There haven't been many times when the Bulls have held a healthy advantage over an opponent during the past three years.
But it finally happened Wednesday in San Antonio. Joakim Noah returned from an illness, Kirk Hinrich was back on the floor after missing four games with a hamstring strain, and the Bulls beat the Spurs 96-86 at the AT&T Center.
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The Bulls (23-22) finished January with an 11-4 record, despite trading away leading scorer Luol Deng early in the month, getting draft picks and a waived player in return. They also got off to a winning start on the six-game, ice-show road trip. San Antonio has lost three in a row.
Noah told reporters earlier in the day he still wasn't feeling well, but he started, played just under 40 minutes and brought his usual big effort. Noah finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists and 4 blocks.
He stretched his streak of double-digit rebound games to 17 by getting his own miss with 15 seconds left in the game. Noah will find out today if he made the all-star team for the second year in a row when the reserves are revealed on TNT.
"Jo was a monster," coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game. "It's not easy to battle Duncan like that on every play."
During their recent surge, Noah's passing has been one of the keys to a more efficient offense. They missed that badly in Monday's home loss to Minnesota when he was sick.
Against the Spurs, the Bulls had seven players score and all seven reached double figures. Jimmy Butler continued to show signs of ending his slump, hitting 7 of 11 shots for a team-high 19 points. Carlos Boozer finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while D.J. Augustin and Taj Gibson scored 15 each. Hinrich (11 points) and Dunleavy (10) rounded out the scorers.
"I thought we had great concentration yesterday, good concentration this morning in the shootaround, and I thought we were ready," Thibodeau said. "This is a hard place to play in. They're a great team. Their record speaks for itself."
The Spurs (33-13) lost Manu Ginóbili to a hamstring strain late in Tuesday's loss at Houston. He joined Kawhi Leonard (broken right hand), Danny Green (broken left hand) and Tiago Splitter (shoulder sprain) on the injured list.
San Antonio had some less-than-household names starting with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. The Spurs also used a second point guard, Nando De Colo; recent D-League call-up Othyus Jeffers and 6-foot-9 center Jeff Ayres.
With 5:01 left in the third quarter, Noah picked up a technical foul for arguing a call and the Bulls seemed to feed off his anger. San Antonio led 52-51 after the technical free throw and the Bulls responded with a 16-5 run, which included a 3-point basket and a cutting 3-point play by Butler.
Tony Parker led San Antonio with 20 points. Former Bulls guard Marco Belinelli hit 4 of 11 shots for 11 points.
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