When the Bulls won at San Antonio on Jan. 29, the Spurs were missing Manu Ginóbili, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter because of injuries.
But Spurs coach Gregg Popovich admitted before Tuesday's rematch there is no comparison between his lineup and what Tom Thibodeau has faced.
"I was stunned the other day," Popovich said. "I was watching Miami and the Bulls and someone said that he had coached more games without Derrick (Rose) than he had with him. That just threw me back in my chair. I couldn't believe it. I can't imagine coaching more games without Tony (Parker) and Tim (Duncan) and Manu (Ginobili)."
The official count, including Tuesday's loss, is 130 games with Rose and 164 without him since Thibodeau was hired in 2010.
"He (Thibodeau) sustained it," Popovich added. "He's a competitor of the highest degree. He demands it and he wins the battle with players. He's persistent in what he's going to do in practice and week to week and what he's going to have as standards. That's where it begins. He's fortunate to have character guys, like I do, that allow those guys to be coached and try to do what's instilled in them."
Popovich does stand up:
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is infamous for his brief between-quarters television interviews. Before games, though, Popovich is one of the NBA's best quotes. Here are two examples from Tuesday:
Asked what former Bulls guard Marco Belinelli brought to San Antonio, Popovich answered, "He's a great source for Italian restaurants around the league. We argue consistently about what's good and what's not good."
A month ago, the Spurs were missing four rotation players due to injuries. Popovich was asked if this has been his best coaching job.
"Haven't they all been brilliant?" he replied. "I have no clue. My 2-22 season at Pomona was my best."
Two extremes at center:
Gregg Popovich also compared Joakim Noah, one of the league's most emotional players, to the ever-stoic Tim Duncan.
"All our personalities are different," Popovich said. "(Noah) is like the opposite of Timmy, probably, in that respect. Timmy's the most introspective and nonemotional guy on the court, but the fire's burning -- just in a different way.
"Joakim just burns in a different way and as long as it's directed for the good of the team, which it obviously is 100 percent, then I think it's great."
Duncan turns 38 next month, but is still going strong, as Tuesday's game demonstrated.
"It's all about two things: His character and his love for the game," Popovich said of Duncan. "He's someone who loves to play basketball and truly loves the camaraderie of the locker room and the practice sessions, the competitiveness of the games. Because of that, he's done everything he can do to prolong his career.
"That means what he puts in his body, what he does in the summertime, the sacrifices he makes so that he can play as long as possible. It's really all about him."