With Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker on the bench troubled by injuries, most basketball fans might think the San Antonio Spurs would have trouble pulling out a victory against the Chicago Bulls, the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference.
On Monday night, the Spurs rolled into the United Center and dominated the Bulls with ease on the back of solid efforts from Kawhi Leonard and Nando de Colo. It was only the rookie’s second start in place of Tony Parker, but Frenchman de Colo finished with a solid 9 point, 7 assist and three steal performance that helped fuel the Spurs 103-89 victory.
How do the Spurs play without the big names in the lineup? San Antonio committed just one turnover in the first half and were much more effective defensively than Chicago’s defense, ranked third in the NBA. They would force Chicago into 19 turnovers on the night while only committing 8 and were able to convert their chances on the break outscoring the Bulls 11-7. In a sense, Chicago faced a team on Monday that did what they do, just a little bit better.
The Spurs are so effective not only because they play great defense and make the open shots. They also are incredibly efficient in their off the ball movement and positioning and have players that can move the ball around the floor with accuracy and intelligence. While de Colo was the leading assist man on the night, the team would finish with 21 dimes to Chicago’s 18 and shot an impressive 50 percent from behind the arc.
The ever dependable Kawhi Leonard stepped up once again showing why Gregg Popavich believes he could be the future of the franchise, shooting an efficient 11-of-18 on the night and finishing with 26 points. Leonard’s athleticism makes him a threat off the dribble but defenders can’t slack off him because his perimeter ability forces them to play him tight. As one era of Spurs basketball ends, don’t be shocked if the next one has Leonard’s face all over it.
Defensively, Leonard was able to hold one of the Bulls’ best scorers in Luol Deng to a nightmarish 4-of-13 shooting for just 11 points.
Another reason the Spurs were so effective was their play in an area of the floor that the Bulls had a distinct advantage. While Chicago did kill the Spurs in rebounds (49-26), San Antonio’s front court of Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw were able to combine for 26 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals. Without Duncan in the lineup, Popavich has to be happy having only been outscored 46-36 in the paint on the night while holding Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer to a combined 21 points.
It’s games like Monday night that make San Antonio such a threat. They may be old, but they don’t even need their stars to play every night for Popavich’s system to prove lethal. His players are methodical and the team’s style as deliberate and disciplined as it gets. If the Spurs are healthy come playoff time, and something tells me that Duncan and company will get the rest need to be healthy, they simply can’t be overlooked. This is a team with the depth of a championship squad and the quality within that depth to compete with anyone. Everyone is so busy looking at Clippers’ fantastic lobs and highlight reel that is Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City that they missed the Spurs quietly sneaking into first place in the West with a record 41-12 now.
But it isn’t that they have done it, it’s how they do it. With so many bench guys starting last night, you might expect the Spurs to be outscored when comparing benches. Think again, the Spurs bench overpowered Chicago’s 22-21 on the night, mostly behind 16 points from Gary Neal. The evidence is there, the fact is that you don’t want to play this team in May, because odds are you don’t have enough to guys to shut down all the different ways the Spurs can kill you.