Bulls hang tough, but can't overcome firepower of Clippers

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Bulls hang tough, but can't overcome firepower of Clippers

The Bulls arent a team that believes in moral victories. So the mere fact that in Tuesday nights 94-89 loss to the Clippers at the United Center, Chicago displayed a world of improvement from last months road drubbing at the hands of ex-Bulls coach Vinny Del Negros high-flying bunch on the Circus Trip doesnt make a difference to them.

While they hung tough with one of the NBAs elite teams, showed that their defense continues to be improved and valiantly battled to make it a barn-burner at the end of a night when key players like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah didnt have it going, they just didnt have enough firepower to take down the Pacific Division leaders, the true glamour club in Los Angeles at the moment.

In a start suited more to the Bulls (11-9) defensive-minded tendencies than the high-flying ways of the Clippers (15-6), the two teams came out of the gates slowly, combining for a 2-for-17 start from the field.

Eventually, the point-guard wizardry of All-Star Chris Paul (18 points) and scoring from veteran Caron Butler got the Clippers going, while the Bulls were propelled by Carlos Boozer (24 points, 13 rebounds) early.

The visitors built a slim cushion before their hosts reined them in with a blend of tough defense -- the Clippers shot 30 percent from the field --and balanced offense despite starting point guard Kirk Hinrich exiting the contest early with two quick fouls, giving way to backup Nate Robinson. Although the Bulls narrowed the gap, they still trailed, 21-18, following a quarter of play.

Arguably the deepest team in the league, the Clippers went to their potent bench at the outset of the second quarter, but Robinsons instant-offense scoring, Taj Gibsons (10 points, six rebounds) energetic play and timely scoring from the starters that remained in the game -- Marco Belinelli (18 points, seven rebounds, five assists) and Noah (10 points, 11 rebounds, six assists) both contributed with outside shooting, but Noahs rebounding and Belinellis playmaking were also positives -- ensured that the Bulls kept the game close and even overtook the Pacific Division leaders midway through the period.

For the time being, things were going the Bulls way, even with Clippers superstar Blake Griffin (22 points, 10 rebounds) knocking down his first three-pointer of the season.

However, a stretch featuring a quarter of consecutive Clippers dunks -- two by Griffin on fast breaks then an alley-oop by center DeAndre Jordan, another prolific dunker, followed by a powerful putback dunk -- changed the tenor of the game, as the Bulls ball-security issues gave the visitors easy transition opportunities and the lead in the contest.

As the Bulls ended the second quarter on the wrong end of a 12-2 run, they went into the intermission facing a 47-40 deficit.

After the break, the Bulls steadily fought back behind the point production of Boozer, Belinelli and Hinrich, quickly narrowing the gap and once again making it a close-knit affair.

For a team thats struggled to consistently knock down shots from long-distance all season, the Bulls went on a tear from three-point range -- they were 5-for-6 from the field in the first half and kept up the pace early in the third quarter -- to briefly take the lead.

Though the Bulls surrendered their edge as Paul and Griffin, receiving aid from the Clippers second unit -- veterans Jamal Crawford (10 points) and Matt Barnes (14 points), in particular, were effective -- lifted the visitors, they stayed within striking distance as the period waned on.

Heading into the final stanza, however, the Bulls were behind, 69-65.

Boozer continued to be the Bulls offensive focal point, carrying the team with his mid-range shooting, solid rebounding and interior finishing on an evening when Noah and Deng both had rare off nights as scorers and Belinelli wasnt exactly efficient as a shooter.

Still, the Clippers managed to widen the gap as their bench play gave them a major boost and the likes of Griffin and Paul -- the former in occasionally spectacular fashion -- made timely baskets.

As the game entered its stretch run, the Bulls simply couldnt make up the deficit and while Noah started to come alive late by making back-to-back tip-ins on the offensive glass, Griffin countered with alley-oops against the visitors vaunted half-court defense to help the Clippers maintain separation.

With 48.3 seconds remaining, however, a Belinelli triple cut the Clippers lead to two, 91-89, but on the subsequent possession, Paul hit a tough shot in the lane to make it a two-possession contest with 27.1 seconds left.

Out of a timeout, Noah drove baseline past Griffin for a tough reverse layup with 22.5 seconds on the clock, but Paul made three out of four free throws in the final 21 seconds to seal the deal for the visitors.

All in all, it was an admirable effort, but not enough to beat an opponent that many observers consider a title contender.

White Sox Talk Podcast: Jose Quintana trade rumors and SoxFest preview

White Sox Talk Podcast: Jose Quintana trade rumors and SoxFest preview

When will a possible Jose Quintana trade go from a watch to a warning?

Chuck Garfien, Dan Hayes, Ryan McGuffey and Chris Kamka break down the Quintana trade talks and what it will be like for him this weekend at SoxFest after months of trade rumors.

The guys also discuss what the White Sox roster might look like on Opening Day, and Hayes reveals his 2016 Hall of Fame ballot.

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get your White Sox gear right here]

Plus listen for a special White Sox Talk Podcast giveaway: two free passes to SoxFest and the chance to play bags with Garfien and Todd Frazier at SoxFest.

Check out the latest episode below:

For Tom Rees, coaching gig at Notre Dame always seemed like an inevitability

For Tom Rees, coaching gig at Notre Dame always seemed like an inevitability

The last time Tom Rees played a game for Notre Dame, he was still known as Tommy Rees — but his coach put forth an offer that didn't come as a surprise to anyone in the press room at Yankee Stadium. 

"I'm a Tommy Rees fan for life," Kelly said after Notre Dame's 2013 Pinstripe Bowl win over Rutgers. "… He'll keep trying to play the game as long as he can. But I told him, he's got a bright future as a graduate assistant for Brian Kelly anytime."

Rees is joining Notre Dame as a full-time quarterbacks coach, not just as a coach-in-training graduate assistant role. The 24-year-old — whose father, Bill, has held a number of scouting roles in the NFL — only has two coaching stops on his resume, a graduate assistant role at Northwestern in 2015 and an offensive assistant job with the San Diego Chargers last year. But his lack of experience is more than made up for by the simple fact that, while at Notre Dame from 2010-2013, there was a well-established belief held by coaches and teammates that one day the Lake Bluff, Ill. native one day would coach in some capacity. 

"I'm very excited to have Tom join our staff," Kelly said in a statement Tuesday. "He possesses an understanding of the game, and most importantly the quarterback position, that's unique. He's a true student of the game and great communicator that will offer immediate dividends toward guiding our quarterback room.

"As a former quarterback at Notre Dame, Tom also has a rare ability to truly relate with the quarterbacks on our roster. He's literally sat in their seat, dealt with the ups and downs, faced the criticism, deflected the praise, and all that comes with playing the position at Notre Dame. He can genuinely mentor them — not only on the football field, but in the classroom and the community as well."

Rees effectively became a player/coach in 2012, when a July arrest for resisting law enforcement and illegal consumption of alcohol by a minor led to a one-game suspension that knocked him out of what was a four-person competition to be the team's starting quarterback. Everett Golson ultimately emerged from that fray, but Rees was a fixture as both a mentor to and a replacement for the redshirt freshman as the Irish rolled to the BCS Championship with an undefeated regular season record. 

Consider what Rees said about his relationship with Golson prior to the 2013 BCS Championship:

"There'd be a couple late night discussions," Rees said. "He'd ask me what I thought he needed to improve on, you know, don't hold anything back. And I told him the truth sometimes -- I told him the truth all the time, sometimes it wasn't what he wanted to hear. But any way I could help, and I've had a lot of fun working with him."

Rees' playing time that year was important, yet sporadic. So during the week and from the sidelines, he took more of a coach's point of view with the Irish offense, which teammates said was beneficial when he took over the starting job again in 2013 follow Golson's academic suspension. 

"Not being a stating quarterback, it's sort of pushed him to become more of a leader and more of a coach," former offensive lineman Chris Watt said before the 2013 season. "I think that helped him see the game a little bit differently than before." 

Rees will be primarily tasked with grooming redshirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush, a guy who some around the program thought was the most talented quarterback on Notre Dame's roster the last few years. Of course, Wimbush's offensive knowledge wasn't near the level possessed by Malik Zaire or DeShone Kizer, but his throwing and running ability are both mouth-watering traits that Rees will have a chance to mold.

That Rees is getting his coaching start in his mid-20's isn't particularly surprising. In many ways, has always been on track for this role, and maybe more (think offensive coordinator).

"When I finished my playing career and graduated from Notre Dame, I wanted to do two things," Rees said Tuesday. "First, I wanted to coach, and second, at some point in my career I hoped to get an opportunity to return and do it at my alma mater. I didn't know when or if this opportunity might present itself, but I'm so grateful and honored that it did. I'm ready to get things rolling with this great staff and group of student-athletes."