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Bulls don’t want to clip-and-save this one against Clippers
by Sam Smith
Posted on Jan 25
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or their Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
There’s the story of the guy who walks into the bookstore and asks where he can find the self help books. The salesman says he’d tell him, but then that would defeat the whole purpose, wouldn’t it?
And so it was for the Bulls Friday night at the United Center in a 112-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. They’re going to have to find their own way after games like this. They really did play a lot better than a big double digit loss and the criticism of their defense from without and within. But when you play those fast, athletic teams, you’re going to have to come up with a better plan. Or different personnel.
“They are a team that is unique and is different than any other team we play,” said Mike Dunleavy, who had 17 points and is shooting 50 percent on threes (22 of 44) this month. “You have to be ready for the force that they bring. We were back on our heels from the get go and that was the difference. They put so much pressure on you down low and you have guys like (J.J.) Redick, (Matt) Barnes and (Jared) Dudley shooting threes. It’s a little bit of ‘pick your poison;’ we just didn’t do a good enough job tonight of handling it.”
The Clippers are a Western Conference title contender. Sure, they were without Chris Paul. But Blake Griffin has shed his label of being just a dunker. And they’ve surrounded he and DeAndre Jordan with good three point shooters who just happened to be making just about all of them Friday, 10 of their first 11 in the first half and 13 of 21 overall.
“We made our shots tonight,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers. “In fact, we made everything tonight in the first half.”
It truly was an impressive show. It was one of those sometimes you are the windshield and sometimes you are the bug nights and the Bulls were splattered.
The Clippers lost in Charlotte Wednesday 95-91 to a good defensive team in shooting six of 26 on threes. They overwhelmed a much better defensive team Friday.
“We had the same looks against Charlotte; we just hit them tonight,” agreed Jamal Crawford, who had 19 points off the bench to support Griffin’s team highs in all categories of 23 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists.
The temptation when a team like the Bulls gives up so many points and 53.9 percent shooting is to blame the defense. If they score a lot and shoot a high percentage, it must follow that you did not play good defense. There is something to that. But you know this Bulls group doesn’t quit and doesn’t play casually. They adhered to their principles of closing the lane and helping inside. But when guys are throwing in threes like that with kick out passes off scrambles for loose balls and going deep into the paint in transition and kicking out, well, sometimes you just have to shake their hands and move on.
“They share the ball and they are going to make you pay for mistakes. So you have to maintain discipline against them,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “We are capable of playing a lot better than we did.”
Thibodeau doesn’t accept excuses, as we know, like the other guys are better. You know Thibodeau could be given a team from a senior citizen home–or mine–against the ’96 Bulls. And he’ll believe with enough preparation and attention to detail you can win. Hey, you should move better, for one thing, without teeth.
The Clippers went right into the teeth of the Bulls defense Friday and there just wasn’t enough spitting and rinsing there to make it taste better.
The Bulls did a lot of good things. They outrebounded the Clippers and dominated in points in the paint and second chance points and offensive rebounds. Which hardly suggests they weren’t playing hard. They had just eight turnovers thanks to Augustin’s smart play with the ball. They had more assists than the Clippers. No one said, “It’s a make or miss league.” But they could have.
Few NBA games are over in the first quarter even as the Clippers put 41 points on the Bulls to lead by 15 after one quarter. Because the Bulls got within 78-70 midway through the third quarter. But the Clippers got 10 straight points from Darren Collison playing for Paul that pushed them back ahead far enough that the Bulls never got the deficit under double digits again.
That also produced a rare early end to the evening for D.J. Augustin, who was flummoxed by Collsion’s clever play. Thibodeau went with Mike James the rest of the way with Kirk Hinrich out with a hamstring injury. And James did play competently, even making a three. But they weren’t coming back again on this 30-15 Clippers team. The Bulls fell back to .500 at 21-21 in losing for just the third time in 12 games. The Clippers, surprisingly, went to 8-3 without Paul.
Some had joked that Griffin might enjoy some time away from Paul on the court with all the yelling Paul does at he and Jordan. Rivers called it Griffin assuming leadership. But Griffin was terrific. He made jump shots, passed out unerringly to teammates for three pointers as the Bulls collapsed according to their game plan. And several times Griffin just ran over Joakim Noah, knocking Noah back and down with powerful postup moves.
Noah was excellent, especially early with six points, three rebounds and three assists in the first seven minutes. He finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. It was his 15th consecutive double digit rebound game, the longest Bulls streak since Dennis Rodman in 1997-98. But Griffin was too much for him and everyone else.
“Blake doesn’t back away from any challenge,” said Crawford. “He is having a great time now. He and LaMarcus Aldridge are playing at a highest level for power forwards and are playing at a higher level than anyone else.”
It would be difficult to dispute, though this has become a regular occurrence for the Bulls against the Clippers. They had their worst loss of the season to the Clippers back in November, 121-82. Though that was the game after Derrick Rose’s season ending injury and the team was reeling. But they also lost to the Clippers by 21 last season. The Bulls do seem to be bothered by those guys who jump around a lot with those lob dunks.
The Clippers had just a few, one nice one from Griffin to Jordan. And Jordan dunked back a few misses. But Rivers has deemphasized that “lob city” stuff from the last few seasons. He has the Clippers more disciplined and defending much better.
They trapped in the backcourt at times. They blitz the pick and roll and recover well. And they work hard to get over screens. It resulted in one of Augustin’s more difficult games after a remarkable run of late. He can struggle with defense at times with his size, though he works hard. He did still shoot three of eight with six assists and zero turnovers. But he was often run off his shot as the Bulls were six of 19 on threes.
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 22 points and Taj Gibson continued his strong play off the bench with 18 points. But Rivers is a smart coach and one of those coaches, like the late Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, who went to a play until you could stop it. It wasn’t totally Augustin’s fault when Collison had that pivotal run. Rivers kept calling basically the same play, a high pick and roll with Jordan setting the screen several feet above the three point line. Boozer has a tendency not to come out that far on the screener. The result is if Augustin cannot get over the screen, there’s six feet of open space and Collison kept getting in there to make plays.
Thibodeau became so frustrated he added another technical to tie for the league lead among coaches and even went to a hack-a-player strategy late in the third with Jordan to try to get the ball back for offense. It didn’t work.
“They pretty much had their way,” said Thibodeau. “Their intensity was high. They were into us defensively. Offensively, I thought we were good enough. But defensively I thought we were real poor. There was no aspect of our defense that was up to our standards in terms of pressure and technique. We did not remain disciplined.
“We didn’t cover the way we should have,” said Thibodeau. “Our pick and roll defense wasn’t very good, our defensive transition wasn’t very good, our three point defense wasn’t very good.”
You probably could make the case in the first quarter, actually one of the worst in franchise history since the all time record for most points in a quarter is just nine more than the Bulls yielded to start. But the Clippers weren’t missing. The Bulls played a very good quarter for them, shooting 50 percent behind Boozer’s 16 points with Noah making terrific passes and plays. The Bulls were matching the Clippers midway through at 16-16 when the Clippers took quick threes in transition, threw inside and then made shots off Griffin’s return passes and refused to believe J.J. Redick’s initials are for Jumper Jumper.
“A lot of it was on transition and scramble plays,” said Dunleavy. “I don’t think we recognized how good they are in transition. Their big guys getting out, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, causing havoc low and then they kick it out for threes. They made the plays; give them credit. But we’re disappointed in the way we started the game.”
Tony Snell got caught helping and gave up a three; but so did the veteran Dunleavy. Noah went out and the transition defense wasn’t as committed. Matt Barnes threw in a line drive three, Collison made one falling out of bounds. Redick hit one when a loose ball kicked out to him. The Clippers weren’t in great position to defend long threes that missed. The Bulls might have scored 40 points if the Clippers just shot 50 percent on threes. After all, the Clippers are the 27th ranked three point shooting team in the NBA. And they like to take them. Giving them threes isn’t always a bad strategy. Like most plans, they don’t look as good when the opponent is successful.
“That was really pretty much the story of the game,” Thibodeau said of the 41-26 first quarter. “We gave up 41 points; we gave up the threes. They had a 15-point lead and we were chasing our tail the rest of the game. We gave up 13 threes; we didn’t cover the line. You can’t win like that. We can’t lose sight of how hard we have to play to win.”
The Clippers continued to move the ball well also, piling on in the second quarter to lead 60-39 as Hedo Turkoglu joined the Clippers’ three jamboree. But Dunleavy made some tough shots and Augustin closed the half with a jumper to get the Bulls within 68-55 at halftime. The Bulls defense would get better in the second half. Of course, if it didn’t the Clippers would have scored 140. Redick did have 16 of his 18 points in the first half.
The Bulls got a better hold on the Clippers’ guards after halftime and pulled within 78-70 on an Augustin three with about four minutes left in the third quarter. But Collison scored those 10 straight points, outscoring the Bulls 10-4 in the next two minutes. Crawford made a pull up to give the Clippers a 90-74 lead and the Clippers closed the third quarter leading 92-80. They scored the first nine points of the fourth quarter to basically end it after a Crawford three.
It also was another tough shooting game for Jimmy Butler, who was three of 15. He’s now 30 percent the last six games.
“I’m playing terrible,” said Butler. “I’m not making any shots. I’m not helping the offense. I have to fix it. I’m getting great looks. They’re just not falling for me.”
Not like they were for the Clippers.