots to make it a single-digit contest.

Just trying to do something. Doing whatever it takes and at that time, we couldnt get a groove going, so I tried to spark something up, said Rose. We had it going for a minute, but that team was too good. They stopped it.

Derrick can score the ball and hes been doing a great job for us, and hes going to keep doing what he does and thats score and be a facilitator on the court for us, said Noah. Hes playing at a very high level and its just on us to do a better job as bigs to make it easier for him, especially defensively.

The home crowd became subdued, perhaps with the knowledge of the All-Star point guards exploits the night beforeor even just a healthy respect for the superstar hes developed intobut their beloved Spurs would respond with a quick combination platter of Ginobili and Hill long bombs sandwiched around a Parker layup.

Deng, now back in the contest, hit a pair of runners to keep pace with San Antonio, which didnt cease scoring. Still within striking distance, the two squads mostly traded baskets down the stretch, although a deep triple from Rose made it a two-possession game with under a minute to play.

Forced to foul because of time considerations, the Bulls simply ran out of options in the games waning moments.

The only thing that was good in the fourth quarter was that we fought back and were in position, said Thibodeau. Theyre the type of team you cant make mistakes against. We made a lot of mistakes in the second half.

To win on the road against a quality team, we have to play for 48 minutes and were still not doing that, so we have to do a better job with that, consistent effort, defend, rebound, low turnovers. If we do that, were going to be in a position to win. Now, we defended in the first half. We didnt defend at all in the second, the first-year head coach went on to say. Rebounding was poor. Part of that is were playing small. Low turnovers was goodI think that helped us stay somewhat in the gameand we settled for a lot for a lot of jump shots. The big thing is getting that ball into the paint, whether it be through post-up or dribble penetrationour decision-making has to be a lot quicker.

With a team like that, you cant miss shots and not play defense on the other end because theyre too good. Theyre going to score. Theyre just a good team and hopefully we learn from this and go out there and try to win the game against Dallas Friday, concluded Rose. We dont have our head down. Were still going to go out there and play hard. This is only one game.

I dont know if it was fatigue or whatever, but the beauty of the NBA, we play in a couple of days and weve still got a good feeling about ourselves. We had them, we let them go and weve got to learn from it.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.coms Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

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Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

Nikola Mirotic reflects on pump fakes, maddening March, future in Chicago

If there's a more maddening player in the Eastern Conference than Nikola Mirotic, that player's psychologist should be getting paid double considering Bulls fans have been talking to themselves about Mirotic so much over the past three years.

And as they've reached no conclusion on Mirotic, along with many other sage minds, only one thing is for certain: March is his month.

Meaning it's the month where it becomes maddening to watch him play and probably equally as maddening for his teammates who've watched his inconsistencies for the better part of four months or so.

Averaging 16.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 41 career March games, it's the only full month where Mirotic averages in double figures for his career—meaning there's a lot of inconsistencies to wade through to get to the proverbial pot of gold.

In 2014-15, he emerged as the NBA's best fourth-quarter scorer that month when the Bulls were without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Last season, he came back fresh after an appendectomy took a big chunk of his year.

This year, there's no big macro reason. He's just playing definitively, making quick movements and it's paying off as his two best scoring games took place within a four-day span (28 against both Detroit and Milwaukee).

"Right now, you see I'm shooting without hesitation," Mirotic said to CSNChicago.com. "Just catch and shooting. It's a great feeling."

No word on whether Mirotic hears the fans in the arena or the twitterverse screaming for him to ditch the pump fake that he actually admits it got in his head, but this season has been a roller coaster of the most dramatic kind, as the Bulls are still vying for playoff positioning with eight games remaining in the regular season.

"Sometimes, especially when I'm reading you guys (media), Niko pump fake, pump fake," Mirotic said with a smile. "Okay, no more pump fakes, just fire that ball. I'm laughing because you guys are (right)…that's true. You guys want me to shoot. It doesn't look good when you pump fake every time you have a wide-open shot."

Being penciled in as a training camp starter due to the need for floor spacing, Taj Gibson quickly outplayed Mirotic for the power forward spot. Then Mirotic's up and down, down and up, season began.

Kind of like his pump fake that often drew more defensive attention for it's predictability than effectiveness, stability has been hard to find for a player many have been waiting on since the day he was drafted in 2011.

"I know the defenses are ready for my pump fake so now just like, shoot the ball," Mirotic said. "I've been spending a lot of hours working on my shot before practice, after practice, trying to catch the feeling."

Better late than never or too late?

That's the question surrounding Mirotic and he knows it, being aware of his status as a restricted free-agent-to-be, along with his trade value a month ago being so low, the Bulls could only get a future second-round pick for him from teams.

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With the Bulls having so many questions going into the future, who knows if they want to go through the up-and-down, down-and-up cycle with a talented player yet again, with a big-time financial commitment.

In a sense, Mirotic knows he's left plenty on the table as far as his play through the years and seems to be content with playing with a sense of freedom as the season concludes, whether he's back with the Bulls or not for next year and beyond.

"I just wanna leave a good impression for the Bulls," Mirotic said. "Whatever decision they make. It's been a pleasure. A lot of people dream to be here, I was one of those guys when I was in Europe. I was really like, I wanna go there and play for the Bulls. The history they have. For me, it's a dream come true. Whatever decision they make, I make, whatever. I don't know. The years here have been great. I know it's been up and down. It's been a pleasure and I just wanna finish right."