March is usually the time of year the San Antonio Spurs start playing the kind of basketball that led them to an NBA championship last season, and their win over the Chicago Bulls marked a fifth consecutive victory, making them a lot closer to a playoff seeding with some home court advantage involved than fearing for their actual place in the playoffs.
The Spurs opened strong and never looked back, beating the Bulls, playing without Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson, 116-105. The Spurs opened an 18 points lead just before half time and the Bulls never managed to narrow things down beyond 8 points, with turnovers (20) and a confused looking defense hindering their comeback attempts. The Spurs scored 32 points off of Bulls turnovers and 35 points on the fast break.
Tony Parker, who was the one that looked worse than anyone else during the Spurs’ rough road trip, is thriving again. He scored 32 points, most of them by driving to the basket and making his way through like very few players can, combining speed and finesse. He finished with 16 points in the paint. The Spurs actually finished with an uncharacteristic 14 assists, with players often seeing open lanes to the basket and taking off of them, not needing their ball movement to create open looks.
Besides Parker, there was Kawhi Leonard who is also playing very well recently and just might be the most important player for teams to worry about when playing against the Spurs because of his ability to turn his imposing defense into quick points. He scored 20, while Manu Ginobili with 16 points and Patty Mills with 15 helped out from the bench. Tim Duncan, unlike his teammates, saw a long and unique streak come to an end.
Duncan did score points – 3 of them. The “problem”? They all came from the line, going 0-for-8 from the field, making it his first game after 1310 in a row without a field goal. This isn’t part of some hard-to-watch decline. Duncan, one month before his 39th birthday, is averaging 14.2 points per game with 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. He’s more than slightly relevant and doing a wonderful service for the perception of “old” basketball players. However, the longest such streak in NBA history is over, happening for the first time in Duncan’s career.
So the Spurs, that team that looked old and struggling three weeks ago, are on the back of five consecutive wins, tied for the longest winning streak in the league right now along with the Hornets and Pacers. They don’t have to worry about the Thunder at 8th, standing 4.5 games above them. Teams that need to worry about the Spurs are the Mavericks and Clippers, both only 0.5 games ahead of the Spurs, and having problems of their own right now.