CHICAGO — When the Chicago Bulls won at San Antonio on Jan. 29, the Spurs were missing guards Manu Ginobili and Danny Green, forward Kawhi Leonard and center Tiago Splitter due to injuries.
The Bulls got a good look at the full-strength Spurs on Tuesday night at the United Center. San Antonio sprinted to a 38-14 lead after one quarter and cruised to a 104-96 victory.
Since that home loss to Chicago, San Antonio (47-16) went 14-3 and continues to own the league’s best record.
“We have turned the corner,” Spurs forward Tim Duncan said. “We have the bodies back. This was a good win and we have another big game tomorrow (at home vs. Portland). We have been scoring points all year, but we have to execute our defensive plan to win consistently.”
Guard Tony Parker scored 16 of his 20 points in the first quarter and finished with nine assists. Ginobili led the Spurs with 22 points and Leonard added 16. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was able to give his starters a long rest in the second half.
The final score was deceptive because the Bulls made a late and futile charge after entering the fourth quarter trailing by 24.
“Best first half we have played in a long time,” Ginobili said. “We got up early and that makes it a lot easier.”
Guard D.J. Augustin led Chicago with 24 points, guard Jimmy Butler added 23 points and center Joakim Noah contributed 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Parker dominated the game from the opening tip. He scored on drives, jumpers and a spinning lay-in as the Spurs opened a 23-6 lead. While San Antonio hit 10 of its first 13 shots from the field, Parker and Leonard combined to score 19 of the first 21 points.
“He was aggressive for himself and his teammates,” Popovich said of Parker. “He hit a lot of shots early and we fed off him.”
When Ginobili finished the first quarter with a reverse lay-in, the Spurs led 38-14. It equaled the largest first-quarter deficit in Bulls franchise history.
San Antonio (47-16) shot 71.4 percent from the field in the first quarter (15 for 21) compared with 26.3 percent by Chicago (5 for 19).
“Readiness to play, that’s the biggest thing,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “I told them, that’s completely on me. It’s my job to have them ready. We had no edge to us. That’s a championship-caliber team that’s playing on all cylinders and they’re going after it. So if you don’t match that intensity to start, you are going to get in a big hole.”
The lineup changed, but the second quarter brought more of the same. Former Bulls guard Marco Belinelli drained two 3-pointers in the opening 90 seconds, guard Patty Mills hit all three of his shots and backup center Aron Baynes tossed in a couple of baskets.
The Spurs’ lead peaked at 32 points on four occasions, including 57-25 with 3:03 left in the first half on a Belinelli floater. San Antonio led 97-75 midway through the fourth quarter before Chicago finished with a 21-7 run, but eight points was as close as it got.
“They were whupping our tail from the very beginning,” Butler said. “We just came out stagnant. A few turnovers, we weren’t making shots. That led us to not playing the type of defense we normally play. I felt like that was the biggest key to the game.”
The Bulls (35-29) are halfway through a challenging six-game homestand that features opponents with four of the five best records in the league. So far, Chicago lost to Memphis, beat Miami and lost to the Spurs. Houston, Sacramento and Oklahoma City are next on the schedule.
NOTES: Chicago G Derrick Rose is doing more after practices, such as shooting jump shots and running side to side. Coach Tom Thibodeau’s latest update was not any more optimistic that Rose could return from knee surgery this season. “He’s doing a little bit more, a little bit more running now,” Thibodeau said. “He’s still nowhere near ready to practice, but he’s doing well. His spirit’s strong. His body feels good.” … San Antonio G Marco Belinelli, who played well for the Bulls last season, got a nice ovation from fans at the United Center and knocked down his first two 3-point attempts after checking in. Asked before the game how much Belinelli has helped, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had a quip ready. “He’s a great source for Italian restaurants around the league,” Popovich said. “We argue consistently about what’s good and what’s not good.” … Asked if this has been his best coaching job, with all the injuries the Spurs have endured, Popovich joked, “Haven’t they all been brilliant? My 2-22 season at Pomona was my best.”
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