For once, the shoe was on the other foot, as the Bulls (30-21) felt the wrath of a team missing some of its most important pieces Monday night.

San Antonio (41-12) came into the United Center and showed why their system, not individual players, have made them what Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau called the NBA’s “gold standard” over the past few decades, by soundly defeating the hosts, 103-89.

Even without their top three players—Manu Ginobili and future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan were already unlikely to play, but San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich’s pregame admission that All-Star point guard Tony Parker has a right-knee injury, suffered during Sunday’s win in Brooklyn, came as a surprise—the Spurs were effective in the early going, maintaining a slight edge behind the play of sharpshooting wing Danny Green (18 points, six rebounds) and athletic second-year small forward Kawhi Leonard (26 points).

For the Bulls, veterans Rip Hamilton (16 points) and Carlos Boozer (14 points, eight rebounds) led the charge offensively, with Joakim Noah (15 rebounds, five assists)—the All-Star center was a game-time decision to plantar fasciitis in his right foot—being his usual presence on the glass.

The game was a tight-knit affair throughout the opening period, as the visitors, despite lacking star power, played to the strengths of their system, while the hosts got a boost off the bench from backup big man Taj Gibson.

Although the Spurs received a similar lift from reserve DeJuan Blair, at the conclusion of the first quarter, the hosts held a 24-20 advantage.

The Bulls utilized backup shooting guard Marco Belinelli at point guard to open the second quarter and the reserve scorer showed no ill effects from his gimpy right ankle, throwing down a fast-break dunk and then knocking down a triple after starter Nate Robinson (20 points, seven assists) was reinserted into the contest.