The Bulls and their depleted lineup were able to take Indiana to the wire Sunday.
It looked as though the Bulls could do the same to San Antonio, but this season the Western Conference powers have been out of reach.
The Spurs turned off their turnovers, cranked up the defense and outscored the Bulls 54-31 in the second half Wednesday night, leading to a 101-83 victory at the AT&T Center. San Antonio improved to 25-3 at home.
The Bulls fell to 0-8 against the top four teams in the West — the Spurs, Clippers, Oklahoma City and Memphis.
The Bulls (34-27) led this game by 14 points in the second quarter and stayed ahead until late in the third. They tied a season low with just 8 free-throw attempts and managed 4 points in the paint in the second half.
“The first half, the ball moved side to side. The second half, it didn’t,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We settled, took some poor shots and against a team like that, that has the depth they have, they’re going to make you pay. We’ve got to play tougher.”
Marco Belinelli led the Bulls with 21 points, while Luol Deng added 19. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 18 points each.
Joakim Noah (13 rebounds, 8 points, 4 blocks) had a staredown with Duncan after some physical play. Teammates quickly got between the two, eliminating the slim chance it would turn into a skirmish.
There was nothing new to the Bulls’ injury situation. Kirk Hinrich still was wearing a walking boot and is out indefinitely with a sore foot. Richard Hamilton didn’t make the trip but tweeted a photo of himself inside his personal hyperbaric chamber. Taj Gibson remains sidelined with a sprained left knee.
Derrick Rose, meanwhile, seems to be on the cusp of returning from ACL surgery, but no one seems to know when it will happen.
“We’re just going to keep going as we are,” Thibodeau said before the game, according to espn.com. “As long as he’s making that steady progress, hopefully (his return) happens, but we’re prepared either way.”
Marquis Teague had been 0-for-12 from 3-point range during his rookie season. He knocked down his first career 3-pointer at the 10:22 mark of the second quarter.
A short time later, the Bulls used more long-range shooting to post a 15-0 run. Included in the surge were 2 more 3-pointers from Teague, a long one from Marco Belinelli, along with a short jumper by Carlos Boozer and 4 free throws.
Teague’s third 3-pointer put the Bulls up 46-32 with 4:05 left in the first half. That didn’t sit well with the Spurs, however, and they quickly reeled in the visitors, needing just five possessions to produce an 11-0 run.
“The first half, I thought we played fairly well,” Thibodeau said. “But against a team like this, you’ve got to play 48 minutes. You start feeling good and you start playing to show and you don’t compete against them, you have no chance.”
The Bulls kept the lead through Nate Robinson’s 3-pointer that put the Bulls up 68-66 with 2:11 left in the third quarter. San Antonio scored the next 6 points to take a 72-68 edge.
The Spurs slammed the door quickly, opening the fourth quarter with back-to-back 3-pointers by Patty Mills and Ginobili. A lay-in by Tiago Splitter completed a 14-0 run, put San Antonio up by 12, and the Bulls were done.
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