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Bulls fall to short-handed Spurs

(MCT) — CHICAGO — Monday night’s Bulls-Spurs matchup at the United Center was more a story about which players didn’t suit up.

While all of Chicago awaits the return of Derrick Rose, fans who came to see the Spurs trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had to settle for Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Nando De Colo.

Made life easier for the Bulls, right? Not exactly.

Just as Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau noted, the Spurs appear to be the gold standard regardless of what lineup cerebral coach Gregg Popovich puts out on the floor. Even with Duncan and Parker sidelined by knee injuries and Ginobili out with a hamstring, the Spurs showed why they own the best record in the NBA, defeating the Bulls 103-89.

Sparked by Nate Robinson’s 11 points in the third quarter, the Bulls rallied from a 14-point deficit to make it a game, but their effort went for naught as they fell to 15-12 at home.

Leonard led the Spurs (41-12) with 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting, including a handful of backbreaking jump shots in the fourth quarter. Danny Green also had his outside shooting touch and finished with 18.

Robinson paced the Bulls with 20 points while Richard Hamilton added 16. One stat really told the story of the game: The Bulls had 19 turnovers to just eight for the Spurs.

The Bulls pulled to within 76-75 on a Taj Gibson dunk with just less than 10 minutes remaining. The Spurs never flinched, using a 13-3 run to regain control.

There was a storyline involving an injured player who did play. Bulls center Joakim Noah, a game-time decision with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, played the game’s first 14 minutes before taking a breather. He didn’t appear to be hindered by his foot, although his impact was minimal.

Thibodeau is still in the process of deciding whether Noah will participate in Sunday’s All-State Game in Houston. Noah and teammate Luol Deng were selected to the Eastern Conference squad.

Noah finished with seven points, 15 rebounds and five assists.

The Bulls jumped out to a 24-20 lead after one quarter and led by as many as seven in the first half. But the Spurs methodically took control with deft passing, sharp shooting and stingy defense. Gary Neal scored 13 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first half to ignite his team to a 51-42 halftime lead.

The Bulls have one more game — Wednesday in Boston — before this weekend’s All-Star break. They lead the season series over the Celtics 2-1.

Layups: Thibodeau on the Spurs’ Parker, whom he called an MVP candidate: “He’s always been a terror in the paint. To be a point guard and shoot the percentages that he’s shooting is a credit to how hard he’s worked at his shooting. There’s not anything that he’s not doing.” ... Guard Kirk Hinrich missed Monday’s game as he continues to recover from a right elbow infection. Thibodeau believes Hinrich will make the trip to Boston. ... The Spurs’ Stephen Jackson missed the game for personal reasons.

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