Bulls get Clipped in Los Angeles


Nov 18

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You know how sometimes you get down to the park and you’re ready to go. But you take a look at the other team, and even though you’re still ready to go, you see their size and speed and depth and you get to thinking, “Uh, oh, what have we gotten ourselves into.”

It seemed like that Saturday the way the Bulls suffered one of the worst losses of Tom Thibodeau’s coaching era, a 101-80 shellacking by the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We were outscrapped tonight,” admitted Joakim Noah, who had just four points and seven rebounds and missed all six of his shots. “We got outcompeted. I think we took a couple of steps back today. We did not finish well around the rim. We know we’re capable of playing a lot better basketball. We turned the ball over too much. You can’t turn the ball over against a team like this. They are too athletic and get out on the break. That’s their strength. They are probably the best in the NBA getting out on the break. We did not play good basketball.”

Luol DengThough the Clippers were led by Blake Griffin with 26 points and 10 rebounds, most of his points came late and well after the result was assured. Former Bull Jamal Crawford was the bigger problem with 22 points, including 17 in the second quarter (along with 11 from Matt Barnes in the quarter) when the Clippers’ reserves blew the game open to take an 18-point lead.

“The second quarter was the difference in the game,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “The first quarter was pretty good (trailing 18-15). We gave up 35 points in the second quarter. The tone of the game changed. They got out in the open floor. I think we had 12 turnovers in the first half. Many of them ended up being layups, dunks. The second half: Not much better. Their turnovers and blocked shots (10, seven by DeAndre Jordan) got to us.”

Though the Bulls only trailed 53-40 at halftime, it never felt or seemed like a game they could win or the sort of effort we’re accustomed to seeing from the Bulls. It was as if Crawford’s shooting, Chris Paul’s playmaking and their aggressiveness and their big men at the rim were just too much to come back against.

Of course, no one really said that or suggested it. And it is Los Angeles where players tend to get distracted sometimes with a few days off, as the Bulls had here. But there also were signs of leakage in what has been a competitive start to the season even without Derrick Rose.

“You know going in they’re a team jumping around, very athletic,” noted Kirk Hinrich, who had 10 assists but just one point and five turnovers in missing all five of his shots. “You’ve got to be strong with the ball and take advantage of that, and we didn’t. We got a little careless with the ball, me in particular. Other than this game, we had a chance to win all f our games. We have to settle down and get back to what we do.”

You’re allowed a stinker every so often, and this would qualify. It was the first time in almost two years the Bulls lost by at least 20 points, a league second longest streak of 140 games. But it also was the third consecutive game as the Bulls fell to 5-4 that the Bulls have given up at least 100 points.

“Our concentration wasn’t as good as it could have been,” said Carlos Boozer, along with Richard Hamilton the only effective Bulls on offense as Boozer had 22 points and 12 rebounds. “Their guys got to what they wanted to get to. Usually we take stuff away, but give them credit. They played well. Tomorrow (Sunday in Portland) is a big game for us. Portland is a good team that scores a lot of points. They have a really good rookie point guard. They’ve got an All-Star in LaMarcus Aldrich and I heard (Nicolas) Batum is putting up some crazy numbers. And they play well in the Rose Garden (where the Bulls don’t, losing eight of their last 10 there). It’s a big game for us tomorrow night.”

It’s a bit early to say it’s a crisis time for the Bulls given, as Hinrich noted, all the games except for Saturday’s were closely contested. But it’s also this Bulls’ team calling card to compete. It never much seemed to be there Saturday even with the relatively close first quarter.

The Bulls did get on the boards for seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter, a good sign. But they also committed seven turnovers and repeatedly missed point blank tips and follows and short shots at the basket, apparently distracted by the Clippers jumping jacks.

Usually, the Bulls will bounce back from a rocky start. But the Clippers’ explosion and dunking to open up the game early in the second quarter seemed to take the fight and spirit out of the Bulls at least for one night.

This Clippers team is talented, if also somewhat overlooked given all the attention to the Lakers and the Clippers’ historic reputation for incompetency. But Paul is a wizard with the ball and they have Griffin and Jordan, two great athletes at the rim, which seemed to intimidate a Bulls group without truly great athletes.

The Bulls are a team which grinds, as the basketball cliché goes, without the brilliant Rose. The Bulls play smart, efficient and relentlessly. Much of that was missing Saturday as the Bulls shot 33.7 percent and were dominated off the bench 53-25. The Clippers bench actually outscored its starters.

“When our second unit comes in we feel we’re among the best second units in the league,” said Crawford, leading the Clippers in scoring at 20.7 and shooting 52.2 percent overall. “Once we get everyone together (Chauncey Billups and Grant Hill out), we feel we’ll be among the best teams in the league.”

Crawford could be correct given the Clippers’ depth. That’s the area the Bulls previously excelled in. But it was the reserve unit playing with Luol Deng that gave up the big second quarter run, and Thibodeau then seemed reluctant to go back to them much. Through three quarters no one on the bench had played even nine minutes and they were a combined two of 12.

It’s an issue that is developing for the Bulls and Thibodeau. He’d like to see some reserves emerge with Deng and Noah among the league minutes played leaders. But in crucial times, they haven’t hit shots. So Thibodeau goes back to the regulars. But they don’t get many shots, and it’s difficult to get going when you have to make the only two shots you get. Marco Belinelli was one of six, but only zero for one through three quarters with the Bulls down 78-61 at that time.

Jimmy Butler was also zero for one through three in just over five minutes. It’s tough to show much with limited time. But then Thibodeau doesn’t want to let the games get away, so he goes back to Noah and Deng. This time they weren’t able to deliver much.

“They were quicker to the ball,” said Thibodeau. “That’s a big part of the game, reaction to the ball. Turnovers lead to their fast breaks and second shots. We gave up five (second shots) in the first half for 11 points. Add that to the (12 first half) turnovers and it was too big a hole, particularly on the road. We could never get back inside 10 (the Bulls trailed by double digits the last 32 minutes). We never gave ourselves a chance.”

Frankly, it was going to be difficult even if the Bulls were playing their best against a team that’s already defeated the Spurs, Grizzlies, Lakers and Heat. They’re big, athletic, deep and skilled.

So again it was a conundrum for Thibodeau: Play fast to score given the Clippers are one of the biggest scoring teams in the league. Or slow it down because of their “Lob City” self designation that they get themselves going in transition and you don’t want to get in a track meet game with them.

Carlos BoozerThe Bulls played more carefully to open the game, but turned the ball over, anyway.

Every starter other than Deng had at least one turnover in the first quarter with Hinrich three as he was badly harassed by Paul.

“My job as a point guard is to make the other team think I’m trying to score,” said Paul, a clever leader. “I’m not bad at that. That’s my main objective. I can get two people on me and then I’m able to throw it back to Blake and once that continues, we become that more dangerous.”

It also hasn’t helped that Hinrich doesn’t seem back to full health yet and his shooting dropped under 30 percent for the season. But he did move the ball around and the Bulls trailed just 18-15 after one, and that when the Clippers scored the last two baskets of the quarter. Perhaps you say go to Nate Robinson, but he jacked up 11 shots in 18 minutes without an assist.

“I thought Kirk played good defense, moved the ball well,” said Thibodeau. “The turnovers were a problem for the entire team. It’s something we have to clean up. Jordan had seven blocks. But we can’t allow that to take away from being aggressive. We have to try to attack the defense before it’s set. Once it’s set, you’ve got to move size out of the lane and look to attack. That’s where we got into trouble, not going side to side to get good shots.”

It didn’t help that the Bulls weren’t patient with offense to open the second quarter, taking quick shots with a lot of one on one action. Crawford playing with Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt was too much in a 20-8 run to start the second that seemingly left the Bulls dazed, confused and not much in the mood to come back. Though Noah did fight back on the boards, he was flummoxed at the rim by the Clippers’ athletic big men. Jordan also moved quickly across the lane to get at shots as the Bulls failed to draw him in and move the ball.

“He (Crawford) had a hell of a game,” said Boozer. “He hit some amazing shots. We played good defense, but a few of his shots were crazy, a leaner in the first half, bank off the board. He’s a tough cover. We didn’t do a good enough job of helping and making the other guys score. This one is hard to let go. We feel we didn’t have enough juice. We did not do our stuff hard enough to make it a better game.”

The Bulls adjusted on Crawford after halftime with more pressure and doubling. But again the Clippers were the aggressors. And the Bulls were growing frustrated and looking more to the officials for calls, and thus help.

So Noah got a technical foul, and Hinrich was left gasping as Paul picked him clean again at midcourt. The Clippers were impressive with 10 steals as they lead the league in that category. Yet, the Bulls acted surprised when Clippers’ guards swiped the ball from behind and repeated knocked balls loose with defensive pressure.

The Clippers pushed the lead up to 23 in the third as they moved the ball more frequently with eight assists in the third quarter to four for the Bulls, and they continued to take advantage of fast breaks and turnovers for lob dunk scores. The Clippers had a debilitating 26 points on fast breaks, most of those lob dunks and battered the Bulls inside with 48 points in the paint.

Thibodeau finally packed it in with about 10 minutes left when he went to Vladimir Radmanovic, who rarely plays.

The Clippers, 7-2, are a deeper, more talented team than the Bulls now. So the result was really not a big surprise as much as the margin and method of getting there. The Bulls have prided themselves on defense, which hasn’t been as sharp lately; on competing to the end, which wasn’t the case Saturday, and bouncing back and not losing those two straight. Which will be a nice test Sunday.

“We don’t have time to mope,” said Noah. “We have to come ready to play tomorrow.”

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