Few teams have been hurt by injuries over the last few years like the Chicago Bulls have. The San Antonio Spurs are going through something similar at the moment, only without the kind of on-hands experience players like Jimmy Butler and Joakim Noah have had to accumulate in recent times.
The Bulls continue to play reasonably good basketball under less than optimal conditions this season, beating the Spurs in San Antonio 96-86, with Tom Thiboedau making smarter and better decisions regarding the lineups he’s using, making the most of Joakim Noah’s and Jimmy Butler’s versatility.
Butler led the Bulls with 19 points in 42 minutes, while Noah put on a very impressive 10 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists, 4 blocks stat line. Their defense and slow pace game forced the Spurs to score only 5 points on fast breaks and limit them to 26 points in the paint. The Bulls had no problem scoring inside with Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer combining for 31 points, while the Bulls finished scoring 52 points in the paint.
Thibodeau playing D.J. Augustin in the lineup didn’t suddenly make the Bulls look like a run and gun team, but the less time Kirk Hinrich is on the floor as a floor general, the better. He did come up for 22 minutes off the bench which gave the Bulls a chance to use Jimmy Butler as a small forward at times, as Chicago are getting different looks on the perimeter despite departing from an asset like Luol Deng. Augustin scored 15 points, adding 5 assists, even though it was far from efficient on 6-of-17 from the field.
The Spurs’ injury list? Manu Ginobili, Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. Tony Parker trying to do too much on his own led to some of the ugliest basketball we’ve seen this season from the Spurs who are known for nothing but that, as Parker struggled finding his way into the paint (only 1-of-6 on drives to the basket) and was suffering when Jimmy Butler was guarding him: 1-of-6 against Butler, 7-of-11 against the rest of the Bulls.
Missing Splitter and Leonard is killing them defensively. The Bulls grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and dominated in the paint on both ends of the floor. Part of the Tim Duncan (17 points) revival from last season had to do with Splitter taking a bigger share of defensive duties, allowing Duncan to play off the ball to come in for blocks from the weak side. It’s a lot harder being that impressive without the Brazilian, even without any injuries slowing the big man down.
It’s just tough right now. Back to back, it felt like we had no energy. We didn’t make shots in the first half. We had some pretty good looks in the first half; open 3s. They just didn’t go in and we just try to fight through it. We tried to get some energy in the second half, but they played better than us.
While the Spurs aren’t used to this kind of basketball, the Bulls thrive in it. Augustin provides the X-factor and unexpected virtue, while Butler, Noah, Gibson and the rest are just doing what they’ve been used to without Derrick Rose, who is more like a specter hanging over this team as to what it might be instead of actually contributing. Maybe there’s plenty of missed potential here, but Thibodeau is doing an incredible job, and the same goes for his players, out of a very difficult situation.