Bulls’ defense a no-show, spoiling DeMar DeRozan’s return to San Antonio

DeRozan has done nothing but speak of how important his three years with the Spurs were to him. So of course he wanted to have a great showing with his new Bulls teammates Friday. The Spurs didn’t get that memo.

SHARE Bulls’ defense a no-show, spoiling DeMar DeRozan’s return to San Antonio

Chicago Bulls forward DeMar DeRozan drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs forward Drew Eubanks on, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022, in San Antonio.

Eric Gay/AP

The Raptors raised DeMar DeRozan over nine seasons, as the veteran forward is fond of discussing. But the Spurs picked him up and polished him over the next three seasons before he came to the Bulls in a sign-and-trade last summer.

“You kind of get knocked down from the situation you thought you wanted to be in for your whole career,’’ DeRozan said of being sent to San Antonio in 2018. “You kind of have to start over in every type of way. . . . I just stayed locked in and tried to figure out how could I continue to get better, be better, be better, be better. It got me to this point.”

But on Friday, even with DeRozan scoring a game-high 32 points a day after being named an Eastern Conference All-Star starter, the same team that dusted him off simply dusted him.

Despite the Bulls (30-18) putting up 122 points and getting a combined 62 from DeRozan and Zach LaVine, the Spurs put on a pick-and-roll clinic down the stretch to win 131-122.

The reasons for the loss were obvious, as the Bulls struggled with on-the-ball defense and did little to slow the pick-and-roll.

“We didn’t make it hard enough on them,” DeRozan said of the defensive breakdowns. “We didn’t do our job — we didn’t do a great job of helping each other. We never knocked their rhythm off. You can’t give up 131 points . . . that’s unacceptable.”

Coach Billy Donovan was in full agreement.

“I thought we had a really, really hard time controlling the ball,” he said, without singling any players out. “The initial thrust, you’ve got to be able to contain the ball, and we just didn’t do a good enough job defensively.”

The game was a chance for DeRozan to return to San Antonio and show his former team exactly how much it taught him, and in the first half, he did it. He went into halftime with a game-high 17 points, having done much of the heavy lifting for the Bulls, who shot 63.6% from the field in the first half and turned the ball over only twice. 

But it wasn’t enough to lose the Spurs, who capitalized as the Bulls’ defense only got messier in the third quarter. The Spurs outscored the Bulls 35-23 in the third to take control of the game for good.

DeRozan gave the Bulls some life with a three-pointer that cut the deficit to four with 1:06 left, but center Jakob Poeltl responded by flipping in an 11-footer off — guess what — a poorly defended pick-and-roll.

The loss ended a two-game winning streak for the Bulls and reminded them of the difficulties they face without Alex Caruso (wrist surgery) and Lonzo Ball (knee surgery).

“Terrible,’’ LaVine said of the defense. “Couldn’t stop in any coverage or in any scheme that we had. It didn’t matter what we were in — we just couldn’t stop the ball. We’ve got to figure out how to stop having teams score so much. We gave up 130 . . . it’s just going to be hard to win any game that way, so we’ve just got to do better. That is unacceptable.” 

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