SAN ANTONIO -- Tom Thibodeau's first words during his postgame press conference told you all you need to know about how the Chicago Bulls' night turned out on Wednesday.
"37-12," the frustrated coach said matter-of-factly.
That would be the third quarter scoring totals for the San Antonio Spurs, who beat Chicago 103-94, and Thibodeau's Bulls.
"They got us back on our heels to start the third," he continued, searching for a way to explain how his team could look so good during the first two quarters of play and so unbelievably awful later on.
When a team plays as poorly as the Bulls did in the third quarter there's really no way to explain. The offense, which had looked so efficient early, faltered. The defense, which had played Tim Duncan and Co. so well, allowed the Spurs to drive into the paint. And the energy that had carried the Bulls through the early part of the game vanished.
"We came out flat," Bulls forward Luol Deng said. "We missed a lot of shots, shots we normally make. We didn't do what we were doing in the second quarter."
The scariest and most ironic part for Deng and the Bulls was that he was the only starter who played the entire second quarter. It was the Bulls' bench, led by Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver, that started doing damage.
They were giving the Spurs and playing the best they had played as a group all season. Then, just when you thought the Bulls were well on the way to their fifth straight win, the Spurs roared back. The makings of the worst quarter of the year began late in the second. The Bulls led 45-30 with 2:53 remaining in the second. From that point until the end of the third quarter, the Spurs outscored the Bulls 46-14.
Derrick Rose, who scored 33 points for the second straight night and tried to bring his team back late, couldn't wrap his mind around such an enormous collapse.
"I feel bad," Rose said. "We had them. With a team like that, you've got to continue to go out there and play the same way because they're not going to stop. Right when we went up 10 [at halftime], and we came out in the third quarter, we were supposed to keep on being aggressive, going to the hole. I think that's where we made our mistake, not attacking the basket."
Once the Spurs closed in on them and turned the defensive pressure up, the Bulls wilted. It wasn't so much that they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, it was that they had no answer for the onslaught San Antonio forced upon them.
"They came out with a lot of energy," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "You got to give them credit; they played a great second half. There's a lot of things that I got to fix. I'm not happy with the way I played and just be ready to go next game."
In order for the Bulls to become the type of team that not only competes with the league's upper echelon, but wins, they've got to take a page out of the Spurs' book.
"They came out in third quarter, took the lead and never looked back," Deng said. "Coach keeps talking about 48 minutes. I think to get to the next level that's something we've really got to focus on. The whole team -- guys coming in and the starters doing a better job of keeping their lead. Any time you put a team down like that you've got to end it. You can't let them come back. The momentum was in their favor the whole second half."