Even though they were playing without Victor Wembanyama, the San Antonio Spurs nearly won a third consecutive game. Instead, the Chicago Bulls were able to escape South Texas with a 122-116 victory.
San Antonio got off to a poor start. By the end of the first quarter, the Spurs were down 35-23. The Spurs struggled to get any traction in the second quarter and then things seemed to go totally off the rails in the third quarter. The Bulls led by as many as 18 points — but the Spurs didn’t fold.
While the Silver and Black have struggled in third quarters this season, they used the third quarter against the Bulls to storm back. DeMar DeRozan hit a three-pointer to put the Spurs in an 18-point hole with 6:55 remaining in the period. However, San Antonio’s furious comeback saw the Spurs come all the way back and tie the game heading into the fourth quarter.
The momentum continued for the Spurs in the final period. A Cedi Osman three-pointer gave San Antonio an eight-point lead with 8:49 left. Unfortunately, it was then Chicago’s turn to go on a run. In the next four and a half minutes, the Bulls outscored the Spurs 17-7 to take the lead. San Antonio had a few chances to recover but couldn’t quite get back over the hump.
All in all, the Spurs did well considering they were without Wembanyama and the red-hot Doug McDermott.
Stats: Spurs vs. Bulls
Spurs vs. Bulls – Final Grades
It’s safe to say that Vassell had nightmares about his performance on Saturday night. He basically single-handedly lost the game for the Spurs. Vassell was 1-for-13 from the field, including 1-for-8 from three-point range. Not only was his shot-selection poor, he was disrupting the rhythm of the offense and making life more difficult for others. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Vassell also missed a free throw with less than a minute remaining that could have tied the game. Defense was also a struggle for him against the Bulls. With Wembanyama out, the Spurs needed Vassell to step up. Instead, he was the worst player on the court. Ouch.
It was a rather ugly outing for Sochan. He was 2-for-9 from two-point range and 2-for-6 from three-point. He held onto the ball too long and his finishing was feeble. Sochan tried trash talking after a made basket but really struggled to follow that up with anything positive. I thought his defense was okay-ish but he was too much of a liability on offense to overlook. Sochan had some games recently where he played his role really well. Versus Chicago, he tried to do more than usual — and it blew up in his face.
Jones played one of his best games of his career. The first half was unquestionably the best half of his life. At halftime, he was 7-for-7 from the field and 4-for-4 from three-point range. His 22 points in the opening two quarters were more than three times as much as anyone else on the team. Without Jones’ production, the Spurs would have been blown out of the water early on. The key to his success was making the Bulls pay whenever they went under a screen. Once they were forced to respect his jumper, that opened up everything else. Jones wasn’t quite as successful in the second half but he continued to play really well. I liked his defense, his tenacity going for loose balls and rebounds was important, and his playmaking was a positive. Add in Jones’ near flawless decision-making and his grip on a spot in the starting lineup is very secure right now.
It’s a broken record for Champagnie. He continues to start but he also continues to struggle to produce. He was 1-for-5 from the field. As a starter, he’s now shooting 35.6% from the floor and 35.8% from three-point range. He’s going to have to heat up if he’s going to keep that job. Silver linings: Champagnie’s passing was better than usual, he rebounded relatively well and was attentive on defense.
With Wembanyama (rest), Collins (ankle) and Bassey (torn ACL) out, the starting center gig went to Barlow. He was pretty good. His effort on defense was commendable. He was far from flawless on that end but he played with enough electricity to camouflage many of his mistakes. Offensively, his efficiency could have been better but Barlow’s decisions were fine. His passing is getting better at a rapid pace, which is an important development for his future.
The Spurs needed someone to step up in the second half. Johnson answered the bell. In 17 minutes after halftime, he had 19 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the floor, 3-for-3 shooting from deep and 4-for-4 shooting at the charity stripe. He also had five assists and no turnovers in the second half. As those numbers suggest, Johnson was a big reason why San Antonio almost snuck away with a win. He was relentless in his attacking but also played a smart brand of basketball. Johnson is looking really good as a bench player — the role suits him well.
Like Johnson, Osman was important in the second half. He was 2-for-2 from three-point territory after intermission and his running of the court and movement in halfcourt sets helped open up room for his teammates. I was also impressed with Osman’s defense. His toughness and competitiveness really shined on that side of the court.
The good: Branham was sufficiently aggressive on offense. He had 15 field goal attempts in only 22 minutes. I liked his aggression from three-point land. For Branham to make it, he has to become a three-point threat. Defensively against the Bulls, I liked a lot of what I saw from him. His concentration level was higher than normal and he totaled three of San Antonio’s seven steals. The bad: Branham shot poorly. His three-pointers were flat and didn’t look good leaving his hands. Branham was the backup point guard but his playmaking was minimal.
Mamukelashvili got some real minutes as the team’s backup center. Like we’ve come to expect from him, his activity level was off the charts. He was in constant motion and his efforting was relentless. Offensively, his efficiency could have been better but his heart was in the right place. Defensively, he rebounded okay and had a pair of blocks but his overall impact on that end was poor. He had five fouls and he looked slow when providing help defense most of the time.
Wesley had an impressive dunk in transition, played intense defense and provided a spark in transition. His passing was really good, as he finished with three assists and no turnovers. As a rookie, Wesley was a turnover machine. This year, he has been the least turnover-prone guard on the team. That’s quite an improvement. That said, Wesley is now 0-for-8 on three-pointers for the season. Considering he was 20-for-52 last season, that’s an alarming drop.
Pop has his players performing well. He found a winning combination to help the good guys get back into the game in the third quarter. His rotation and playcalling were decent — but, in retrospect, he showed too much confidence in Vassell and Sochan.