You wouldn’t expect a battle with the owners of the NBA’s best record to fit into the Bulls’ growing list of inexplicable home losses.
But the San Antonio Spurs showed up at the United Center on Monday night playing the second leg of back-to-back games and without their three leading scorers — Tony Parker (sore knee), Tim Duncan (sore knee) and Manu Ginobili (tight hamstring).
That’s too much for any team to overcome on the road against a quality opponent, right?
The Spurs outplayed the Bulls badly during most of the final three quarters and rolled to a 103-89 victory at the United Center.
The Bulls owned a commanding 49-26 rebounding edge but gave up 19 turnovers, leading to 29 points by the Spurs. Forward Kawhi Leonard scored a season-high 26 points for San Antonio, which won for the 13th time in 14 games.
“We beat ourselves — 19 turnovers, 29 points — you’re not going to be successful, especially a team like that,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “If you gift them points here, it’s just layups, live-ball turnovers, you’re not going to be successful.”
The Spurs (41-12) played pretty much the same brand of basketball they always do, except for maybe the rebounds. They drove into the lane, shared the ball, drew fouls and drained 8 of 16 attempts from 3-point range when they kicked it back out.
“You have to give credit where credit is due. They played very well; they stick to their game plan,” Joakim Noah said. “We’re not playing very good basketball right now. We’re on top of each other offensively; we’re not trusting each other defensively. We know we’re more than capable of playing better.”
Noah is playing through plantar fasciitis in his right foot, and he logged 38 minutes Monday. He finished with 15 rebounds, 7 points and 5 assists.
“I feel fine,” he said after the game. “I didn’t do much for the last two days. Just rest. I’ve got to figure out something that works, because I haven’t practiced.”
The Bulls (30-21) fell behind by 14 points on a few occasions in the third quarter. Nate Robinson (20 points) led a rally, which got as close as 76-75 with 9:50 left in the game after a Taj Gibson dunk.
But San Antonio went to work, scoring on its next six possessions, while the Bulls stayed sloppy. The worst sequence was a pair of free throws by Tiago Splitter, a layup and 3-point play from Boris Diaw, followed by a turnover and fastbreak dunk by Leonard.
The quick 7-0 run sent the Spurs up 89-78 with 5:54 left, and the Bulls never recovered.
Robinson appeared to get hit in the face late in the third quarter, which fired him up on the floor. Inside the locker room, he spoke to reporters with a towel covering a fat lip.
“I don’t even remember what happened,” he said. “We fought hard. We didn’t make shots down the stretch and we couldn’t get stops, for some reason.
“Nobody’s perfect. It’s not like we’re going out there trying to make turnovers. We’re trying to make the right play and it wasn’t connecting.”
So the Bulls gave up 100 points for the third time in four games and fell to 15-12 at home. Thibodeau offered a stern warning in his postgame news conference.
“We have to get our intensity back,” he said. “We have to get our discipline back. Right now people are looking for bailouts, and you can’t have that. We’re taking some shortcuts and we’re paying for it.
“This thing’s going to be a fight and our road’s a tough one. If we’re not committed to the grind, it’s not going to be good.”
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