CHICAGO | Some welcome back party that turned out to be.
The Bulls' five-game winning streak met an ignominious end last night, as the Clippers broke a four-game skid with a 90-82 win at the United Center. Chris Kaman returned to the Clippers' lineup after missing two games and rolled up 21 points and 11 boards against an ailing Bulls frontcourt.
Chicago's locker room was notably upbeat before the game, but afterwards ... not so much. The Bulls had just returned from a season-changing road trip that was punctuated by five straight wins over teams with winning records. No team in NBA history had accomplished that feat. Now Chicago heads back onto the road for two games, the middle part of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch.
As for the Clippers, the win helped remove some the bad taste left by a 1-5 start to their season-long, eight-game road trip, which included a 16-point loss to the hapless Nets. L.A. finishes its trip tonight in Atlanta before heading home for a pair of games.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Poss oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO%
First Quarter 22 130.8 .700 .286 .050 .180
Second Quarter 25 84.2 .432 .000 .091 .160
Third Quarter 24 116.3 .618 .000 .412 .166
Fourth Quarter 23 52.7 .261 .125 .000 .088
FIRST HALF 47 106.1 .560 .278 .071 .175
SECOND HALF 47 85.4 .413 .111 .175 .071
FINAL 93 97.3 .488 .163 .122 .151
Poss oRTG eFG% oREB% FT/FGA TO%
First Quarter 22 117.2 .545 .182 .091 .090
Second Quarter 25 64.2 .261 .333 .174 .160
Third Quarter 24 87.2 .500 .250 .235 .332
Fourth Quarter 23 83.5 .353 .167 .412 .220
FIRST HALF 47 89.1 .400 .269 .133 .131
SECOND HALF 47 85.4 . 426 .148 .324 .150
FINAL 93 88.6 .411 .239 .215 .205
The Bulls were lethargic right from the start. Both teams were a step slow on defense early, but after that the Clippers simply sagged off the Bulls' shooters, who fell into their old habit of forcing contested two-point jumpers time and again. Chicago never found a rhythm. Meanwhile, Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby took advantage of the Bulls' starting bigs, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, who are both battling plantar fasciitis.
My takeaways from Tuesday's game:
1. The reluctant darling
Derrick Rose held sway in his little corner of the Bulls' locker room before the game, answering questions about getting out of the Rookie Challenge, what he loves about the Skills Challenge, why he doesn't pattern his game after any other players (even John Wall, as one reporter jokingly suggested) and how he learned to stop worrying and love the fact that the Bulls didn't re-sign Ben Gordon. Rose is a quiet kid, genuinely reluctant to pat himself on the back. He avoids reporters like the plague and before his recent notoriety, you had to know his escape routes in order to ask him anything. When you did manage to corral him, however, he was always polite and patient, if not exactly effusive. It was a little startling to watch Rose answer questions for a full 10 minutes from the growing media mob. Given Rose's performance on Tuesday--16 points on 20 shots, four assists, four turnovers--you have to wonder if the pregame chats will continue. (Players are only required to talk before OR after a game, but not both. The policy is loosely enforced.)
2. Defending the Clippers means defending the paint
On the pregame dry erase board, Vinny Del Negro had drawn up all sorts of strategies and written up several points of emphasis regarding the necessity of defending the Clippers' three-point shooters. L.A. is 28th in three-point percentage. The Bulls did an OK job of denying the three before Eric Gordon got hot in the third quarter. But Chicago was killed inside the arc by Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby, along with Gordon off the dribble. Still, the Clippers finished with a 97.3 Offensive Rating for the game, so defense was not the Bulls' problem on Tuesday.
3. Devin Brown makes his Bulls' debut
After getting DNP'd in his first three games in Bulls uniform, Del Negro made a concerted effort to get Devin Brown some minutes, believing the rotation is going to have to expand a bit due to Chicago's upcoming cluster of games. With the Bulls' offense mired in one of their enigmatic bouts of complacency, it was hard to get a read on how Brown is going to ultimately fit in. He played 12 minutes and scored five points, but his lack of familiarity with Del Negro's system led to a couple of awkward sequences, including one unforced fumble, which led to an and-one layup by Rasual Butler, with Brown compounding his mistake with a silly foul. However, there was a short stretch when Del Negro had Brown paired with Kirk Hinrich in the backcourt, which has some encouraging possibilities on the defensive end. Brown's minutes will come at the expense of not-ready-for-primetime rookie James Johnson, so that is a nominal upgrade for the Bulls. Also, subbing Brown for Johnson in the rotation will allow John Salmons to play more minutes as the backup at three, where he is more comfortable.
4. Chris Kaman makes a difference
After the game, Mike Dunleavy said, "The big difference is obviously Kaman. He defends, he rebounds and when you need a bucket, he gives you a place you can go. (Opponents) have to send extra guys at him and it creates open shots for everyone else." Dunleavy was answering a question about the difference in the Clippers between the loss to the Nets and the win in Chicago. Uh, Mike, Kaman played in New Jersey. Dunleavy is a little too quick to use injuries as an excuse for my taste. He did it time and again before the season when referring to the Clippers' disastrous season last year. Injuries matter. No one would deny that. However, it's just sort of a convention that coaches and players don't use them to explain poor effort. Dunleavy (and Washington's Ernie Grunfeld) are probably past learning that lesson. It just sends the wrong message.
5. Bulls are not a finished product
This seems obvious, but Chicago played with a posture of entitlement last night that they clearly can't afford to assume. What the Bulls accomplished on the road was impressive, even historic. But if there is one thing you learn from working with objective data, it's that you always have to look at the bigger picture. The Bulls entered the game with a 23-22 record and a point differential that suggested they had no business being over .500. Yes, the Bulls have improved by leaps over the last six weeks, but this team must keep the pedal to the floor. The irony is that the Bulls' win streak was sparked by a terrible loss to these same Clippers on Jan. 20, a 104-97 dud in which Marcus Camby had 25 rebounds. Del Negro reminded his team of the need to not take any team for granted. Apparently, no one was listening.
You can go back and read my in-game comments and get future Tweets at @bdoolittle.
Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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