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Clippers beat Bulls with a dunk you very much night
by Sam Smith
Posted on Dec 12
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Considering the circumstances, the Bulls’ 94-89 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday wasn’t all that bad. Look, it was the likes of some of the greatest athletes in the NBA today, like Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, helping the Clippers to 10 dunks while George Yardley, Togo Palazzi, Harry Gallatin, Max Zaslofsky and Bobby Wanzer just couldn’t keep up.
Or, at least it seemed like a team from the 1950’s was playing the Clippers, the Bulls generally hard working, passing cleverly and pressuring on defense when they weren’t ducking Clippers’ players jumping over them on the way to the basket.
“They got a lot of dunks and got the momentum going,” agreed Taj Gibson.
It was a night the Bulls sorely missed their great athlete, Derrick Rose. Heck, they probably could have used E-Rob.
“Don’t turn it over,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said about avoiding an evening of posing for new posters. “Stay disciplined. You have to get back on your shot. Protect your basket first. Stay disciplined.”
Thibodeau said “Stay disciplined” a lot as it rose to the top of the instructional video ahead of “Do your job.” It was a short post game interview session, so there was little time for discussion about letting go of the rope.
“We started dancing with the ball,” added Thibodeau, which means overdribbling. When you do that, it leads to turnovers, live ball transition baskets. We shot ourselves in the foot.”
The numbers weren’t all that great for the Bulls, though Carlos Boozer was strong with 24 points and 13 rebounds. And to those who criticize Boozer about defense, they should get a look at Griffin. Boozer didn’t much as Griffin was allegedly guarding him, but mostly was hanging around in the lane waiting to jump. Boozer took advantage with several strong inside moves.
And to those who asked where was Taj Gibson after one of his better performances of the season with 10 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes, it was Boozer’s scoring that was vital and Thibodeau left him in the entire fourth quarter.
That was, in part, because Luol Deng was having a rare off game with eight points on three of 14 shooting and four turnovers. Boozer led the Bulls and had his 10th double/double in the last 13 games. Joakim Noah also had a double/double, and it was the first time (8-1) the Bulls lost when both had double/doubles. Marco Belinelli was second to Boozer with 18 points. But Belinelli shot just six of 22, apparently making up for all those early season quick exits.
For the most part, the Bulls stayed with the Clippers in a back and forth game with nine lead changes and three ties after being blown out by them last month in Los Angeles. A Belinelli three with 48.3 seconds left got the Bulls within 89-87.
But Chris Paul, who had 18 points and just four assists on six of 15 shooting as Kirk Hinrich was doing a mostly very good job crowding him, began dribbling out the clock and then beat Hinrich to the lane for a short pullup with no inside Bulls help. It gave the Clippers a 91-87 lead with 27.1 seconds left.
“They made tough plays,” said Gibson. “It seemed like we were in the hunt. We cut it down to a couple of points, but Blake and Chris made tough plays. Matt Barnes played a great game. We have to do better closing out quarters and finishing games.”
The Bulls responded out of the timeout with Joakim Noah blowing by Griffin from the wing for a reverse layup with 22.5 seconds left to get within two again. Paul then made a pair of free throws when the Bulls had to foul. Hinrich then got a pass from Boozer on the inbounds, and with Lamar Odom switched onto him, Hinrich drove and missed. The ball bounced back to Deng, who was short on a pullup. Deng rebounded but was tied up by Barnes for a jump ball. The official made a bad toss that bounced to Paul, who made one free throw for the final five point margin.
It was the Clippers seventh consecutive win—their longest streak since 1991–to go to 15-6 while the Bulls fell to 11-9.
“It was disappointing because it ended up being a two-possession game,” said Thibodeau. “The first thing if you want to be a good team you have to eliminate all the ways you beat yourself.”
Thibodeau was referring to 17 Bulls turnovers that led to 22 Clippers points. The scouting report on the Clippers is much like it is for the Miami Heat: Don’t turn the ball over, don’t let them get into the open court where they’ll dunk on you and get their energy. Turn away from the camera so they can’t make posters of you.
Though much easier said than done, especially when your strength, like the Bulls’, is fundamental play, rugged defense, high IQ, working for good shots. The Bulls did a lot of that with 26 assists on 35 baskets. They led in second chance points and grabbed 18 offensive rebounds. The Bulls made a season best 10 of 20 three pointers. But like in L.A. last month, they didn’t attack the basket enough with the Clippers pogo sticks hanging around, thus finishing with just 12 free throws to 23 for the Clippers.
“When the ball moved, we were fine,” said Thibodeau. “I liked the way we played in the first quarter. When we started going one-on-one, we are not going to beat good teams doing that. That put them in the open flour. When you give a team like that lay-ups and dunks you are making your job twice as hard.”
A lot of that warning about so called dancing with the ball and going one-on-one generally relates to Nate Robinson. Because that’s often how he plays. Yes, the Clippers did challenge Robinson, and Eric Bledsoe took advantage of the matchup early in the fourth quarter to enable the Clippers break from leading 69-65 after three to take a 77-69 lead three minutes into the fourth. It was Boozer who got the Bulls back after that with a rebound score of a Belinelli miss and a strong roll to the rim against Lamar Odom for a three point play to make it 77-74 Clippers with 7:07 remaining.
Noah then came up with a steal. But Boozer missed from 16 feet, and that began an 8-2 Clippers run with Griffin and Barnes adding two more dunks to make it 85-76 with about five minutes left.
The Bulls, as we know, don’t give up, even if they don’t match up with the athletic talent. And they didn’t as Noah twice tipped in Boozer misses as the Clippers’ defense shifted toward the driving Boozer. That got the Bulls within 85-80 with four minutes left. But with Noah fronting, Odom threw the ball up toward the top of the backboard where Griffin caught it and dunked, one of a half dozen dunks so amazing given the quickness Griffin comes out of a stance or on the run to get up that high. That made it 89-80 with 2:21 left after a Deng miss and Griffin tip when Noah went to close on a Paul drive and Griffin got inside position for a tip in.
There hasn’t been much else to Griffin’s game as he really doesn’t have much of a post move or much confidence on the jump shot, But his dunks take the enthusiasm out of a home arena, as they did Tuesday.
“He is athletic and he is just getting better,” Gibson said of Griffin. “He is playing with one of the top point guards in the league in Chris Paul. They just pick their spots, just like us. We have to learn from it. They have a tight core, and we are still just learning. We have a bunch of new guys, but no excuses. We’ll take this one and stride and move on.”
The Bulls down by nine with a little over two minutes then ran off seven straight points as they stopped Paul twice and got within two after that Belinelli three with 48.3 seconds left. But Paul made the big shot on that pull up drive, and the Bulls never got in position again to shoot for a tie or the lead.
It was too bad as the Bulls did a lot of good things in trying to extend their three game winning streak. But without Rose, as has been often said this season, they have so little margin of error. And the 17 turnovers with Deng and Noah four each was too much in the end to overcome as Griffin led with 22 and the Clippers bench had a 34-21 edge.
Yes, remember when everyone else complained about how unfair it was for the Bulls to have three dynamic athletes like Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant and they had to watch all those dunks? It’s a bit like the Clippers now compared with the Bulls pre-championship years.
Though the Bulls started cold missing eight of their first nine attempts, they came back to close the first quarter down 21-18. Boozer was making plays, including a pair of scores when he sealed off Griffin and had inside baskets. Belinelli was cold, one of seven in the first, after his previous three good shooting games. But the Bulls defense was aggressive and held the Clippers to 30 percent shooting.
Robinson actually got the Bulls going early in the second quarter as they were having trouble scoring. He hit a pair of threes and played a solid two man game with Gibson, who seemed finally to find his shot. That, predictably, enhanced his defense as Gibson began going stronger to the rim. Though Robinson often is a violator of the overdribbling rules, he does provide a lift for offense as he certainly has little trouble getting shots. And taking them. All in all, he seems to have been a plus for the Bulls and the only player Tuesday with a positive plus/minus rating. But Robinson went out with five minutes left in the second quarter, after which the Bulls, as they often have done this season, closed the half poorly and fell behind.
“The end of the second quarter changed the game,” said Thibodeau.
That was another Clippers slam-a-thon as the Bulls committed three turnovers and in less than a minute Griffin and Jordan turned them into three powerful slam dunks. Jamal Crawford added a back door cut for a layup and 47-40 Clippers halftime lead. The first Bulls turnover in that episode was after a lazy cross court pass by Deng that Paul grabbed and threw the ball to a running Griffin from the left wing. Belinelli then dropped the ball and Paul knocked it away and threw ahead to Griffin alone dunking. Jordan then may have had the dunk of the game flying in after a Caron Butler miss and dunking the rebound one handed over the top of a jumping Griffin.
The Bulls came off to Thibodeau screaming at them in the huddle in one of his more emotional in game sessions.
The Bulls had a similar end of quarter meltdown in the third after a strong start to the quarter with crisp and repeated ball movement for good shots and a Hinrich three to make it 60-57 Bulls with 5:53 left in the third.
But again late in the quarter the Bulls were sloppy trying to make those inside passes that can get them in trouble. They look great when they work, and Noah is as good a center in the NBA at doing it. It was Noah’s ninth game of at least five assists and fifth in the last seven.
But both he and Hinrich gave up the ball on tough passes, which the Clippers turned into runouts for fouls and free throws and even one clear path technical foul to stop a break. And give Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro some credit. The Clippers were very aggressive with a hard show on the Bulls pick and roll that seemed to keep the Bulls more on the perimeter shooting that getting inside. So the Clippers finished with 50 inside points to 38 for the Bulls.
Still, the Clippers with their 8-2 close to the third only led 69-65 going into the fourth quarter. But Bledsoe with three scores taking advantage of the size mismatch with Robinson and a fourth for a lob dunk to Griffin gave the Clippers that early eight point 77-69 edge that the Bulls could never fully erase.
But they are one of the better teams in the NBA. Yes, the Clippers. But, oh, wouldn’t it be nice for the Bulls to have just one of those high flyers. At least one not rehabilitating at this time.