Bulls defense disappears again in loss to Spurs

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls forward Javonte Green (24). The Bulls let another second-half lead slip away and lost to a sub-.500 team for the second time this week. They dropped a 131-122 decision to the Spurs, despite DeMar DeRozan's 32 points in his return to San Antonio.

    San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) drives to the basket against Chicago Bulls forward Javonte Green (24). The Bulls let another second-half lead slip away and lost to a sub-.500 team for the second time this week. They dropped a 131-122 decision to the Spurs, despite DeMar DeRozan's 32 points in his return to San Antonio.

 
 
Updated 1/28/2022 10:56 PM

The Bulls managed to go back in time during their trip to San Antonio on Friday.

Specifically, they reverted to a couple weeks ago when they gave up 138 points in consecutive games to Brooklyn and Golden State, something they hadn't done in more than 50 years.

 

One problem here is the Nets and Warriors are loaded with stars and among the favorites to win the NBA title. The Spurs aren't even in playoff contention and sprinted past the defenseless Bulls 131-122.

"Terrible," Zach LaVine said. "We couldn't stop in any coverage or any scheme we had. It didn't matter what we were in, we couldn't stop the ball. We've got to figure out how to stop having teams score so much."

DeMar DeRozan was greeted with a tribute video before tip-off and scored 32 points in his return to San Antonio, where he played the last three years. But the Spurs (19-31) shot 53 percent overall and made 16 3-pointers.

"No excuses. Frustrated with myself, personally, could have been better defensively, will be better," DeRozan said. "But it's on us, the leaders of this team, to set the tone. Especially with our key guys we lean on defensively, that set the tone for us defensively and we follow behind -- with those guys out, we've got to step forward and bring our defensive intensity."

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The Bulls are obviously missing two of their better defenders in Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball. But they better figure it out, because both those guys are expected to miss 6-8 weeks. Ball had his arthroscopic knee surgery Friday morning.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who celebrated his 73rd birthday, was relentless in putting Bulls center Nikola Vucevic in pick-and-rolls and getting the Bulls defense on its heels. The Bulls were pretty good at helping and scrambling with Caruso and Ball on the floor.

On Friday, not so much.

"It's not Vuc's fault," LaVine said. "Vuc is doing what we're asking him to do. We have to help support him. Everybody including Vuc has to give more effort, but it's not one guy's fault. It's not Vuc's fault. Vuc didn't have his guy give up 130 points. That's on the Chicago Bulls. We've got to do a better job collectively."

In the first half the Bulls (30-18) were scoring with ease and seemed on their way to a comfortable victory. When LaVine opened the third quarter by hitting a three, the Bulls led by eight. But then San Antonio kept grabbing offensive rebounds, knocking down threes and flipped the game completely.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Spurs led by 13 early in the fourth quarter. The Bulls finally started chipping away, getting consecutive 3-pointers from Coby White and Vucevic to close within 108-106 with still seven minutes left.

Instead of taking the lead, though, it was slide time. Keldon Johnson hit a three, was fouled and made 3 free throws, then a cutting dunk by Jakob Poeltl put San Antonio back up by 10.

The Bulls' last gasp included a rare DeRozan 3-pointer to bring them within 124-120. But on the next trip, another Spurs pick-and-roll led to a wide-open 6-foot hook by Poeltl. The Bulls called time out, then turned it over on the ensuing inbounds pass.

"I'd say San Antonio is a team that moves as much as anybody in the league," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "You've got to have the stamina, not only for the first eight or 10 seconds, but you've got to be able to stay with it."

Spurs point guard Dejounte Murray, once a Seattle-area high school rival of LaVine and teammate of DeRozan, piled up 29 points, 12 assists and 9 rebounds.

"That's my little brother, man," DeRozan said. "I've got the utmost love and respect for Dejounte, not even just as a basketball player, as a human being. We're the same. We're the same person, I relate with him so much. My time here, we gained a bond that will never be broken."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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