The Chicago Bulls were back in action for a Christmas Day matchup with the San Antonio Spurs. The Bulls were looking to steal another game from the Spurs, while San Antonio was looking to get revenge for the loss they suffered in Chicago earlier this season. Here’s how the action played out.
The holiday hangover was real for Chicago, who got out to a slow start. They started the game shooting 0-for-6 while the Spurs converted frequently, getting out to an 8-0 lead, all eight points coming from LaMarcus Aldridge. It forced Fred Hoiberg to call a timeout barely two and a half minutes into the game.
This game was all San Antonio early. The Bulls started out shooting 3-for-11, the Spurs started 9-for-10. Kawhi Leonard basically couldn’t miss. It was 19-4 San Antonio, who went almost six minutes into the game before missing a shot. They also won the battle on the boards early, starting out with an 8-2 advantage in that category. Their good shooting was a product of great passing, the Spurs winning the assist category early, too, 9-1.
San Antonio just kept not missing, getting out to a huge 30-10 lead. In the first eight minutes, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo combined to shoot 0-for-7.
When the defensive rotations started, with Cristiano Felicio, Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott being the subs that made their way in first from the bench group.
The Spurs continued to shoot and pass extremely well, assisting on each of the first 13 shots they made. However, Chicago steadied themselves after their shaky start thanks to the effort of Nikola Mirotic, who knocked down two big 3s and got an assist on a Butler dunk, and a monster slam from McDermott. At this point, I nominated a new Doug nickname: Dougie McDunkits. It might not stick.
The Bulls shot right around the 40 percent mark for the first quarter, which is actually pretty good. However, San Antonio shot 82.7 percent in the first quarter. That it was just an 11 point game after the first quarter was the biggest Christmas miracle Chicago could have asked for. It would have been a little worse if Jerian Grant hadn’t knocked down a 3 to end the quarter from Steph Curry range.
The Bulls continued to pull closer thanks to turnovers from the Spurs that were turned into points. Chicago was taking care of the ball and winning the turnover battle, 7-4. They forced a turnover that led to a Grant lay in and then Mirotic stole the ball and knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer. Two turnovers, five points, and the Bulls were right back in the game.
The bench was the big story for Chicago in the first half. Mirotic and McDermott led the way, combining for 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting.
The Bulls also held advantage in offensive rebounds, dominating that category 8-2, though of course they had many more opportunities for offensive rebounds since San Antonio shot 60 percent from the field in the first half while Chicago shot 42.9 percent.
Mirotic was the first half star with 11 points, four rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in the first half. The Spurs got amazing performances from both Aldridge and Leonard, particularly Aldridge who shot 11-for-12 in the half.
In the second half, Chicago continued to battle back. A situation that looked very bad when they were down 20 points in the first quarter, turned into a 5-point deficit at the half. In the third quarter, the starting five for the Bulls battled, and used a series of offensive rebounds to get second-chance points and when Dwyane Wade knocked down the first 3-pointer from the starting five about four minutes into the second half, it was a tie game – 63-63. Then, when Butler knocked down his first 3-pointer of the night, it was 70-67 Chicago. Their first lead of the night, coming about halfway through the third quarter.
After pushing out to their first lead, the Bulls began to rotate the bench back into the game and then gave up a 12-0 run, falling behind by double digits again. It could have been worse, but Wade had a few big moments, knocking down some shots and drawing contact to keep Chicago in range, 83-76 with less than a minute to play in the third. Unfortunately, the bench that carried the Bulls early in the game failed to show up in the second half and San Antonio jumped out to another big lead, 87-76, to end the quarter.
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After a single made free throw from Robin Lopez at 4:28 of the third, the Bulls got just five points total for the rest of the quarter and they were all from Wade. Speaking of Lopez, he got absolutely crushed all night. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich did his homework after their last matchup and figured out that just pick-and-popping or isolating whoever Lopez was supposed to be guarding from the top of the key was going to result in an open shot. And since Aldridge can knock those down in his sleep, it was open season to go after Robin all night and they did.
Chicago was guilty of abandoning the 3-ball a bit in the second half. After shooting 5-for-12 in the first half, they were just 2-of-4 with eight minutes left in the game, the Spurs lead jumping to 103-89 because of the San Antonio 3-point shooting. They knocked down five of their first seven attempts of the second half.
It was basically over by the time the game reached the halfway point of the fourth quarter. The Bulls offense stalled out and they failed to get defensive stops, instead getting rejected repeatedly. They went from grabbing seven first-half steals, to zero in the third quarter and didn’t register a steal until well into the fourth quarter. At one point, they had led the turnover battle 9-4, but by the time the Spurs put the game away, it was just 13-12. They still won the offensive rebounding battle, but that can be chalked up to shooting significantly worse from the field than San Antonio, thus giving them many more offensive rebounding opportunities.
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The loss drops Chicago to 14-16 on the season, ninth in the Eastern Conference, three consecutive losses and 3-7 over their last 10 games. The Bulls have problems, but it doesn’t look like the problems are anything new and it might be the case that these problems are just the things that this roster was always going to be deficient in and they aren’t underperforming. This just who the Bulls are.