CHICAGO | This time, the Spurs were at full strength.
Yes, the Bulls won at San Antonio 96-86 back on Jan. 9, but the Spurs were without Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Tiago Splitter -- all injured.
"That's no excuse. You play the guys on the bench," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a Merrillville grad. "We can't play the guys on the other team. I know that."
Tuesday night, it was payback time as the Spurs led from start to finish and nearly wasted an early 32-point lead before beating the Bulls 104-96.
San Antonio (47-16) shot 51 percent for the game, including .571 from beyond the arc.
"Fortunately, we made a lot of good shots," Popovich said. "I thought our defense (early) was excellent. We got our hands on a lot of balls and that fueled us, offensively."
Ginobili's 22 points gave the Spurs' bench a decisive 64-42 advantage, though Popovich squirmed the deeper he went.
"They were good the first half," Pop said. "The second half when we subbed all the way down, they got a little rickety.
"I stuck with them and took a chance at a heart attack."
The Spurs raced to a 38-14 first-quarter lead, hitting 15-of-21 shots, while the Bulls missed 16 of their first 22 attempts.
It was 51-19 early in the second, 61-33 at the break and 90-66 after three quarters.
Tony Parker added 20 points, Leonard 16.
The Bulls (35-29) again were led by reserve D.J. Augustin with 24 points. Jimmy Butler had 23.
"Can't get into that deep a hole against a high-quality team like that," Augustin said. "Just can't. But we battled. Give us credit for that."
San Antonio has won seven in a row and 14 of its last 17. The Bulls are 23-11 since Jan. 1.
"Deep holes like that take you out of your game plan quickly," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "It became helter-skelter, which is not our style."
Popovich was asked if his team, finally healthy, is playing its best basketball at the moment.
"Maybe so. This is like our third game together, and it seems like we're playing consistent now," he said. "But I don't think we're gonna win every game down the stretch."