Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah, right, loses the ball to San Antonio Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard (2) during the first half of an NBA basketball game on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)
Updated: March 11, 2014 10:58PM
Forget being ready to play.
The Bulls weren’t even ready to show up.
Whether it was a hangover from their emotional win Sunday over the Heat or simply the weight of facing their third consecutive playoff-caliber team, the Bulls were completely dismantled by the defending Western Conference champion Spurs 104-96 on Tuesday at the United Center.
And it wasn’t that close.
“They were whooping our tail from the very beginning,’’ swingman Jimmy Butler said. “There’s nothing else to say about that. They were the more ready team than we were. We just came out stagnant, a few turnovers, weren’t making shots, and that led us into not playing the type of defense we usually play. I feel like that was the biggest key of the game.’’
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had his own theory, and in his opinion it started with him.
“You know 38-14 in the first quarter, readiness to play, that’s the biggest thing,’’ Thibodeau said, referring to the score after one quarter. “Like I told them, that was completely on me. My job is to have us ready. We had no edge to us. That’s a championship team, and if you don’t match that intensity, you’re going to be in a big hole. There has to be an edge in shootaround, there has to be an edge the day before in practice.’’
The Spurs (47-16) took a 15-6 lead after a Kawhi Leonard jumper five minutes into the game. It was 30-11 with two minutes left. When the quarter ended, the Bulls (35-29) were down 24. That’s too big of a deficit against most teams, but against the Spurs? Hit the showers, and just call it a bad night at the office.
“It’s on us,’’ Butler said. “We’re the ones out there playing, so we have to bring it every night. Thibs can only do so much. We knew we had to be ready, and we weren’t. It’s in the books.’’
Butler was right about one thing: It was on them, specifically the starters.
Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy and Kirk Hinrich combined for 18 points. Defensively, they seemed to have all kinds of problems with Tony Parker and Leonard. As a team, the Spurs shot 7-for-10 from beyond the three-point line in the first half.
Guard D.J. Augustin was asked if it was an emotional letdown after beating the Heat, but he didn’t want to use that as an excuse.
“We should bring the fire every night,’’ Augustin said.
There were a few signs of life as the game went on, but falling behind by 32 in the second quarter didn’t leave a lot of room for error. Not when the Spurs shot 61 percent (25-for-41) going into halftime, compared with 30.3 percent (10-for-33) for the Bulls.
Though the Bulls outscored the Spurs 30-14 in the final quarter, it came against backups who looked more disinterested than concerned with a comeback.
And while it was a game most of the players wanted to forget, you can bet the film session Wednesday with Thibodeau will have some reminders.
“Great lesson,’’ Thibodeau said. “Because they all count the same. You have to learn about that game [with the Heat], what did it take to win, and then get ready for the next one. We didn’t do that.’’