By RAUL DOMINGUEZ | Associated Press
SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Dejounte Murray had 29 points and 12 assists, and the Spurs beat the Chicago Bulls 131-122 in DeMar DeRozan’s return to San Antonio on Friday night.
DeRozan, who spent the previous three seasons with the Spurs, scored 32 points in his first game in San Antonio for the Bulls. Zach LaVine added 30 points and Nikola Vucevic had 18.
Keldon Johnson added 23 points for San Antonio, which snapped a three-game home losing streak. Jakob Poeltl added 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Murray had nine rebounds.
“He’s our rock, he’s the head of the snake,” Poeltl said of Murray. “He will lead us in most games, especially down the stretch. He did it again tonight.”
DeRozan was showered with appreciation by the fans as well as his former teammates and coaches. His only 3-pointer pared San Antonio’s lead to 124-120, but Chicago committed a turnover on its next possession to help the Spurs stay in front.
“They are going out there and playing extremely hard,” DeRozan said. “Once they hit a stride, once they get it rolling, they are definitely going to be tough.”
Some of the Spurs credit DeRozan's leadership for their composure under pressure.
“That’s my big brother, my mentor,” Johnson said. “It’s crazy seeing him in a different jersey.”
San Antonio built a 13-point lead to open the fourth quarter, its largest advantage at the time. Chicago went on a 9-2 run after DeRozan re-entered the game.
At the end of the first half, DeRozan was nearly stripped from behind by Murray as the Spurs double-teamed him to prevent a shot. DeRozan maintained his dribble and composure, firing a pass to Javonte Green alone under the basket for a layup at the buzzer.
DeRozan finished with eight assists and six rebounds while committing just one turnover.
Following DeRozan’s monstrous slam over Drew Eubanks, Murray and Lonnie Walker IV hit consecutive 3-pointers to give the Spurs an 89-85 lead with 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“We make too many mistakes that give teams a rhythm,” DeRozan said. “It’s tough with anybody in this game once you give a team a rhythm to kind of shut it off once they get it going. We’ve got to establish that first and foremost at the beginning of the game and not try to pick it up throughout the game when they’ve already got it going.”
The Spurs, who lead the league in assists at 27.8 per game, had 35 against the Bulls. Seven players scored in double figures for San Antonio.
“We had a lot of guys who played well,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “That’s what it takes. We don’t have that go-to guy, so to speak. We have to do it together. We have to do it as a group. We had 35 assists. That tells the story offensively. We have to play like that.”
Chicago’s Coby White went 6 for 6 from the field in the first half, including 3 for 3 on 3-pointers, to score 15 points. He finished with 18.
Bulls: Point guard Lonzo Ball had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Friday. Coach Billy Donovan said the timetable for Ball’s return remains six to eight weeks. ... Chicago remains without Alex Caruso (fractured left wrist), Derrick Jones Jr. (hyperextended right knee) and Patrick Williams (torn ligament in left wrist). ... The Bulls are 13-12 on the road.
Spurs: Murray has at least 10 assists in six straight games, the second-best such streak in franchise history and the longest in the NBA this season. ... San Antonio assistant Mitch Johnson returned after missing five games while in the league’s health and safety protocols. ... F Keita Bates-Diop remains out in health and safety protocols. ... The Spurs improved to 10-16 at home.
San Antonio honored DeRozan with a tribute video showing his highlights on the court and work in the community. DeRozan tapped his chest and waved to the fans as they gave him a long ovation and showered him with “MVP” chants.
“My time here, I learned so much,” DeRozan said. “They accepted me from Day One. I left everything I had out there on the line during my time here. That just shows the respect I gave them, just going and representing the Spurs organization as best I can. To be honored with something like that (video) is something I definitely don’t take for granted. Beyond happy, joyful to even get something like that.”
DeRozan made a beeline for Popovich prior to tip-off and the two shared a long embrace and some words before DeRozan took the court. The two also hugged and spoke after the game.
Bulls: Host Portland on Sunday.
Spurs: At Phoenix on Sunday.
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