LOS ANGELES—Saturday night’s 21-point blowout defeat was an aberration for the Bulls. Very rarely during the Tom Thibodeau era are they on the losing end of such a thrashing, a contest in which it wasn’t even a game after the first quarter and there was nothing they could do about it.
The lopsided affair started out innocently enough, with the Bulls aiming to make it one of their patented defensive struggles. But very quickly, sloppy play with the ball allowed the Clippers to break out their “Lob City” routine and with arguably the deepest team in the NBA, the Bulls, putting out a defensive effort far below their usual standards, with an inefficient offensive performance to boot, were getting run out of the building.
“The second quarter was the difference in the game. The first quarter was pretty good. We gave up 35 points in the second quarter. The tone of the game changed. We put them in the open floor. I think we had 12 turnovers in the first half and many of those ended up being layups, dunks and then, the second half, not much better. Our turnovers and their blocked shots got us,” Thibodeau explained. “They were quicker to the ball and that’s a big part of the game, your reaction to the ball. Your turnovers that lead to their fast breaks and their second shots, even though in the first half, they only had five, but they had five for 11 points, so when you add that on to what they got off the turnovers, you’re just digging too big of a hole, particularly on the road and we could never get it back inside 10. So, we really gave ourselves no chance.”
Said Joakim Noah: “We got out-scrapped tonight. We got out-competed. That’s disappointing. I think we took a couple steps back today. They were denying everything with their switching and we just didn’t finish well around the rim. We know we’re capable of playing a lot better basketball.”
Chimed in Carlos Boozer, who had a solid night in a losing effort: “It was tough, man. This one’s hard to let go. We felt like we didn’t have enough juice. We didn’t do our stuff hard enough to make it a better game.
“They’re a very good team. They use each other very well. They protect the rim very well. They share the ball. A lot of isolations, a lot of pick-and-roll. Give them credit, man. They played a great game tonight,” he continued. “Our concentration wasn’t as good as it could have been. What I mean by that is their guys got to what they wanted to get to and usually, we take stuff away that they like to do and make them play to their weaknesses. Again, give them credit, man. They played well.”
A familiar face, ex-Bull Jamal Crawford, was the Clippers’ catalyst, scoring 22 points off the bench — the former Sixth Man of the Year, an early-season favorite to win the award again, is the team’s leading scorer after signing as a free agent over the summer — and confounding his former team with an array of shots, both difficult and uncontested.
Observed Thibodeau: “He’s a tough cover and you’ve got to give him credit, but you can’t allow a guy to play his strengths. If he’s beating you, it’s got to be doing something that he doesn’t want to do and I thought we let him get to what he wanted. We played him with a cushion, which you can’t do and when you do that, when he gets going, he’s got a lot of confidence. Now, it’s a lot harder to slow him down. We didn’t play well, so that’s something that has to be corrected.”
Concurred Boozer: “[Crawford] had a hell of a game, man. He came in and was very aggressive. He hit some amazing shots. I thought we played good defense on a few of his shots, but he got them to go in, like that bank shot in the second half. He had a leaner in the first half. He’s a tough cover, though. He’s got a lot of handles. He’s got a good package on him. We didn’t do a good enough job of shutting him down, didn’t do a good enough job of helping, trying to make other guys score. But give him credit. He played a great game.”
But the most worrisome aspect of the game was the Bulls’ turnovers, which totaled 16 — Thibodeau has said on several occasions that their nightly goal is 13 or fewer miscues an evening — which is significant for not just the number, but how they occurred. On a team lacking a dynamic shot creator, great outside shooting and a bench that has been hit-and-miss thus far, the Bulls can’t afford to beat themselves, especially against a team with the high-flying firepower of the Clippers.
“We turned the ball over too much and you can’t turn the ball over against a team like this. They’re too athletic and they get on the break, and that’s their strength. They’re probably the best at getting out on the break in the NBA, so turnovers hurt us,” Joakim Noah said. “I think it’s definitely us. They gamble a lot, but it’s not an excuse. We didn’t play good basketball that night.”
Deadpanned Thibodeau: “We prefer not to turn it over.
“[It was] probably a compilation of a lot of things. Chris Paul is very good at making plays on the ball, [Eric] Bledsoe is a very good pressure guy. If you turn your back on them, they’re always going to make a play on the ball, if the ball’s exposed at all. They’re going to get it. You have to execute. The start of the game was okay — not great, but okay — and then, the next three quarters, we’ve got to do a lot better.”
Added Boozer: “I thought the second half, we did a better job, but the first half they pressured us. We didn’t use our press releases very good. They got their hands on a lot of tipped balls, loose balls. Honestly, it seemed like they got every loose ball. That’s what it felt like. They did a good job of being in the passing lanes.
“Just be a lot little smarter. I think we can take care of the ball better obviously. We usually don’t turn the ball over like that. But at the same time, we’ve got to make their guys miss shots. We’re a good rebounding team when we make them miss. They hit some crazy shots, though, again. Jamal hit some crazy shots, but we’ll be better [Sunday] night, I think.”
And that’s the silver lining for the Bulls. A team that doesn’t lose many back-to-back affairs, Sunday night they play in Portland, a place they’ve struggled in recent seasons, against a young Trail Blazers squad that doesn’t have the size, talent or title hopes of the Clippers, but does possess talent.
“The truth is, the only good thing about this game is we’ve got one [Sunday] night to play better,” Boozer said. “[Sunday] is going to be a big game for us. Portland’s a good team. They’re scoring a lot of points. They’ve got a really good rookie point guard. They’ve got an All-Star in [LaMarcus] Aldridge and a lot of good guys around those two. And the kid [Nicolas] Batum I heard is putting up a lot of crazy numbers, so he may be our big matchup [Sunday], try to do a good job of shutting him down. But he’s playing well, their team is playing well. Obviously they play well in the Rose Garden and it’s a big game for us [Sunday] night.”
Thibodeau expressed a similar sentiment: “You’ve got to learn from it — you’ve got to understand why you win or why you lose — learn from it, move on, get ready for Portland. You’ve got to approach it — you’re on the road — things should never change, your attitude or your approach to how you prepare never changes, but we know we’ve got to go in there. They’re a team that can score a ton on you. You have to have a defensive mindset, so we know the things that we have to do. We just have to be ready to go.
Concluded Noah: “It’s disappointing, but we’ve got to bounce back, you know? We don’t have any time to mope or anything like that. We’ve got to come ready to go. I’m ready to play tomorrow. There’s no question about that.”
Tags: Tom Thibodeau
, Los Angeles Clippers
, Chicago Bulls
, Joakim Noah
, carlos boozer