Opening up a brief, three-game road trip, the Chicago Bulls earned an entertaining 96-89 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night at AT&T Center. The Bulls improved to 29-8 this season, good for the most wins in the NBA.
The Bulls placed four players in double figures against the Spurs (24-11). Derrick Rose put together another dominant effort, with 29 points, four assists while converting plenty of acrobatic finishes and defensive plays in 35 minutes of action. Joakim Noah continues to play with a lot of confidence and notched a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds. C.J. Watson poured in 12 points -- 10 of which in the second quarter -- to go along with four assists and two steals. Luol Deng added 10 points and while he knocked down just three baskets all night, he hit two clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter that helped the Bulls build a cushion they wouldn't relinquish.
Chicago got off to a slow start playing their second game since the All-Star break. They trailed 12-4 just over three minutes into the game and were being outworked by the opposing frontcourt, specifically DeJuan Blair, who had four points and two rebounds during that span. Then, however, behind a heavy dose of pick-and-rolls featuring Rose and either Noah or Carlos Boozer, the Bulls used a surge to pull within 22-20 after one quarter of play. All of Chicago's fans held their breath late in the opening frame when Rose had a knee on knee collision with Tony Parker -- and the former got the worst of it, lying on the court, throbbing in pain and holding on to his right knee. But the reigning NBA MVP walked off with a slight limp and drove into the paint for an acrobatic layup moments later -- indirectly reiterating to everyone that he'd be fine. And he certainly appeared to be.
The Bulls snatched their first lead of the game less than two minutes into the second period and extended it. Watson, who has struggled over the past couple weeks, accounted for 10 of the team's first 12 points of the second. Coach Tom Thibodeau's bunch closed the first half on a 14-6 run to take a 50-42 lead at intermission. Although, the Bulls' offense went stagnant in the third quarter and, defensively, they looked a step slow. The Spurs outscored the visitors 24-15 in the frame to take a 66-65 lead into the fourth. Tim Duncan had 12 points and seven rebounds in the third and finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs. Parker had 11 points but just three in the final three quarters.
In similar fashion to Wednesday night's come-from-behind 99-95 win over the New Orleans Hornets, Rose carried the Bulls on his back and connected on critical buckets whenever his team needed them. Gary Neal, who scored 15 of his 21 points in the fourth, hit a three-pointer to cut the Bulls' lead to 79-78 with two minutes, nine seconds left. And that's when Rose made the biggest shots of the night. On consecutive possessions, he glided in for one of his many athletic layups and then he put up an 18-foot jumper over the outstetched arms of Duncan that saw the bottom of the net. Rose's supporting cast stepped up as the game wore on -- especially the "Bench Mob" -- and he was the big-time playmaker time and time again. Kyle Korver, Ronnie Brewer, who scored the Bulls' first six fourth-quarter points, and Deng all made huge shots down the stretch.
Not only were the Bulls playing the second game of a back-to-back, but their plane arrived in San Antonio at 3 a.m. Wednesday. The Bulls hadn't defeated a winning team on the road since Jan. 13, so clearly they had something to prove while taking on a Spurs squad that has been playing at a high level over the past month. They shot just 42 percent from the field, but outrebounded the home team 50-42 and got to the free throw line 21 times, making 15. Thibodeau had several frustrating moments throughout the game, but he will be pleased with the way his team battled all evening and was able to pull out a high-quality win.
Next up, the Bulls have a day off Thursday before facing the Cleveland Cavaliers (13-20) on Friday night at Quicken Loans Arena.