What better way to get things started here than by breaking down a surprising 106-99 Bulls win over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in the Alamo City last night. With the Spurs holding a 5-0 home record this season and a 52-6 home mark since the beginning of last season (playoffs included), the numbers were stacked high against the visitors, who hadn?t defeated the Spurs in San Antonio since 1998.
Executing head coach Scott Skiles?s game plan to perfection, the Bulls accepted their fate with the all-world Tim Duncan, who finished with 24 points and 11 rebounds, and instead committed themselves to two things in particular: 1) limiting the production of PG Tony Parker, who didn?t get a sniff of the lane in the fourth quarter, and ended with just 13 points (more than eight points below his season average), a vast upgrade over the Bulls? effort against Parker in Chicago when the speedy point guard ran circles around the Bulls in overtime as he lead the Spurs to the road win, and 2) pushing the ball up the court, seizing transition opportunities, and getting into their offensive sets as quickly as possible in order to prevent the Spurs from settling into their suffocating defense. Netting 106 points against a Spurs team allowing fewer than 91 points per game is evidence of the effectiveness of that strategy.
Forced to go small much of the second half due to the foul trouble of Michael Sweetney and Othella Harrington, the Bulls showed great mettle down the stretch, responding to every Spurs mini-run with a run of their own, lead in principal in the fourth by a dialed-in Chris Duhon and later by Ben Gordon, who scored eight of the final 12 Bulls points. Commenting on the Bulls? wherewithal, Gordon said, ?When they made a run, we didn't get deflated and hung in there. This gives us motivation that when you play hard you can compete against teams like the Spurs and Pistons. We played our game today, the way we're capable of playing. Hopefully we can use this as motivation.?
Despite the late-game effectiveness of Tim Duncan, who as always was as comfortable facing up 20 feet from the basket as he was posting up at the block, the Bulls made enough defensive stops and timely shots to pull out the win. Up 94-93 with just over four minutes remaining, the second-year duo of Luol Deng and Gordon came up with six crucial points, providing the Bulls with some much-needed breathing room en route to the victory.