Game rewind: Rare fourth-quarter collapse dooms the Spurs

The Spurs struggled through a fourth-quarter collapse that they haven’t endured very often this season.

Chicago charged back from a deficit to start the fourth quarter to claim a 96-89 victory over the Spurs. It marked only the second time in 19 games the Spurs have squandered a lead starting the fourth quarter and the first time in 11 home games where they lost a game after leading at the fourth-quarter break.

The only other time this season the Spurs had frittered away a game where they led entering the fourth quarter came in a 106-103 loss at Milwaukee on Jan. 10. San Antonio led that game by two points heading into the fourth quarter.

Spurs guard Tony Parker attributed the collapse as much on Spurs mistakes as Chicago’s defense. The Bulls came into the game ranked second in the league behind Philadelphia in points allowed.

“They have a good defense, but I thought we missed a lot of good shots that we usually make,” Parker said. “I know I missed about three teardrops that I usually make and I missed some easy shots. (Spurs captain) Timmy (Duncan), too. They have a good defense, but at the same time we missed a lot of shots we usually make.”

Danny Green was receiving some treatment for an injured shoulder he said he received bumping through some stiff Chicago screens.

“It was a very physical game, a playoff-like atmosphere,” Green said. “There were two good teams competing. They made some big keys down the stretch and hit some big shots. We could have done some things better, but we can’t take anything away from them. They are a great team.”

It was only the Spurs’ second home loss of the season and snapped a modest four-game home winning streak as their longest homestand of the season continues.

There were some positives for Gregg Popovich to take away from the game, but the loss ultimately made for a bitter beginning for the second half of the season.

Here’s how the Bulls did it.

The game, simply stated:  Chicago used a typically dominant performance from Derrick Rose and some clutch shooting down the stretch to steal a rare home victory in San Antonio.

Where the game was won: After Gary Neal’s 3-pointer tied the score at 75 with 7:09 remaining, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau inserted key players Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng into the lineup. Rose responded with a layup to give the Bulls the lead for good at 77-75 and Kyle Korver hit a deep three to give them a five-point cushion.

Making it close: Neal erupted for 13 consecutive points to keep the Spurs in the game. His deep three with 2:09 left pulled San Antonio within 85-82. And another Neal hoop pulled them within 89-86, but Deng’s second 3-pointer gave Chicago a 92-86 lead with 39.6 seconds left to ice the victory.

Early success: The Spurs jumped to an immediate 9-2 lead and were ahead for the entire first quarter as the Bulls missed six of their first seven shots. But Rose emerged to score all 11 first-quarter points in the final eight minutes to pull them within two at the quarter break.

Player of the game I: Rose showed why he was the NBA’s  Most Valuable Player last season, ripping through the Spurs for 29 points and four assists.   

Player of the game II: After struggling much of the season, Neal produced a season-high 21 points in 24 minutes, including 15  points in the fourth quarter to keep the Spurs in the game.

Player of the game III:  It wasn’t the best of starts for Duncan, who missed his first five shots and eight of his first nine until early in the third quarter. But he erupted for 12 points on 6 of 7 shooting in the rest of the third quarter as he produced 18 points and 10 rebounds. And he even had three dunks.

Most unsung: C.J. Watson came off the Chicago bench to blister the Spurs for 10 points in seven-plus minutes in the second quarter, boosting the Bulls into a halftime lead.

Attendance: Not surprisingly after the strong Rodeo Road Trip, the Spurs attracted a sellout crowd of 18,581. It was their ninth sellout in 15 home games this season, including six in their last eight home games.

Did you notice I: For those watching on ESPN’s broadcast at home, analyst Jeff Van Gundy wanted no part of interviewing Gregg Popovich at the end of the third quarter. Instead, he deferred to play-by-play announcer Dan Shulman, whose absence made Van Gundy provide his own call of the first several seconds of game action when Shulman was slow to return for the start of the quarter.

Did you notice II: The Spurs picked up a rare delay of game technical foul with 5:32 left in the first quarter when game officials ruled that Neal was buzzed into the game when he was sitting and tying his shoes before entering the game. The basketball gods apparently intervened on the unusual call when Rip Hamilton missed the enusing technical foul shot.  

Did you notice III: Maybe it was my imagination, but it appeared that the Bulls had more fans in the building than most rival teams. It’s safe to say that the Bulls might have the third largest contingent of fans in San Antonio besides those of the Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers.

Stat of the game I: Chicago took advantage in their fourth-quarter comeback, hitting 66.7 percent from the field after earlier shooting 35.7 percent through three quarters.

Stat of the game II: Duncan’s 18 points and 10 rebounds gave him his seventh double-double in his last 10 games. In his first 23 games of the season, Duncan produced five double-doubles.   

Stat of the game III: The Spurs’ loss cooled off a recent surge where they had won 12 of their last 13 games before Wednesday.

Stat of the game IV: Rose continued his blistering recent pace against the Spurs. In his last four games, Rose has averaged 32.8 points per game against the Spurs. In his first three career games against San Antonio, Rose averaged 11.7 points per game.

Stat of the game V: The Spurs’ eight-point halftime deficit marked the third time in the last four home games the Spurs have trailed at the half. And the size of the margin was tied for their second-largest home halftime deficit. San Antonio trailed by 13 points at home against Houston on Feb. 1.

Weird stat of the night: Wednesday’s loss marked the first time since the Spurs have ever lost their first home game back after the Rodeo Road Trip ended. Before Wednesday, San Antonio was 8-0 in first games back after the Rodeo Road Trip.

Weird stat of the night II: Parker struggled through a rare recent offensive clunker with 11 points. It was his fewest since scoring five points at Memphis on Jan. 30 and tied for his fourth-lowest scoring effort of the season.

Not a good sign: The Spurs fourth-quarter defensive collapse was the most troubling sign. But the Spurs got to the foul line only 12 times — second-lowest total of the season. Their only previous time with fewer foul shots came Jan. 27 in a loss at Minnesota.  

Best plus/minus scores: Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair were plus-5, Green was plus-4 and Parker was plus-3.

Worst plus/minus scores: Matt Bonner was minus-16, Neal was minus-14 and James Anderson was minus-13.  

Quote of the game: “There were a couple of contested floaters that went in for me. Those don’t go in for me, I’m 5 for 15 instead of 9 for 15 and I’m not doing this interview,” Neal on his big scoring game that was boosted by several big shots with defenders in his face.

How the schedule stacks up: The Spurs’ homestand continues with games Friday against Charlotte, Sunday against Denver and March 7 against New York.  The Bulls travel to Cleveland Friday night and Philadelphia on Sunday before returning home Monday against Indiana.

Injuries: Manu Ginobili (strained left oblique muscle) missed his fourth game (Spurs 2-2) since he was injured Feb. 18 at the Los Angeles Clippers. Kawhi Leonard missed the game with tightness in his calves. Rose and Parker knocked knees midway through the first quarter but both remained in the game.

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