LOS ANGELESEven with the superstar talents of Derrick Rose, the Bulls (5-4) arent a team that can give away easy points, beat themselves with unforced errors or get into a track meet.
Without Rose, who recently came to Southern California to continue his ongoing rehabilitation process, the aforementioned facts became even more evident Saturday night, as the run-and-gun Clippers (7-2), guided by former Bulls head coach Vinny Del Negro, ran the Bulls out of the Staples Center, 101-80, behind a blend of balance, depth and an aesthetically-pleasing display of offensive firepower.
For all of the flash and dash of the Clippers Lob City style of play athletic big men Blake Griffin (26 points, 10 rebounds) and DeAndre Jordan (six blocked shots) each threw down vicious fast-break alley-oops the Bulls were able to fight fire with fire, as the visitors activated their own transition game. Starting wings Rip Hamilton (14 points) and Luol Deng (14 points, eight rebounds) got off to quick starts for the guests, countering the masterful orchestration of Clippers All-Star floor general Chris Paul (10 assists).
The Bulls, however, struggled with ball-security issues early, allowing the hosts to get easy fast-break points, but when their defense was set, the Clippers had trouble manufacturing points against one of the leagues top defensive units. Still, at the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls trailed, 18-15.
The Clippers top-notch depth was evident in the second quarter, as substitutes like young and explosive backup point guard Eric Bledsoe (10 points), tough and versatile veteran Matt Barnes (13 points) and former Bull Jamal Crawford (22 points), the teams leading scorer, helped the home team dramatically widen the gap between the two squads. The Bulls continued to be plagued by turnovers, something that was exacerbated by a lack of scoring from their second unit, quickly leading to a double-digit deficit.
While the reinsertion of starter Carlos Boozer (22 points, 12 rebounds) helped matters, the Clippers were rolling and Crawford, in particular, appeared to be unguardable, as the virtuoso scorer, an early favorite to win yet another Sixth Man of the Year award, had it going early. Upon his own reentry into the contest, Hamilton helped stop the bleeding before the half, but at the intermission, the Bulls were on the wrong end of a 53-40 score.
Things didnt get better for the Bulls after the break, as live-ball turnovers led to easy points for the Clippers, the visitors further unraveled and the hosts lead hovered around the 20-point mark. Boozer was the Bulls most consistent offensive threat, but going against the length and formidable shot-blocking ability of Jordan, interior scoring was no easy task for him, though he remained both determined and effective.
The Bulls attempted to chip away at the lead behind Boozers continued effectiveness, Dengs ability to get to the charity stripe, Hamiltons jump-shooting prowess and the playmaking of Kirk Hinrich (10 assists), but the Clippers firepower was simply too much for them to overcome in the period. Mostly due to inefficient offense, a defensive effort below their usual standards and lapses at both ends of the court, the Bulls were behind, 78-61, heading into the final stanza.
After using just two starters, Boozer and Hamilton, to begin the period, early in the fourth quarter, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau went to an all-reserve lineup the seldom-used Vladimir Radmanovic got some rare playing time essentially acknowledging that the game was a lost cause. It was a decision unlike Thibodeau, except for the fact that with a back-to-back affair in Portland the following night, practicality won out over the never-say-die leanings of the coach.
On the other hand, Del Negro went back to regulars Paul, Griffin and Jordan late, adding insult to injury and while backup point guard Nate Robinson (11 points) and reserve swingman Jimmy Butler continued to play hard, it didnt make much of a difference. Griffin showed off his much-improved jumper until the games waning moments, much to the pleasure of the mostly partisan audience, as the extended garbage time elapsed.