The Spurs needed just one more road win to tie the NBA record of 14 straight road victories to start a season, set by the Golden State Warriors last season.
But they failed to fire against a struggling team and coach Gregg Popovich was livid that they couldn't deliver in front of a crowd of 21,400 at United Center arena.
"I don't remember playing tonight. The guys get a lot of money to get ready to play," said Popovich of the Spurs.
"No Knute Rockne speeches. It is your job. If you are a plumber and you don't do your job, then you don't get any work. If you are a doctor and you botch operations you are not a doctor anymore.
"If you are a basketball player you come ready."
Veteran Dwayne Wade, who left Miami in the offseason to return home to Chicago after the Heat gave up on him, led the Bulls Thursday with 19 points.
Rajon Rondo finished an assist short of a triple-double with 12 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Jimmy Butler, who'd scored at least 20 points in his previous 15 games, added 13 -- all in the second half.
Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez each had 12 for the Bulls, who led by as much as 18 points in the third quarter and fended off strong San Antonio comeback attempt in the fourth.
"We needed a win," said Wade. "When you're out there playing, you're not thinking about how this team's on a roll on the road. You're just thinking about getting the win.
"That's a very good team, of course, but tonight was about us finding a way to get a win here at home."
Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs and all scorers with 24 points, Patty Mills added 16 points and Pau Gasol had a double-double (13 points, 10 rebounds) in his return to Chicago after leaving via free agency in the offseason.
"Because of our talent and quality of play, we are able to make up ground. Tonight we were down (18) and were able to make up some ground, but in the end it wasn't enough," said Gasol.
Sixers snap road losing streak
In New Orleans, Dario Saric scored eight consecutive points in a decisive fourth-quarter charge and Ersan Ilyasova had a team-high 23 points as the Philadelphia 76ers snapped a 23-game road losing streak with a 99-88 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Sixers entered the game with the NBA's worst record, but they had five players in double figures, comprising Ilyasova, guard Sergio Rodriquez (16), Joel Embiid (14) and Nik Stauskas (14), and Saric with 13.
The Pelicans lost their fourth straight game despite Anthony Davis' 26 points and 11 rebounds.
Guard Langston Galloway also scored in double figures for the Pelicans with 19 points.
In Salt Lake City, Stephen Curry scored 26 points and Kevin Durant added 21, including 11 in fourth quarter, to help Golden State hold off a late rally and defeat the Utah Jazz 106-99.