Bulls once again get defensive in clutch win over San Antonio

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San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) shoots past Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (21) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew A. Nelles)

The learning continued on Monday.

And as first-year coach Fred Hoiberg continued to find out, he has some willing students.

Behind 18 points and 13 rebounds from Pau Gasol, the Bulls ended the five-game winning streak of the San Antonio Spurs, holding on for the 92-89 win at the United Center.

“[Hoiberg’s] doing a good job, but it’s up to us being veterans to step it up another notch,’’ reserve big man Taj Gibson said in assessing the team through the first month. “At times we get lackadaisical in certain games and not understanding coverages or not coming out with energy, not finishing plays, but he’s doing a good job just mentoring us, pushing us through the ups and downs. But we got a lot of [room] still to grow. It’s a learning process.’’

One made easier with clutch wins.

With the game tied, 89-89, Gasol split a pair of free throws with 51.2 seconds left, still leaving the door open for the Western Conference powerhouse team to break a few hearts. A Manu Ginobili miss, however, gave the Bulls the ball back, and this time it was Jimmy Butler at the free throw line with 10.6 seconds left. He would be a bit more successful, making both.

Not that the Bulls (10-5) could get very comfortable with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Ginobili and Tony Parker on the floor, but it was that defensive DNA that once again stepped up late, as Butler forced a bad three-point attempt from Leonard and then Derrick Rose blocked Parker’s three-point attempt at the horn.

Just like that, the bad loss in Indiana on Friday seemed a distant memory.

“We had two days to think about the Indiana game, and [Monday] was just huge because it was the next game,’’ Rose said of the win. “It could have been anyone. We were just trying to play good basketball. I think everyone came in and made a contribution to the game. Everyone came in to play hard, and everyone came in with a lot of energy.’’

An energy that was on full display in the fourth. It wasn’t just the defense in the final seconds that saved the Bulls, but the effort shown over the final 12 minutes, as the Spurs (14-4) scored just 16 points on 6-of-21 (28.6 percent) shooting in that final stanza.

“To hold that team to 16 in the fourth quarter … that’s obviously a great team with a lot of fire power, and also one or the top defensive teams in the league, so it was a good effort,’’ Hoiberg said. “We kept defending. That’s the big thing. If your offense isn’t going and you’re not making shots. We had a couple good looks, a couple at the rim there that just didn’t fall, but we kept it going on the defensive end and that’s what won it for us.’’

As far as the hyped showdown between Leonard and Butler – arguably two of the best two-way players in the game – Leonard finished with 25 points to Butler’s 14, but Butler finished with the W.

“[The Spurs had] won 11-of-12, 14-of-17 going into this game, so it’s a team that is a championship-caliber team,’’ Hoiberg said. “For us to find a way to win it down the stretch even though we weren’t making shots down there at the end, it’s a great sign. Hopefully it’s a confidence builder.’’

Definitely something to learn from.

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