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updated: 3/11/2014 10:51 PM

Ready or not? Bulls not against Spurs

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  • Spurs guard Tony Parker dribbles past the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich during the first half Tuesday night at the United Center. San Antonio led 38-14 after one quarter.

      Spurs guard Tony Parker dribbles past the Bulls' Kirk Hinrich during the first half Tuesday night at the United Center. San Antonio led 38-14 after one quarter.
    Associated Press

 
 

Next time, the Bulls should wait to exhale.

With San Antonio in town two days after Sunday's emotional overtime victory over Miami, coach Tom Thibodeau gave a familiar speech at practice about, "As soon as you exhale in this league, you're in trouble."

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Based on the start of Tuesday night's game against the Spurs, the Bulls took a deep breath in the locker room before tipoff and let it all out.

They were dominated by San Antonio, falling behind by 32 points in the second quarter. A late run made the final score appear respectable, but in reality this 104-96 loss at the United Center was a convincing beatdown.

After the loss, Thibodeau delivered his "readiness to play" speech with a touch of anger. Reporters haven't heard this one in awhile, with the Bulls winning 11 of 15 games, but it's an old favorite.

"Readiness to play, that's the biggest thing," Thibodeau said. "I told them, that's completely on me. It's my job to have them ready. We had no edge to us. That's a championship-caliber team that's playing on all cylinders, and they're going after it.

"So if you don't match that intensity to start, you are going to get in a big hole. I didn't prepare them the way they needed to be prepared for that. So that's on me."

This game essentially was decided in the first eight minutes. While San Antonio opened a 23-6 lead, point guard Tony Parker and forward Kawhi Leonard scored 19 points between them as the Spurs hit 10 of their first 13 shots.

Parker and Leonard went right at two of the Bulls' better defenders, Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler.

"They were whupping our tail from the very beginning," Butler said. "They were the more ready team than we were."

Butler followed his coach's lead and blamed himself for the rough start.

"It's on us. We're the ones out there playing, so we've got to bring it each and every night," he said. "Thibs can only do so much. We knew they'd be ready. It's in the books. We have another one on Thursday."

When the Bulls won at San Antonio on Jan. 29, the Spurs were missing Leonard, Manu Ginóbili, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter due to injuries.

The Bulls (35-29) held the Spurs to 36 points in the first half of that game. In the rematch, San Antonio led 38-14 after one quarter, which matched the largest first-quarter deficit in Bulls history.

During that first quarter, the Spurs shot 71.4 percent from the field, compared to 26.3 percent by the home team.

"Readiness to play starts long before the game," Thibodeau added. "There has to be an edge in shootaround. There has to be an edge the day before in practice. There has to be a readiness to play, a concentration level to know what you're trying to get done out there. And a speed and intensity, you've got to match that.

"If one team is playing like that and you're not, you're in trouble. That part is on me."

The Bulls trailed 97-75 midway through the fourth quarter before finishing the game with a 21-7 run. D.J. Augustin scored 14 of his team-high 24 points in the fourth quarter, while Jimmer Fredette scored 5 points during the futile surge.

Another one of the NBA's best teams, the Houston Rockets, visit on Thursday. Remember to breathe.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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