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Sloppy start, furious finish
Teams that are missing one starter to injury, two others to foul trouble and en route to committing 21 turnovers while allowing 14 offensive rebounds aren't supposed to be in games in the fourth quarter.
Especially against San Antonio. Especially against San Antonio at SBC Center.
Playing without Luol Deng, the Bulls made the coaching staff cringe with offensive charges, missed boxouts and enough errant passes to make Jonathan Quinn proud.
But what they failed in execution Friday night, they made up for in effort with a gritty performance.
Rallying from 17 points down, the Bulls finally succumbed in the final 40 seconds, falling 102-99 to the Spurs, who are now a league-best 26-2 at home.
Tim Duncan's 17-foot jumper with 37.7 seconds left was the back-breaker.
On the ensuing possession, Kirk Hinrich missed a baseline jumper that Chris Duhon rebounded, only to step on the baseline.
Before Duncan's jumper, Antonio Davis missed a 15-foot jumper off a timeout.
"The play is for him to swing it over to Ben [Gordon] or take the shot if it presents itself," coach Scott Skiles said. "He was wide open. It was a good look."
Gordon had scored 15 of his team-high 20 points in the fourth quarter but was shadowed by defensive ace Bruce Bowen. Asked if the play called for him to shoot, Davis blanched.
"I shot it, didn't I?" he said. "I'm wide open. I'm supposed to hit those shots."
Duncan and Manu Ginobili added two free throws each in the final 22.4 seconds. Duncan finished with 31 points.
Gordon, who tied Othella Harrington for team-high honors, swished a three-pointer with four seconds left to force the Bulls to foul Ginobili one last time. He made both with 2.7 seconds left.
Davis added an inconsequential layup.
Earlier, the Bulls committed several unpardonable acts. Andres Nocioni, who otherwise played well starting for Deng with 13 points and seven rebounds, threw a lazy inbounds pass coming out of a timeout that Tony Parker intercepted for a breakaway layup.
Devin Brown somehow sneaked behind Hinrich for a breakaway layup off a made free throw.
But when Gordon capped a three-point play with 4:10 remaining, the Bulls had come all the way back to tie the game 90-90. Gordon didn't score until midway through the third but rallied for his league-leading 17th double-digit fourth quarter.
Hinrich committed three of his team-high five turnovers in the first 2:02 and played just 24 minutes.
"He has struggled for a while," Skiles said. "We have to find a way to get him going again."
Added Hinrich: "I have to play better."
The Bulls also were hurt by first-half foul trouble. Hinrich picked up his third on a questionable call on his reach-in on Duncan with 5:21 remaining in the half.
Eddy Curry, who played only 63 second-half seconds because of foul trouble, joined him on the bench with his third minutes later.
Chicago's first six possessions consisted of two missed shots and four turnovers, but the Bulls then went 11-for-14 from the field while holding the Spurs to 28-percent shooting in the first quarter. Nocioni scored nine points.
San Antonio fell behind 31-22 early in the second before Duncan made a running layup for his first points of the period. He would score 15 more before halftime, including a dunk midway through the quarter that put the Spurs ahead 34-33 and a putback with 0.2 seconds left to make it 55-46 at the break.
Duncan's 17 points in the second nearly matched the 20 scored by Chicago as a team, and his seven rebounds were two more than the Bulls' total in the period.
The Spurs extended their lead to 63-46 in the third, but the Bulls went on a 16-6 run to pull within seven late in the quarter.
Notes: San Antonio has eight straight wins over the Bulls, going back to December 2000. The Spurs' last home loss to Chicago came in March 1998. ... Duncan made all seven of his free throws. In the previous three games, he had gone 14-for-25 (56 percent) at the line. ... Luol Deng, third in scoring among rookies at 12.4 ppg, did not play for Chicago. He sprained his right ankle Tuesday in the Bulls' loss in Houston.