Photo: USA Today

The San Antonio Spurs (21-16) had lost three of four games before beating the Detroit Pistons (109-99) on Monday. They tried to build on that momentum at the United Center on Wednesday night. A win for San Antonio would give them their first win since 12-14. February brings another win in a row. The Spurs struggled with their best player, Demar DeRozan (20.3 PPG), missing his fourth consecutive game following the death of his father. Our deepest condolences go out to the DeRozan family.

For the Bulls (18-21), a grueling run of five games in seven nights began tonight. The team ended a string of consecutive games by beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-102 on Tuesday in Oklahoma City. In the process, Zach LaVine scored 40 points in just under 31 minutes. LaVine hit 15 of 20 shots from the field and reached the 40-point mark for the third time this season. He now has the second-highest point total in franchise history. Lauri Markkanen, who continues to play at a high level since returning from injury, added 22 points, crossing the 20-point mark for the ninth time in 18 games this season.

Tonight was Thaddeus Young’s 1000th game, while San Antonio’s Rudy Gay played his 977th game. The Spurs lead the all-time series 56-35. Prior to today’s loss, the Bulls had won their last two games, totaling six points.

Quick coupler

Tonight was a tale of two halves. The Bulls started the game strong and looked to capitalize on their two previous wins over the Raptors and Thunder. The game was effortless for them, and at one point they had a 23 point lead. But the second half was very different. When San Antonio raised their game, the Bulls began to falter, and it cost them dearly as the Spurs mounted a miraculous comeback and won by seven points.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with a 29/6/6 line. He was backed by a solid performance from Young, who scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists. Patrick Williams recorded his third double-double of the year with ten points and an impressive 14 boards. Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. each scored 10 points. The Bulls went to the free throw line just nine times and shot a modest 44% from the field and 33% from distance.

Jakob Poeltl (20/16/1) was the best player on the floor for both teams. San Antonio had five players score at least 14 points, including Derrick White (17/4/5) and Dejounte Murray (14/7/4). They attempted 30 free throws, which is a big part of why they were able to come back from such a big deficit. The Spurs also scored 18 second chance points and 48 points on offense. The interior defense has been a pain point for Chicago all season, and tonight was no exception.

Total control force

The Bulls continued their momentum from yesterday by showing energy on defense and spreading opulence on offense. Markkanen opened the scoring with his first shot from the floor on the Bulls’ first possession of the ball. Head coach Billy Donovan made it clear he needed to put him in his place early, and the strategy is clearly working. Markkanen seems to be a much more confident player than he was before his injury. Young started the game with six quick points, continuing perhaps the best season of his 14-year career.

The Bulls started the game with a 13-4 lead and had their sights set on playing the ball around when they fell behind midway through the first half. By the end of the fourth quarter, five different players had scored. By halftime, the team had collected a total of 15 assists. The Bulls scored at will in the second half, including (of course) Zach LaVine, who scored 15 points. At the end of 2. The Bulls went on a 7-0 run in the second quarter to extend their lead to 23 points. Surprisingly, the Bulls made only 6 of 19 shots from beyond the arc, but they made up for it with a 60% completion rate.

Like the Bulls’ offense, the defense stood out, holding the Spurs to just 40 points in the first half – San Antonio’s lowest total this season. The Bulls forced the Spurs to shoot 32% from the field and limited San Antonio to just 2-of-19 from long range. Pöltl, who scored a double-double at halftime, was the only bright spot for the visitors with eleven points and ten rebounds. Everything seemed to be going right for the Bulls and they went into the locker room with a 58-40 lead.

Full and complete withdrawal

The second half started with more. Visibly frustrated after a failed attempt at center, Spurs coach Greg Popovich called a timeout with 30 seconds left in the third quarter. What he said worked, because the Spurs came out of the group looking like the other team. At the same time, the Bulls became more complacent as the quarter progressed, not sharing the ball like they did in the first half and instead opting for one-on-one isolation on offense. Ultimately, the Spurs won the third quarter by five points and entered the fourth quarter with a manageable 13-point deficit.

Coach Donovan felt the momentum had changed and called for a tempo change early in the fourth period. The Spurs then applied full-court pressure in the fourth quarter, intercepting the ball carrier immediately after the inbounds pass and forcing the Spurs to call a timeout with three seconds left in the period. Nevertheless, San Antonio regrouped for the big score and started the quarter with a 13-3 run. Suddenly, the Spurs have turned what was once a laughing matter into a three-point deficit. The Bulls fought back with renewed defensive energy, made a small run and extended their lead to eight.

But the Spurs didn’t let that deter them, scoring 17 points in a row. When the dust settled, the Bulls, who had led by 23 points, were down by nine and had lost the quarter by a resounding 31-9. The body language of the officers showed that the crew was clearly demoralized and unable to regroup in time to right the ship. San Antonio, which smelled blood in the water, didn’t let up and won the game with a final score of 106-99.

What now?

The Bulls (18-21) travel to Denver on Thursday to play Friday night. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. CDT. The Nuggets (24-16) are currently ahead of Portland for fifth place in the Western Conference. The Bulls should take advantage of a day off to reflect on what went wrong against San Antonio. In general, these sudden losses are difficult to overcome and result in losses. Let’s hope that’s not the case. Stay on top of the Bulls with articles, analysis and podcasts from Bulls On Tap.

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