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RECAP: Bulls Blow 23-Point Lead, Fall to Spurs in Embarrassing Fashion

The Bulls couldn't hang on to a 23-point lead, allowing the San Antonio Spurs to come back and take the game 106-99.
Zach Lavine Bulls

Photo: ChicagoBulls/Twitter

Photo: USA Today

Photo: USA Today

The San Antonio Spurs (21-16) had lost three of four games before bouncing back on Monday with a 109-99 victory over the Detroit Pistons. They attempted to maintain that momentum when they entered the United Center on Wednesday night. A win for San Antonio would have given them consecutive victories for the first time since February 12 and 14, respectively. The Spurs faced an uphill battle, as their best player, Demar DeRozan (20.3 PPG), missed his fourth consecutive game following the death of his father. We at On Tap Sports Net send our deepest condolences to the DeRozan family.

For the Bulls (18-21), tonight marked a grueling stretch of five games in seven nights. The team completed a set of back-to-back contests after blowing out the Oklahoma City Thunder 123-102 on Tuesday, a game highlighted by Zach LaVine scoring 40 points in just under 31 minutes. LaVine shot 15 of 20 from the floor and reached the 40-point threshold for the third time this season. He’s now tied for the second most 40-point games in franchise history. Lauri Markkanen, who continues to play at a high level since returning from injury, added 22 points, topping 20 points for the ninth time in his 18 games this season.

Tonight marked 1,000 games played for Thaddeus Young while San Antonio's Rudy Gay partook in his 977th contest. The Spurs lead the all-time series, 56-35. Before tonight's loss, the Bulls won the last two matchups by a combined six points.

Quick Recap

Tonight was a tale of two halves. The Bulls started the game strong and appeared to be riding the wave from their previous two victories against the Raptors and Thunder. The game looked effortless for them and, at one point, they had a 23-point lead. But, the second half was a very different story. As San Antonio upped their level of play, the Bulls began to coast and it cost them as the Spurs completed a miraculous comeback to win by seven.

Zach LaVine led the way for the Bulls with a line of 29/6/6. He was supported by a strong showing from Young who scored 16 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists. Patrick Williams added his third double-double of the year, scoring ten and grabbing an impressive 14 boards. Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. had ten points apiece. The Bulls went to the free throw line only nine times, shooting a measly 44% from the field and 33% from long range.

The best player on the floor for both teams was the Spurs' Jakob Poeltl (20/16/1). San Antonio had five players score at least 14 points, including Derrick White (17/4/5) and Dejounte Murray (14/7/4). They attempted 30 free throws, a big reason why they were able to come all the way back from such a sizable deficit. The Spurs also recorded 18 second chance points and 48 points in the paint. Interior defense has been a sore spot for Chicago all season long and tonight was no exception.

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A Complete Team Effort

The Bulls continued their momentum from last night's contest, showing energy on the defensive end and spreading the wealth on offense. Markkanen started hot, hitting his first attempt from downtown on the Bulls' initial possession. It's apparent that head coach Billy Donovan has made it a point to get him in an early rhythm and the strategy is clearly paying off. Markkanen seems like a much more confident player than he did before the injury. Young started the game with six quick points, as he continues to have arguably the best season of his 14-year career.

The Bulls began the game on a 13-4 run and were intent to share the ball as five different players had already scored midway through the 1st quarter. By halftime, the team combined for 15 total assists. As the half progressed, the Bulls were simply scoring at will, especially (of course) Zach LaVine who finished with a team-high 15 points. Late in the 2nd quarter, the Bulls went on a 7-0 run to increase their lead to 23 points. Surprisingly, the Bulls were only 6 for 19 from behind the arc, but made up for it with 60% shooting from the field.

As good as the Bulls were on offense, their defensive effort is what stood out the most, holding the Spurs to only 40 points in the first half, San Antonio's lowest output of the season. The Bulls forced the Spurs to shoot 32% from the field and limited San Antonio to only 2 of 19 from long range. Poeltl, who recorded a double-double by halftime, was the lone bright spot for the visitors, scoring 11 points and securing ten rebounds. Everything seemed to go right for the Bulls and they enjoyed a 58-40 lead going into the locker room.

Complete and Utter Implosion

The second half began with more of the same. Visibly upset after a poor attempt from downtown, Spurs coach Greg Popovich called for a timeout only 30 seconds into the third quarter. Whatever he said clearly worked, as the Spurs came out of the huddle looking like a different team. Meanwhile, the Bulls became more and more complacent as the quarter progressed, failing to share the ball as they did in the first half and instead electing for one-on-one isolation on the offensive end. Ultimately, the Spurs won the third quarter by five points and went into the fourth down by a manageable 13 points.

Sensing a shift in momentum, coach Donovan called for a full-court press to start the 4th quarter, trapping the ball handler immediately after the inbound pass and forcing the Spurs to call a timeout only three seconds into the final frame. However, San Antonio regrouped in a big way and went on a 13-3 run to start the quarter. All of a sudden, the Spurs turned what was once a laugher into a three point deficit. The Bulls pushed back with renewed defensive energy, going on a small run of their own, and increasing their lead to eight.

But the Spurs were undeterred and came right back, scoring 17 straight points. By the time the dust had settled, the Bulls, who once led by 23, found themselves down nine points, and were losing the quarter by a jaw-dropping 31-9. The Bulls' body language showed the team was clearly demoralized and they were simply unable to recompose themselves in time to right the ship. San Antonio, smelling blood in the water, never took their foot off the gas and won the game by a final score of 106-99.

What's On Tap Next?

The Bulls (18-21) are off Thursday before traveling to Denver on Friday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 8:00 PM CDT. Currently, the Nuggets (24-16) are just ahead of Portland for the 5th seed in the Western Conference. The Bulls need to use their rest day to reflect on what went wrong against San Antonio. Typically, losses as brutal as this one are hard to get over and lead to losing streaks. Let's hope that's not the case. Stay up-to-date on the Bulls with articles, analysis, and podcasts from Bulls On Tap.