LOS ANGELES — In the first game since Derrick Rose’s potentially season-ending right-knee injury, the Bulls (6-6) played like a shell-shocked squad, getting blown out by the high-flying Clippers (10-5), 121-82, Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center.
Even playing at the Clippers’ preferred uptempo pace, a balanced Bulls’ offense, centered around the All-Star duo of Luol Deng (22 points, six assists) and Joakim Noah, with the tandem of Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy Jr. benefiting most, managed to keep pace in the game’s early going. The likes of second-year point guard Marquis Teague and rookie swingman Tony Snell saw first-quarter action, a result of Rose and fellow starter Jimmy Butler being absent.
The playmaking of Clippers floor general Chris Paul (16 points, 17 assists), outside shooting of Jared Dudley and scoring of power forward Blake Griffin allowed the Clippers to maintain a slight edge, and after the opening period, the Bulls trailed, 31-24.
Deng carried the offensive load early in the second quarter, but he was countered by former Bulls guard Jamal Crawford, one of the league’s top sixth men, whose instant offense led the way for the Clippers early in the second quarter. Taj Gibson was also instrumental in keeping the undermanned Bulls within striking distance.
But the deficit would reach double digits, as Clippers sharpshooter J.J. Redick got hot, and the combination of Paul and Griffin continued to be effective. Paul’s passing exhibition and scoring from fellow guards Crawford, Redick and Darren Collison helped put the Bulls in a 65-52 hole at the intermission.
After the break, the high-scoring Clippers’ onslaught persisted, widening the gap to the 20-point range, courtesy of Paul’s continued distribution. The All-Star point guard’s wizardry with the ball in his hands harkened the team’s previous “Lob City” era, before Doc Rivers was hired as head coach over the summer, prompting Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to call timeouts in futile attempts to curtail the home team’s momentum.
But with little production off the bench besides the contributions of Gibson, even with solid scoring from the first unit, the Bulls simply didn’t have the firepower or athleticism to keep up, leading to a 96-73 deficit heading into the final stanza.
The fourth quarter almost immediately became extended garbage time and even Thibodeau, whose vaunted defense was demolished by the expected Western Conference and NBA Finals contenders, acknowledged the state of affairs, removing his regulars and inserting seldom-used reserves like veteran Mike James and rookie Erik Murphy midway through the period. Though the game wasn’t typical of the effort the tough-minded Bulls are likely to demonstrate as the season continues, their lackluster play reflected a team whose high hopes have faded, as evidenced by their nine points in the last frame.