The San Antonio Spurs (20-26) once again collapsed in the fourth quarter and lost another game they could have (and should have) won, this time against the Chicago Bulls (19-30). The Spurs were playing on the road without LaMarcus Aldridge but they had the win … until it slipped away.
The Spurs played better and better as the first quarter went along. By the buzzer, San Antonio was up 28-21. In the second quarter, the offensive attack was stuck in the mud and the Spurs never gained any rhythm on that end. At halftime, the Bulls had taken a 50-48 lead.
In the third quarter, the offense got back on track. The shooting was accurate, the cuts were crisp and the good guys were repeatedly able to manufacture clean looks. The end result was a 85-75 lead going into the fourth.
San Antonio took an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter before — stop me if you’ve heard this before — the Spurs offense stalled and allowed the Bulls to go on a prolonged run. Over a span of six minutes, the Bulls outscored the Spurs 22-6 to take a 101-96 lead.
The silver lining of the game was that San Antonio didn’t fold at that point. Instead, they scored the game’s next seven points to regain the lead. Unfortunately, the good guys soon found themselves down four points with a minute to go. But to the rescue came DeMar DeRozan, who hit back-to-back clutch shots to tie the game with 8.6 seconds remaining.
On the subsequent inbounds play, Zach LaVine got to the line for the Bulls and hit two free throws with 2.1 seconds left in regulation to take a two-point lead. The Spurs called timeout and DeRozan was fouled on a jumper with 0.2 seconds remaining. First free throw: swish. Second free throw: clang. Game over. Spurs lose, 110-109.
This was another difficult loss to swallow for San Antonio. They’ve now lost three straight games after winning three straight games. With the Rodeo Road Trip around the corner, this is a really bad time to be dropping winnable games. While the Spurs played decently well at times without Aldridge, they need real victories if they hope to advance to the postseason, not moral victories.
Spurs at Bulls: Final Grades
DeMar DeRozan missed a free throw with 0.2 seconds remaining that could have sent the game into overtime. While that was unfortunate, I thought DeRozan played very well overall. He got to the line 17 times — and probably deserved two or three more trips to the charity stripe. The Bulls were showing him a lot of attention but DeRozan kept fighting, kept charging and ended up with 36 points on 21 shots. Beyond that impressive offensive efficiency, he pulled down a team-high nine defensive rebounds. While DeRozan did a lot of good, his playmaking was a bit subpar, his decisions could have been better and his defense was a step slower than usual.
Dejounte Murray’s struggles extend to another game. This was probably one of his lower points of the season. Offensively, he just really didn’t do anything. He had a good drive to the basket, a couple good passes … but that was about it. Otherwise, he was a drag on the offensive end more than anything. Defensively, he was decent at times but also got caught with his head turned multiple times, which earned him extra time on the pine. Murray really needs to pick it up. As it stands, it’s becoming difficult to justify starting him.
The good: Bryn Forbes passed much better than usual and limited his mistakes on the offensive end. The bad: Forbes shot poorly and defended even worse. Both individually and team-wise, his D was a liability. While Murray is beginning to be a questionable starter, Forbes is long beyond that point.
In the first half, Jakob Poeltl was the best player on the court at times. He was a dominating force on defense — both protecting the rim and rebounding — and was showing a surprising amount of versatility on offense. Unfortunately, Poeltl followed up his stellar first half play with an underwhelming second half. In 19 second half minutes, he shot 3-for-8 from the floor, 2-for-8 from the free throw line, and his defensive rebounding and shot blocking dried up. His poor free throw shooting hurt even more than usual because the Bulls went to Hack-a-Jak in the fourth quarter and he failed to make them pay. In fact, the Spurs had to take him off the court. One consideration worth mentioning is that Poeltl had the tough task of playing 36 minutes in place of Aldridge, especially since he hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in a game in more than a month.
The good: Trey Lyles shot confidently from three-point range and knocked down two of his four attempts. He used his dribble as a weapon and flashed some court vision. He was also a bit more physical in the paint than usual and did quality work on the boards. The bad: Lyles’ defense wasn’t too good, particularly when it came to rotating out on shooters. A couple of his shots were in poor taste.
That mini-slump Patty Mills was in is over. He played really well, especially in the first three quarters. His hustle was extraordinary in all facets. The energy he exhibited was boundless. His enthusiasm was contagious. Offensively, he was doing all he could to create scoring opportunities for himself and others. The only negative for Mills on this night is his production stopped in the fourth quarter. A few big shots down the stretch would have made this one of his best games of the season.
Rudy Gay wasn’t that good but it’s the best he has looked since returning from illness. Offensively, he was sloppy at times and his dribbling in traffic is painful to watch but he made a number of smart passes, his shot looked smoother and he used his bulk better to create opportunities. Defensively, he was a little bit more mobile, although he could have helped out more on the boards.
Offensively, Derrick White was missing in action. Zero points and two assists in 22 minutes is not going to get it done for a player the Spurs rely upon for bench production. With Aldridge out, the Spurs needed White to step up. Instead, he disappeared on offense. While that end of a court was a disappointment, White was a beast on defense. He looked quick, springy and his anticipation was impeccable. His defense down the stretch was probably the best defense any Spurs player has played this season. If White would have done anything at all on offense, he could have been the hero.
Lonnie Walker IV
Lonnie Walker IV had a smooth three-pointer and an even smoother mid-range jumper off the dribble. His penetration-and-kick game was on point and he pushed the pace well. That said, he could have finished better and been more stronger in the lane. On defense, Walker had his ups and downs. The effort was there but he has a lot to learn.
Eh, not bad. Chimezie Metu played his first real minutes of the season and had his ups and downs. In his first stint, he was obviously a little anxious and was also a step behind both physically and mentally as he adjusted to the NBA speed. He was also trying to do too much at times on offense and ended up getting in the way. His defensive rotations were also in slow motion. That said, Metu had some impressive moments finishing and protecting the rim. He’s got work to do in terms of improving his feel and basketball IQ but it looks like he has the physical tools to be an intriguing player at some point down the line. His long-term prospects are also helped by the fact that he appears to be comfortable facing the basket on offense and moving his feet on defense.
The good: Marco Belinelli got a DNP-CD and Forbes played less than usual. Leaning on Mills worked out and Poeltl’s play in the first half suggests Pop went with the right starting lineup. Getting a look at Metu was an interesting aside. The bad: In retrospect, he played Poeltl too long and tired him out. White’s defense was good enough to warrant extended minutes even if his play was lacking. Giving Walker more playing time would have been helpful considering Murray, Forbes and White were a combined 2-for-12 from the floor.
Up Next for the Spurs
Welp, the Spurs are now on the cliff and looking down into the abyss. With a very difficult Rodeo Road Trip beginning on Monday, the Spurs really need both of their upcoming home games. The first one is Wednesday versus the Utah Jazz, who have been playing very well of late. Got to get it.