CHICAGO – Tim Duncan was dressed in street clothes, with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili joining him on the bench. San Antonio’s three biggest stars got up occasionally to cheer on their teammates, but that was the extent of their contribution Monday.
On this night, the NBA-best Spurs did just fine without them.
Kawhi Leonard had a career-high 26 points and Danny Green scored 18, leading short-handed San Antonio to an impressive 103-89 victory against the Bulls.
“One would hope that you could play with anybody in your system, but it was a tough challenge for them tonight,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “And I couldn’t be more proud of what they did.”
Parker, Duncan and Ginobili were out with injuries, and swingman Stephen Jackson also missed the game because of “personal business,” according to the team. With Duncan on the sideline, the Spurs were outrebounded 49-26, including a whopping 17-2 deficit on the offensive glass.
And San Antonio still managed to win, in large part because of 19 Bulls turnovers that the Spurs turned into 29 points.
“The approach is still the same, you know, every game,” Green said. “It starts with Pop. He does a great job of preparing us, tells us what we need to do. We listen to him.”
Nate Robinson scored 20 points and Richard Hamilton had 16 for the Bulls, who were coming off a 3-3 road trip – their longest of the season. Carlos Boozer added 14 points and All-Star Joakim Noah pulled down 15 rebounds despite a nagging right foot injury.
“When you outrebound somebody like we did and to be in the position we were in, we beat ourselves,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said, lamenting all the turnovers. “They are terrific. They are going to make you pay for your mistakes.”
San Antonio led by 14 at three different points in the third quarter, but Robinson led the Bulls right back. The streaky point guard converted a twisting reverse layup to trim the Spurs’ lead to 73-69 with 56 seconds left in the period.
The Bulls pulled within one in the fourth before the Spurs began to pull away.
Boris Diaw had a three-point play and Leonard converted a layup in a 7-0 surge that made it 89-78 with 5:55 to go.
Parker had 29 points and 11 assists in the Spurs’ 111-86 victory at Brooklyn on Sunday night, but Popovich said his star’s right knee became swollen during the game. Parker is having an MVP-type of season, averaging 20.7 points and 7.7 assists per game.
Duncan missed his fourth straight game due to a sore left knee. Ginobili was out for the fifth consecutive game with tightness in his left hamstring.
“For sure it was a great win for us,” said center Tiago Splitter, who had 16 points in 33 minutes despite an awkward fall in the first quarter. “We hope all the guys get better and healthy again soon and ready to help us.”
The injuries for All-Stars Parker and Duncan, plus key scorer Ginobili, meant San Antonio’s three best players were reduced to a cheerleading role for the night, and their teammates gave them plenty of reasons to stand and applaud.
Gary Neal also had 16 points for San Antonio (41-12), which improved the league’s best road record to 19-10. Nando De Colo, subbing for Parker, had nine points and seven assists in his second career start.
Luol Deng finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds for Chicago (30-21), which dropped to 15-12 at home this season.
“We didn’t make shots down the stretch and we couldn’t get stops for some reason,” Robinson said. “They have the best record in the NBA for a reason.”
NOTES: Thibodeau said he thinks G Kirk Hinrich (right elbow) will travel with the team to Boston for Wednesday’s game against the Celtics. Hinrich hasn’t appeared in a game since Jan. 30 at Milwaukee. ... Splitter had a big bag of ice on his left ankle after the game. “It’s painful right now, but we’ll see tomorrow how it feels,” he said. ... Deng addressed the crowd before the game and said he is looking forward to representing the Bulls at Sunday’s All-Star game in Houston. ... Diaw and Splitter are the only players to appear in all 53 games for the Spurs this season.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap