The encouraging signs were everywhere except in the Bulls' shooting percentage Monday night.
They pestered the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs into overtime before falling 104-95 in front of a sellout crowd of 21,827 at the United Center.
Although the Bulls' field-goal percentage--.396, .231 from three-point range--left something to be desired, their flashes of excellence for the second straight game had coach Scott Skiles offering compliments.
"I actually feel pretty good about it," Skiles said of the Bulls' second straight loss decided at the wire.
"Maybe it's not taking as long this year to figure out the effort that's necessary for us to have a chance to win an NBA game. We let one the other night slip away on a mistake at the end, and we made a couple tonight that are just youthful mistakes. Those are the things you can work on in practice. The effort--if it's there--is huge. I'm really proud of the effort right now."
Trailing by 11 in the third quarter, the Bulls (1-2) came back largely behind Luol Deng and Ben Gordon. Deng finally emerged from nearly a six-month setback, a wrist injury that required surgery and several months of rehabilitation.
"I'm just getting more comfortable every day," he said. "With that kind of injury, you kind of forget about what you do well."
Deng, one of six Bulls to score in double figures, had a team-high 19 points with six rebounds.
"We have to give ourselves a chance against whoever we play, and we just did that with the Spurs," Deng said. "In every game you somehow have to find it and come out and play."
Gordon tied the game 91-91 with 16.2 seconds left in regulation with a 19-foot jumper, and it held up to force overtime when Manu Ginobili's layup came up short for San Antonio.
Gordon's three straight three-pointers late in the third quarter had brought the Bulls within a point of San Antonio (3-1) heading into the fourth quarter. He finished with 14 points.
In overtime, the Bulls succumbed to Tony Parker, who penetrated the lane with ease, as well as Proviso East High alumnus Michael Finley.
Finley, whom the Bulls briefly tried to woo in the off-season, hit a three-pointer with 3 minutes 18 seconds left in the extra session, and the Bulls never recovered.
Parker finished with 22 points, nine assists and five turnovers. All-Star Tim Duncan inflicted his usual damage against the Bulls, scoring 24 points to go with 16 rebounds.
"I felt like we got some good things accomplished," the Bulls' Tyson Chandler said. "We just have to be able to finish the game and come out with a victory."
Said Skiles: "We've played well against San Antonio. We've had trouble beating them, but we've played well. It seems like we always go down to the end of the game with them.
"They have a way of making some sort of veteran play that hurts us."
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