The Spurs defeated the Bulls 98-88 at the AT&T Center this evening, extending their record to a respectable 8-6. I personally characterized the game as a match-up between Derrick Rose and George Hill. Rose better hope that the media does not view it similarly or else his stock will drop as the former IUPUI star outperformed the promising young Bull on both ends of the floor.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I only saw the second half of the game. According to Tim, the Spurs seemed intent on running the offense through Duncan in the first half, which worked to great effect as the Bulls were relatively defenseless against the future Hall-of-Famer. Supposedly Rose had a good first half, but he found himself unable to penetrate consistently during the second. He also played surprisingly few minutes in the second half, and was noticeably kept on the bench late in the game, even when the Bulls were able to close the lead to 8. As Rose has easily been the most aggressive late-game scorer on the Bulls, I took his lack of playing time near the end of the 4th as a sign of resignation on the part of Del Negro.
When I arrived at half the game was 45-45 and the early third quarter remained competitive. The Bulls were able to distance themselves, mostly because of some solid mid-range shooting on the part of Drew Gooden. Gooden, who was deployed as a center (this game featured quite a lot of "small ball"), did a solid job nailing the type of 10-15 foot jumpers he prefers to take. This is always a defensive weakness for the Spurs: Duncan, Oberto, and Thomas all struggle against forwards who are more comfortable floating away from the block, turning, and facing the basket. Eventually a combination of poor decision-making on Gooden's part and some solid traps by the Spurs slowed Gooden's momentum (Gooden would finish with 20 points and 12 rebounds).
Ben Gordon also had a strong shooting night, going 9-16 for 23 points. During the early third some hot shooting on his part accompanied Gooden's solid quarter but eventually the Spurs adjusted, doing an increasingly excellent job closing out on players perched along the perimeter. The Bulls outside shooting was maintaining them for a while and when it slowed down, the likelihood of them leaving San Antonio with a W decreased quickly.
The tide turned for good during a Manu Ginobili led run in the mid-to-late 3rd. The perennial paradox of Ginobili's game is the fact that a man could look so out of control and yet simultaneously act with such complete precision. I am thinking of two particular plays. In one instance he went baseline, barreling past a cabal of Bulls frontcourt defenders and laying in a beautiful right-handed reverse layup. But more noticeable than any basket he made was an absolutely inconceivable assist he completed. Ginobili drove left, and looked prepared to take a layup in traffic. Instead he wrapped his arm back, and in a motion similar to a jai-alia hurl, rocketed the ball through numerous outstretched arms, finding Ime Udoka in the corner. Udoka, who had his best offensive game of the season, nailed the 3-pointer. This was the second of back-to-back 3-pointers on the part of Udoka and from this moment on the Spurs would never again cede the momentum.
From that point on, the game became the George Hill show. The rookie, who saw 33 minutes of playing time, ended with 19 points and an impressive 11 rebounds. During the 4th he was able to penetrate the defense at will. His excursions into the paint ended with an easy layup at best and a trip to the line at worst. A particularly admirable play came when Hill missed a teardrop in the lane, but followed his shot to secure the easy tap-in. Although hammered into young players by youth league coaches across the country, few professional players actually show the dedication to follow their own shots. He was also a pest on defense, creating turnovers, filling passing lanes, and diving to the floor in order to secure loose balls.
Although he put up another impressive offensive night as well as a notable defensive showing, nothing is more encouraging than how well he cleaned the glass. Hill's 11 rebound night was no fluke. He has the vertical to compete with taller players, the sense of spacing to gain the positional advantage and the unyielding tenacity to crash the boards on both ends the entire time he's on the court. Between Hill and Ginobili (who is an excellent rebounder for his position), the Spurs may develop into one of the better rebounding backcourts in the league.
Although this may seem counter-intuitive, I am extremely encouraged by Roger Mason Jr.'s poor shooting night (2-12). The Spurs have been leaning heavily on their new swingman and many people, myself included, wondered whether the Spurs could put together a successful offensive outing if Mason's gaudy numbers began to slip. Well, consider this game proof that it is in fact possible.
Both Kurt Thomas and Ime Udoka, who have been under-performing since day one, had solid nights on both ends of the floor. They did an excellent job completing the proper defensive rotations and each rediscovered their respective shots (Udoka went 3-3; Thomas went 3-5). Obviously Hill and Ginobili's solid numbers caused our bench production to balloon, but even if you subtract their points, Udoka, Thomas, and Bonner did a solid job providing the Spurs a degree of offensive stability.
The Spurs will be back at the AT&T Center on Friday where they will take on the Memphis Grizzlies for the second time in 5 days. The Grizzlies are coming off a 17-point loss to the Jazz in Utah. If everything turns out as planned, your humble author will have the opportunity to attend his first Spurs game of the season. Happy Thanksgiving.