10 observations: Bulls outlast Spurs behind Nikola Vučević's big night

10 observations: Bulls outlast Spurs behind Nikola Vučević's big night originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich

SAN ANTONIO --- The Chicago Bulls closed the first half of their season with a 122-116 victory over the San Antonio Spurs Saturday night at the AT&T Center. They're on pace for 38 victories but have played better of late.

Here are 10 observations:

---The Bulls shot 51.1 percent and posted 30 or more assists for their third straight game with 31. Ball movement and scoring balance continues to define their recent improved play. Seven players reached double figures, topped by Nikola Vučević’s huge night of 24 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Vucevic had a huge block on Tre Jones, who scored a career-high 30 points, and sank a dagger corner 3-pointer in the final 1 minute, 46 seconds.

"Helluva pass by DeMar (DeRozan) and AC (Alex Caruso) set a screen," Vučević said. "I had time and made it. Big shot. Definitely needed a shot like that."

---Zach LaVine posted his fourth straight game with at least five assists and third straight game with at least seven. “His assists to me happen when he’s aggressive,” coach Billy Donovan said. “When he’s decisive and makes quick decisions, it opens up a lot for him and his team.”

This time, LaVine’s approach didn’t open up much for him; he attempted a season-low-tying eight shots. The Spurs consistently trapped LaVine, who passed when they did. But on multiple possessions, LaVine stood in the corner without touching the ball.

"I thought he had two pretty good looks in the fourth that he just didn't knock down. That happens," Donovan said. "I've said this before: When he's got the ball, whether he shoots it, drives it or dishes it, it's generally good for our team. I love when he gets opportunities to take his catch-and-shoots. I think (Saturday) night was an opportunity for him to playmake because they were up on him in pick-and-rolls. He threw some amazing passes to Vooch in the pocket to get him going.

"He's trying to read and not force the game. It's not like anybody's not telling him to shoot the basketball. He's one of the best shooters in this league. So when it's there and he's in rhythm and he feels good, we certainly want him taking them."

---Alex Caruso was everywhere defensively, finishing with three blocks and two steals. He had one steal and save that led to an Ayo Dosunmu fast-break basket that landed on all the highlight tapes.

"It's game-changing for us knowing we have him out there," Vučević said. "He makes all of us more aggressive with the hustle plays he makes."

Added Donovan: "Never mind the deflection part of it being unbelievable, but the fact that he kept the ball in play was amazing. I never take him for granted."

Caruso joked about the play by saying it would be good on Sundays, in a nod to the sideline navigation that looked like an NFL wide receiver.

---Both teams finished a back-to-back set of games, although the Spurs played at home on Friday and the Bulls arrived at their hotel rooms in San Antonio around 4 a.m. after traveling.

---The Spurs played in extremely shorthanded fashion. Rookie sensation Victor Wembanyama sat, continuing a recent trend in which he doesn’t play back-to-backs after rolling his ankle last month. Zach Collins and Doug McDermott also missed. That meant the Spurs started Julian Champagnie, Jeremy Sochan, Dominick Barlow, Devin Vassell and Tre Jones.

---Ayo Dosunmu started the second half for Coby White, who left the first half late after taking a Jeremy Sochan elbow to the mouth that drew blood. White needed stitches but returned at the 7 minute, 42 second mark of the third quarter. His streak of five straight 20-point games ended.

---The shorthanded Spurs erased an 18-point deficit over the final 6:44 of the third quarter. Their 39-point quarter continued the defensive breakdowns that defined the second half of Friday’s loss to the Warriors. Those woes continued early in the fourth as the Spurs repeatedly hunted matchups in which Andre Drummond matched up with a guard on the perimeter.

---After two straight games out of the rotation, Jevon Carter was the first Bull to reach double figures and finished with 14 points. Coach Billy Donovan said pregame that Carter has been as much a victim of Donovan wanting to revert to a nine-man rotation as a two-game Dalen Terry experiment. Carter played ahead of---and 21 minutes more than---Terry in a nine-man rotation that lost Patrick Williams to an injury.

---Williams sat for the second time in five games with his lingering right ankle soreness that Donovan said has now extended to his heel. Williams said one game of rest typically helps him and that he’s hopeful to play Monday in Cleveland. Still, Williams has been battling this lingering soreness for weeks. Perhaps it’s something that the All-Star break heals in a month.

---In a scheduling oddity, the Bulls faced the Spurs for a third time in one season for the first time since they both played in the Western Conference in the late 1970s. The typical two-game slate was preceded by a third game resulting from both teams failing to advance in the In-Season Tournament.

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