Chicago Bulls: San Antonio Spurs
"I was almost sure, 100 percent, that Chicago was [going to] offer me good money, good [years]," Belinelli said. "But the NBA is a business. I got a little bit of offers from other teams and when San Antonio called me I didn't think too much, honestly. Having a team that really wanted to win a championship and I can really improve my game, so I think I [made] a really good decision to come here and try to be a better player. Play with great players that know how to win championship and a great coach like Pop."
Belinelli said he spoke to the Bulls about coming back but no offer was actually made. Instead of bringing Belinelli back, the Bulls decided to sign veteran guard Mike Dunleavy because they believed he was a better fit playing alongside Derrick Rose. Specifically, they thought Dunleavy's ability to shoot 3-pointers would be key. The irony is that Belinelli came into Wednesday's game shooting 46.7 percent from the 3-point line.
"Maybe they were thinking about another player, like Dunleavy," Belinelli said. "I don't really know. It's a business. You never know 100 percent. I was happy to stay with Chicago this summer, but at the end of the day I'm on a better team, a great team. I feel really good right now, I'm so happy."
Belinelli laughed when asked whether playing for coach Tom Thibodeau last season helped prepare him for playing for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. He answered "yes" before the question was even finished being asked.
For their part, both coaches sung Belinelli's praises before the game.
"I thought he did well in Chicago," Popovich said. "I watched him play there and I thought he got involved in a lot of different ways: pick and rolls and obviously [he's] a good shooter. I think he's a really fine all-around player. He's a very good passer, a great teammate, and I think he plays to win. He's got no fear at all, so I think he's been a really good addition for us."
Thibodeau never had a doubt Belinelli would succeed in Popovich's system.
"We hated to lose him," Thibodeau said. "I think anyone that's serious about basketball and serious about winning, they're going to thrive with Pop, they are. The game is so important to Marco. He plays for the team, he plays to win, and when I heard he signed here I knew he would be a great fit."
Belinelli has enjoyed his time in both places. He admitted he gained confidence in his defense by playing for Thibodeau.
"I think they are great coaches," he said. "Thibs was great with me. Pop is great. But I've got a really good relationship with them. We can speak about everything. I was [anxious] a little bit this summer because I didn't know much about Pop, but I know right now he's a great coach and I think he's a great person."
What's next: The Bulls have an off day Thursday in New Orleans. They will find out whether Joakim Noah makes his second straight All-Star team or not.
The last word: Thibodeau, on Noah being able to play well after not feeling well during Wednesday morning's shootaround.
"He's fine now," he said. "You guys all know -- he's not a morning person."
SAN ANTONIO -- Let's take a quick look at how the Chicago Bulls earned a 96-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night at AT&T Center.
How it happened: Jimmy Butler had one of his best games of the season, stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks and an assist. Carlos Boozer added 16 points and 12 rebounds as the Bulls set the tempo all night and played solid defense down the stretch. Tony Parker led the Spurs with 20 points and six assists, but it wasn't enough for a depleted Spurs team that struggled to score all night.
What it means: This has to be one of the most pleasing wins of the season for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau and his players. Joakim Noah (flu) and Kirk Hinrich (hamstring) were game-time decisions to play and ended up making big plays throughout the night. Noah almost racked up a triple-double, and Hinrich made several big shots in the final minutes. The most important sign of the night for the Bulls was the play of Butler. The third-year swingman has really struggled over the past few weeks with his shot, but he bounced back in a major way against the Spurs -- especially on the defensive end. As Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said before the game, the Bulls are going to be in almost every contest because of their defense. That's true, and they won this game because of it.
Hits: D.J. Augustin had 15 points and five assists, while Taj Gibson added 15 points of his own.
Misses: Mike Dunleavy was just 3-for-11 from the field.
Stat of the night: The Bulls outscored the Spurs 52-26 in the paint.
What's next: The Bulls take on the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday night in Louisiana.
SAN ANTONIO -- Here's a quick look at the San Antonio Spurs' 101-83 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night at AT&T Center:
How it happened: Manu Ginobili had 18 points and seven assists as San Antonio grinded the Bulls out in the final 12 minutes. Tim Duncan added 18 points and 10 rebounds while Kawhi Leonard added 14 points and seven rebounds of his own. Marco Belinelli had another solid outing for the Bulls scoring 21 points and dishing out seven assists.
What it means: The Bulls always miss Derrick Rose, and they have certainly missed Kirk Hinrich over the past few months as he continues to battle injuries, but the lack of solid depth at the point guard position was painfully obvious for the Bulls. Nate Robinson could not find his rhythm and, as usual, fired up several ill-advised shots. Marquis Teague played well in the second quarter but struggled to get the Bulls into the offense down the stretch and continues to have the ups and downs that every rookie goes through. The Bulls' usually strong defense didn't stand up in the second half and is a major reason they lost, but the fact that Rose and Hinrich aren't on the floor for the Bulls can't be overstated. Hinrich is not a gifted offensive player, but he gets his teammates where they need to be on the floor and Rose is, well, Derrick Rose. The Bulls needed a difference maker down the stretch and they didn't have one.
Hits: Deng had a nice night scoring 19 points with seven rebounds.
Misses: Robinson was just 3-for-13 from the field.
Stat of the night: The Spurs shot 54.1 percent from the field. The Bulls shot just 36.7 from the field. The Spurs outscored the Bulls 29-15 in the fourth quarter.
What's next: The Bulls take on the Utah Jazz at home on Friday night.
The Spurs played their second game Wednesday without Tony Parker, who is expected to miss a month with an ankle injury. The Bulls have been without Derrick Rose all season because of a torn ACL, the same injury that shelved Boston's Rajon Rondo for the rest of the season.
"I think it's each individual case," Thibodeau said after Friday's practice. "There's two sides to it. I certainly understand where Pop's coming from. Pop's one of the all-time great coaches so I would never question what he's doing with his team. I think he understands his team, he understands the makeup of his team and he understands the age of his team. Those things are all critical. And then I think the commissioner's always charged with doing what he thinks is best for the league and so there's two sides to it. So hopefully in the end it will be resolved in a good way."
SAN ANTONIO -- Gregg Popovich knew what was coming Wednesday night. Derrick Rose was going to race up and down the floor, and get plenty of points. Rose was going to try to push the tempo of the game and take over whenever he could. Popovich was fine with all that.
He just wanted to make Rose work for everything he got. The coach, who has four NBA titles to his name, tried to play coy about his plan of attack before the action began, but his methodology was pretty evident to anyone watching:
Make somebody else besides Rose be the difference-maker.
"It's a game plan; I don't know where it begins," Popovich quipped. "We know who the most important guy to try to stop is. And we also know we're not going to stop him. But we're going to try and make him work and see if we can get him to work hard to get the ball to other people. We're going to try and do what we can to limit him. But he's a tough nut."
How it happened: Derrick Rose scored 29 points and carried the Bulls offensively at times as they pulled out one of their most impressive wins of the season. Joakim Noah had another solid performance, scoring 10 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, while C.J. Watson added 12 points off the bench. The Bulls struggled to find an offensive rhythm most of the night against a solid Spurs defense, but Rose made plays when he had to -- hitting several big shots down the stretch.
What it means: The Bulls never stopped grinding away, even after giving up a 10-point lead in the third quarter. They weren't looking good offensively, but they kept their defensive poise and allowed Rose to take over down the stretch. The key in those final 12 minutes was that Rose finally got some help from the bench. Ronnie Brewer had eight huge points down the stretch, while Luol Deng knocked down a couple of critical shots, as well. The Bulls have struggled all year against good teams on the road, but not this time. Rose and Tom Thibodeau badly wanted to beat the Spurs and the Bulls pulled this one out by playing hard in the last few minutes. Given how intense this game was from beginning to end, Thibodeau has to be extremely proud of the way his team continued to battle throughout the night. Rose is going to have to get more help down the stretch against other top teams, but he got just enough in this one to push that discussion aside for another day.
Stat of the night: The Bulls are now 15-0 when leading at halftime on the road.
Bold play of the game: With the Bulls hanging onto a precarious three-point lead, Deng, who had been cold most of the night, stepped up and drilled a 3-pointer with 39.6 seconds left to play.
What's next: The Bulls have a day off Thursday before traveling to face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night. They'll be looking for their fifth win in a row.
SAN ANTONIO -- Tom Thibodeau hates talking about opponents in advance of a scheduled game.
With that, it was quite strange to hear him speak about the San Antonio Spurs after Tuesday morning's shootaround. The Bulls were facing the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday night, but for about 10 seconds, Thibodeau actually allowed himself to speak glowingly about San Antonio when the topic came up.
"The Spurs are the Spurs," he said. "In many ways, they're the gold standard of the league. They've done it year after year for a long time. They have a lot of weapons. But we'll worry about that when we get there."
While discussing San Antonio before Wednesday night's game, it became even clearer just how much Thibodeau respects San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich and his team.
"Ever since Pop's been here, he's built a championship caliber team and organization from top to bottom," Thibodeau said. "In everything they do. To me, when you measure greatness, it's having the ability to do it year after year and he's shown that. So I have a lot of respect for what he's done."
On the other side of the arena, Popovich echoed similar sentiments toward Thibodeau and his team minutes later. He praised the job that Thibodeau has done in his second season and acknowledged that even he wasn't sure why it took the career assistant coach so long to land his first head job.
"I'm not the answer man," Popovich said. "I don't know. Most of what we all do, even in your business, it doesn't matter what; a lot what happens has to do with circumstances more than how well you did. Or how highly your regarded or not. If anybody looks at their career, no matter what field of endeavor, circumstances have a lot to do with everything that's happened to each one of us. Sometimes holding us back, sometimes moving us forward. And each person has his own path. What's good is that Tom got his chance. With a good organization and a good group of guys. And he and his staff have been magnificent."
For his part, Thibodeau is just hoping to create the same kind of long-term success in Chicago that Popovich has built up over his time in Texas. He likes the style the Spurs have created over time and he appreciates that Popovich has done things his own way.
"It's the way they're built," Thibodeau said. "They have everything covered. They hard playing [guys], smart, tough, they can shoot. They fit. They're team oriented. They sacrifice for each other They play for each other. They've had injuries; when one guy goes down, the next guy steps up. Pop has provided great leadership here for a long time."
And the race for home court advantage throughout the playoffs is still very much in play thanks to the Los Angeles Lakers. After a victory over the Knicks and a Spurs' loss to the Lakers, the Bulls moved into a tie with San Antonio for the top spot in the NBA.
The Bulls can clinch home-court advantage throughout the playoffs on Wednesday with a victory over the New Jersey Nets and a Spurs' loss to the Phoenix Suns. Since all tiebreakers are even, if the Bulls and Spurs are tied after Wednesday's games, the league will conduct a random drawing to decide the No. 1 overall seed.
The Nets (24-57) have lost four straight and 14 of their past 16 games. The Suns have lost eight of their past 11 games and will finish with their first losing record in seven seasons.
San Antonio rested starters Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Antonio McDyess in their loss to the Lakers. But coach Gregg Popovich indicated that those players will all likely return against the Suns.
And then there was one. After a 97-81 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night, the Chicago Bulls can wrap up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a winover the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. Or against the Magic on Sunday. Or the Knicks on Tuesday. Or the Nets on Wednesday.
Point is, the Bulls have all but locked up the East, needing just one more win. That leaves the Celtics and Miami Heat to battle it out on Sunday for the No. 2 spot.
With the East just about wrapped up, we turn our attention to the race for the NBA's top seed. The Bulls trail the San Antonio Spurs by 1 1/2 games. The Bulls have four games remaining while the Spurs have three.
CHICAGO -- Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose scored a career high 42 points during Thursday night's 109-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs. With the win, the Bulls are now 22 games over .500 heading into the All-Star break.
"We're playing ball right now," he said. "Where we're playing defense. We're making it tough on people and we're just playing together."
Rose's performance left both his teammates and opponents in awe.
"Wow," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. "Wow. He was something. We scored 99 points and shot 49 percent and shot seven threes, so you think you should have a pretty good chance to win, but he negated that. So he did a hell of a job."
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau thought so as well.
"That was some performance," Thibodeau said of Rose. "It was great leadership. He got us off to a great start. Carlos [Boozer] had a great game also, and Luol [Deng] played well all game long."
"They really couldn't stop him," Boozer added. "I just said to him, "Keep attacking until they stop you." He's playing phenomenally well and he played great again tonight."
Rose said on Wednesday that he considered Thursday night's contest to be a measuring stick game for his team. Needless to say, he is happy with how things have turned out over the first half.
"We've got a lot of confidence right now," he said. "Knowing that we can beat some of the best teams in the NBA. But we just got to keep it going. Where when we come back we've got to stay focused. We've got to work even harder because we're going to have a couple days off. People are going to let their body relax. But we've still got a goal and that's to try to win a championship."
How it happened: Derrick Rose had another huge night, scoring a career-high 42 points, dishing out eight assists and grabbing five rebounds. Luol Deng added 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists of his own. Tony Parker had 26 points for the Spurs, but it wasn't enough, as Rose took over the game and had fans at the United Center chanting, "MVP, MVP," throughout the night.
What it means: Rose said he wanted to make a statement against one of the league's best teams. Well, mission accomplished. As he's done all season, Rose dominated the game at various points and carried the Bulls to another win. He is playing with more confidence than at any other point in his career. Not surprisingly, so is his team. The Bulls feel like they can beat any team in the league if they play defense like they're supposed to. That's a scary combination for the rest of the league as we head into the last two months of the regular season.
Stat of the night: The Bulls outrebounded the Spurs 41-29.
What's next: The Bulls head into the All-Star break 22 games over .500. And the best news of all if you're a Bulls fan is that they've done it without having their entire team healthy and playing together all season. Joakim Noah is expected to return Wednesday in Toronto when the Bulls play the Raptors. There's no question Tom Thibodeau and his team will enjoy these next few days off.
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"37-12," the frustrated coach said matter-of-factly.
"They got us back on our heels to start the third," he continued, searching for a way to explain how his team could look so good during the first two quarters of play and so unbelievably awful later on.
When a team plays as poorly as the Bulls did in the third quarter there's really no way to explain. The offense, which had looked so efficient early, faltered. The defense, which had played Tim Duncan and Co. so well, allowed the Spurs to drive into the paint. And the energy that had carried the Bulls through the early part of the game vanished.
"We came out flat," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "We missed a lot of shots, shots we normally make. We didn't do what we were doing in the second quarter."
The scariest and most ironic part for Deng and the Bulls was that he was the only starter who played the entire second quarter. It was the Bulls' bench, led by Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, that started doing damage.
They were giving the Spurs and playing the best they had played as a group all season. Then, just when you thought the Bulls were well on the way to their fifth straight win, the Spurs roared back. The makings of the worst quarter of the year began late in the second. The Bulls led 45-30 with 2:53 remaining in the second. From that point until the end of the third quarter, the Spurs outscored the Bulls 46-14.
Derrick Rose, who scored 33 points for the second straight night and tried to bring his team back late, couldn't wrap his mind around such an enormous collapse.
"I feel bad," Rose said. "We had them. With a team like that, you've got to continue to go out there and play the same way because they're not going to stop. Right when we went up 10 [at halftime], and we came out in the third quarter, we were supposed to keep on being aggressive, going to the hole. I think that's where we made our mistake, not attacking the basket."
Once the Spurs closed in on them and turned the defensive pressure up, the Bulls wilted. It wasn't so much that they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, it was that they had no answer for the onslaught San Antonio forced upon them.
"They came out with a lot of energy," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "You got to give them credit; they played a great second half. There's a lot of things that I got to fix. I'm not happy with the way I played and just be ready to go next game."
In order for the Bulls to become the type of team that not only competes with the league's upper echelon, but wins, they've got to take a page out of the Spurs' book.
"They came out in third quarter, took the lead and never looked back," Deng said. "Coach keeps talking about 48 minutes. I think to get to the next level that's something we've really got to focus on. The whole team -- guys coming in and the starters doing a better job of keeping their lead. Any time you put a team down like that you've got to end it. You can't let them come back. The momentum was in their favor the whole second half."
SAN ANTONIO -- Let's take a quick look at how the San Antonio Spurs sped past the Chicago Bulls 103-94 on Wednesday night at the AT&T Center:
How it happened: After a solid first half in which they shut down the Spurs at times, the Bulls got annihilated in the third quarter and never recovered. The Bulls' defense lacked energy, and they had no answer when San Antonio ramped up its own defensive pressure. The offense looked stagnant and the ball movement was not as crisp as it had been earlier in the game. Had it not been for a late flurry by Derrick Rose for the second night in a row, the score could have looked a lot worse.
What it means: Yes, the Bulls were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but don't let that fool you. The Spurs whipped them in the third quarter, and they couldn't recover. The biggest issue continues to be the Bulls' lack of a consistent offensive threats besides Rose, and to a lesser extent, Joakim Noah. Luol Deng and Taj Gibson combined to go 6 for 24 from the floor and could not provide the answer the Bulls were desperate for during the third-quarter implosion. The Bulls desperately needed Carlos Boozer on a night like this to provide a stabilizing force. Too bad for them that his return is still at least a couple weeks away.
Stat of the night: With 2:53 remaining in the second quarter, the Bulls led 45-30. From that point until the end of the third quarter, the Spurs outscored the Bulls 46-14. The Spurs scored as many points in the third quarter as they did in the entire first half -- 37.
What's next: The Bulls continue the Texas portion of the circus trip as they head to Dallas to face the Mavericks on Friday night. After such a demoralizing performance in the second half Wednesday night, it will be important for the Bulls to respond early against Dirk Nowitzki and Co.