Game Notes: Clippers at Bulls
Chicago’s winning streak ends, but it’s still all good.
by Bryan Crawford
It was a tough night for the Bulls against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers last night in the United Center. The final score of the game was nowhere near indicative of the actual blowout and the beatdown that the Clippers put on the Bulls. LA came out aggressive offensively and defensively from the opening tip and Chicago wasn’t able to match their energy on either end of the floor. Yes the final score was 90-82 in favor of the Clippers, but the game really wasn’t that close. As strange as it sounds, it was an eight point blowout.
The attitude surrounding the Bulls was good, but I guess winning the last five of a crucial seven game Western Conference road swing will do that to a team. Their energy was good and things “felt” a lot different than it had six or seven weeks ago. Everybody was loose and relaxed, and it was something that you really hadn’t seen from them this year, even the two times when they were in the midst of their previous season high of consecutive win totals of four games.
They looked ready to play Tuesday night.
“We’re going to come out here and play hard and just try and get this win,” said newly crowned Eastern Conference All-Star Derrick Rose. Referencing the Clippers victory two weeks ago in LA which was also the last time Chicago lost a game, Rose said, “We owe this team. We don’t want to throw away all those wins with a loss. We just want to keep it going.”
Even Vinny Del Negro was in a good mood and he didn’t seem anywhere near as tight as he usually does. When asked if newly acquired swingman Devin Brown would play since he hadn’t logged any minutes as a Bull since they acquired him from New Orleans in a trade for Aaron Gray last week, Del Negro confirmed that he would see some time out on the floor. When asked if he’d instructed Brown to hit six straight three pointers like he did when the Bulls played the Hornets the day after Christmas, Del Negro just laughed and responded with, “That would be nice.”
It certainly would have helped.
What can I say; it was the Luol Deng show. He had his offensive game going early. The mid-range jumper was falling and he even hit two straight three-pointers which is very un-Luol like. The Clippers didn’t have an answer for him at all. He scored 12 straight points in the first five-and-a-half minutes of the opening quarter which also turned out to be Chicago’s only points until Taj Gibson scored on an assist from Derrick Rose. Deng finished the quarter with 16 points and was the only bright spot for the Bulls who got virtually nothing from everyone else that played in the quarter.
Meanwhile, the Clippers were able to counter the production of Deng with balanced scoring from the guys in their starting lineup. With Baron Davis not really playing as aggressively as we’re used to seeing him, LA got 27 of their 31 first quarter points from starters Rasual Butler, Marcus Camby, Chris Kaman, and Eric Gordon. They pretty much had their way with the Bulls and Chicago couldn’t do anything defensively to stop them. 31-26 LA after one.
When the topic of who was snubbed from the NBA All-Star game in Dallas was hot last week, the name at the top of everyone’s list was Chris Kaman who is having a phenomenal season statistically averaging almost a double-double with 20 points and 9 rebounds per game. Even Kaman seemed a bit miffed that Pau Gasol was chosen for the game instead of himself. I hadn’t been paying much attention to him or the Clippers this season so I didn’t quite get what all the fuss was about. I found out last night when I saw him absolutely go to work on the Bulls’ bigs. I never realized how good of a player he actually was. He can score with either hand around the basket, he has good footwork, he can pass, he can hit the open jumper, and he rebounds like the little hair that he does have on his head is on fire. He finished the first half with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists. That would be a good night of work for anybody, let alone a half.
Meanwhile, the Bulls found it very difficult to get production from anyone on the team. The lone highlight of the quarter came on a one-on-one play between Taj Gibson and Kaman. Taj hit Kaman with a nasty right-to-left crossover and took off down the lane and dunked him with the left hand. It was an amazing play and it showed just how skilled of a player Gibson really is. But that was about it for the Bulls who seemed like they were just running up and down the floor in the quarter with nothing to show for it going 6-22 from the field. Luckily for them, the Clippers didn’t shoot the ball very well either going 8-20 from the field themselves. At the half, the Clippers lead 50-42.
When they were in high school, Derrick Rose and Eric Gordon played AAU basketball together on the Mean Streets Express, a local AAU program here in Chicago. In the third quarter, and going head-to-head against each other, it was the Rose and Gordon show. Up to that point in the game both players were struggling offensively (Rose was 2-10 from the field and Gordon was 2-7) but something clicked for each of them after halftime and they just went at each other offensively while the other guys literally just sat back and watched like the rest of us. Gordon dropped 15 points in the quarter while Rose countered with 12 and nobody from either team did much else.
At one point in the third quarter the Clippers led by as much as 18 points and aside from some great one-on-one play between the two young superstars, there really wasn’t much else to talk about. Well, that is with the exception of Luol Deng who after starting the game like a house on fire hadn’t scored a single point since the first quarter. After three, the Clippers lead the Bulls 78-63.
It was a terrible display of basketball by both teams as fans started to slowly file out of the United Center for what seemed like the entire quarter. In fact, with less than five minutes left in regulation, the UC was pretty much empty. Both teams went a combined 10-40 from the field. There isn’t a whole lot that needs to be said after that. Final score, 90-82 Clippers.
After being on the road for thirteen straight days and coming home as winners of five straight, you can’t blame the Bulls for relaxing the last three. It was some well deserved R&R. But this is a young team that needs to understand that they’re playing good basketball right now and other teams around the League know this and will be gunning for them. Said Del Negro, “We are not a team right now that can take anyone lightly.”
But this loss was different than the ones in the past. The team seemed as if they’d already shaken it off and were looking to start a new winning streak against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night. Derrick Rose, who struggled through a horrible night of shooting going 7-20 from the field, laughed it off and said, “It was just one of those nights. I couldn’t hit nothing. I can laugh about it now because I have confidence in myself, but we can’t afford for everybody to play like this. If I’m off, somebody else has got to pick it up.”
Even Luol Deng, who didn’t score again until the fourth quarter and finished the game with 18 points didn’t seem too down about the loss. When asked if their winning streak bred a little bit of overconfidence Deng just smiled and said, “It’s human nature. We’ve got a little swagger out there [now].” He added, “We all are disappointed [with the loss], but we’ve got to get up tomorrow and play and just let it go. We definitely wanted six wins in a row but now we have to start another winning streak.”