Yippee! Bulls play good defense

BasketballSportsChicago BullsUnited CenterP.J. BrownChris DuhonBen Gordon

When the Bulls drilled Miami by 42 points in the season opener, Scott Skiles responded with a sarcastic "Yippee," because, of course, one game doesn't constitute a trend.

But even the coach couldn't offer much sarcasm after his Bulls throttled Western Conference power San Antonio 99-87 in a Monday matinee at the United Center.

By holding the Spurs 12 points below their season's average and to 39.5 percent shooting, the Bulls have now held six of their last seven opponents to sub-40 percent shooting.

The Bulls, who led the league in opponents' field-goal percentage the last two seasons, have crept to third in that category this season after a slow start.

"We're going on a month now of pretty solid defense, even though we've got some losses mixed in there," Skiles said. "We're not having as many overall breakdowns. The guys realized we were not in a good spot defensively. They've put a lot of work in."

Back-to-back strong defensive efforts have come without Ben Wallace, who missed his second straight game with a strained lower back. The Bulls also played without Chris Duhon, placed on the inactive list for missing Sunday's practice.

That didn't stop them from playing with energy and leading for the final 33 minutes 50 seconds as they defeated the Spurs at the United Center for the first time since Dec. 28, 2000, a span of six games.

"We have 12 guys who can give us quality minutes," P.J. Brown said.

Kirk Hinrich's 43 minutes were of the highest quality. In his fourth straight strong game since coming out of a slump, Hinrich flirted with a triple double and finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.

He also helped defend Spurs All-Star guard Tony Parker, who entered averaging 19.5 points and finished with just six and two assists.

"I got back to being myself, playing aggressive on both ends," Hinrich said. "Before I was thinking too much. I was worrying about what the coaches want me to be and what the correct play was instead of going out and using my instincts."

Said Skiles: "Whatever that little deal he was going through, he's come out of it."

Ben Gordon started his second straight game and scored 20, reaching or exceeding that figure for a sixth straight game. Luol Deng added 17 points. And Andres Nocioni adjusted to coming off the bench with his team-leading eighth double-double, getting 12 points and 11 rebounds.

"We knew we could beat them if we played our game," Gordon said.

Their game included a 20-16 edge in second-chance points.

Tim Duncan's 21 points and 16 rebounds led the Spurs, although Skiles praised P.J. Brown and Tyrus Thomas for making Duncan earn his numbers.

"Guys are doing a great job of playing hard," Brown said.

The Bulls have held double-digit leads in 10 of their last 11 games. Defense has a lot to do with that.

"It's a mind-set," Hinrich said. "A lot of times early in the year, we had three or four guys doing a good job. But if you have one guy break down, it's hard to stop people. The focus has been a lot better."

Yippee, indeed.

kcjohnson@tribune.com

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