The Bulls finished their season-opening four-game road trip 3-1 after beating the Clippers 114-101 in L.A. on Friday night. As exciting as the Clippers are, they were no match for the Bulls' rebounding and their defensive scheme is borderline juvenile, so the Bulls offense looked godly throughout the night.
Derrick Rose and Chris Paul were the show. And Rose, for his fifth time in five meetings with his contemporary, left the building with a win.
Rose dominated with 29 points in only 14 shots from the floor (8-for-14), 15 assists, and eight rebounds. The Clippers bigs simply weren't helping Paul by showing in the paint when Rose drove, so he just kept driving and went 10-for-11 at the line. He shot 3-for-4 on good spots to shoot 3s and frequently found second and third options for open looks when the help did rush him. In all, he scored or assisted 63 of the Bulls' 114 points.
Paul (15 points on 7-for-14, 14 assists, four steals) was brilliant himself at handling a Bulls D that brought more consistent energy in the final three quarters than the lazy effort of the first. It was a typical Vinny Del Negro offense of pick n' rolls with a lot of standing around, but Paul takes the ball into the perfect spot to move the defense away from high-percentage targets and has the bigs to run a pick n' roll that seems unstoppable at times.
But Rose was tight just enough to force failed possessions to make up for his four turnovers. And without Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan on the floor, the Clippers offense becomes entirely transparent. Fortunately, Jordan was a foul machine limited to only 12 minutes in the second half.
Other than the Clippers' 7-0 run to start the game, they never scored more than five unanswered points during any other stretch of the game. In the meantime, the Bulls accumulated a 13-5 to end the first quarter, 7-2 and 10-2 runs in the second where Carlos Boozer showed his only signs of life, a 10-0 run in the fourth where Rose led the Bulls from an 87-84 lead to a 13-point near game-clinching lead with less than eight minutes remaining.
The Clippers are fun to watch. They're going to score a boatload per 100 possessions because Paul can hit any shooter on any end of the halfcourt if your defense is imbalanced; and when balanced, he'll exploit the mismatch with the talent surrounding him. But their entire interior defense depends on Jordan's aggressiveness; and without depth on the bench, it's just all that easy for aggressive players like Rose on the dribble or Joakim Noah on loose balls (or Luol Deng shooting 3s) to take 100 of the intimidation out of the D.
Overall fun game where all ten starters scored in double figures, but there was enough sloppy defense on both ends to make the eyes bleed. There's absolutely nothing fluid about the way the Clippers approach defense. It's simply man-on-man with sprinkles of zone play that results in guys just standing around. It isn't laziness, but a lack of direction. There are no second and third effort help tactics. None at all. I'll watch them as much as possible because they're gonna look unguardable, but there's also a lot of humor to take in with some sloppy messes. I mean, Brian Cook played 17 minutes, for Lord's sake.
- The 2-point shooting was bad. It usually is. That's why the long-2 is the worst shot in basketball. The Bulls were 7-for-22 (31.7%) from 16-to-23 feet from the basket.
- Richard Hamilton (16 points on 8-for-18, five rebounds, two assists) was pretty awful when he dribbled around, but brilliant creating off the ball. He alone was 3-for-9 on long-2s. Just taking so many shows there were court vision issues. When he takes that one dribble forward with a jumpshot toward the basket or finds space to catch n' shoot, he's everything you want him to be. Six of his eight buckets (two of three at the rim and all three long-2s) were assisted and anyone who watched could notice he did a lot of dribbling on his failed touches. When Boozer is useless, this is the risk, though.
- Deng in the low post is pretty nifty. He isn't a back-to-basket player, but the fact is that he's bigger than most small forwards (noticeably taller than the Bulls' starting power forward). The long arms that makes him an intimidating space-dominating defender helped him turn situations in traffic near the basket into easy buckets where he could get the ball near the rim. Last year, we saw a lot of basket cuts through the middle of the floor, but we're now seeing more baseline cuts (a la Ronnie Brewer) when the defense cheats their body at Rose. Only one of his three buckets at the rim were assisted because he uses his body to protect some dribbling as he gets into a spot to jump, but he's learning to establish post position. If he leans for easy buckets or gets to the line more instead of facing up to fade away, Rose's penetration will become all the more undefendable, as there's then a limit to how hard Deng can be pressed and eliminates the profitability of leaving him.
Noah's toughness creating offense is so ugly that it's beautiful. He had 19 points because of his aggressiveness. Getting to the line for 10 attempts is crafty, hitting nine is an asset, along with 5-for-7 from the floor and four assists. Unfortunately, Blake (34 points on 14-for-25, 10-for-11 at the rim) pretty much had his way with Jo with and without the ball. Jo getting foul machines to hack him and making awesome passes through lazy defenses is great, but his decisions are consistently getting exploited on defense. When the energy guy has his energy used against him, problems arise.
Blake's a hell of a ball player and he makes the entire NBA look silly, but... but... come on!
- Hot sauce alert. Kyle Korver (six points on 2-for-4, 2-for-3 on 3s, ten minutes) finally got some touches, as the Clippers were incapable of recovering on D.
- Ronnie Brewer's jumpshot is falling and not sure if that's a good thing. Brewer's disciplined enough to not jack up bad shots, so getting over-confident isn't a concern. What's of concern is teammates kicking out to him for too many bailouts. He's hit all three of his 3s this season and is 2-for-6 on long-2s (.722 eFG% on 16-plus -footers). It's not much of a sample, but a little over two long jumpers a game in limited playing time. Again, they're not bad spots to shoot, but we don't want him becoming an option on the perimeter in which his teammates have too much confidence.
- Rose got his first steal of the season. His defense hasn't been bad this year. I'd say it's been exactly what it's supposed to be in a Tom Thibodeau scheme of keeping his body in the right place and trusting the help enough to not foul too much. Friday, when the Clippers off-ball movement was disrupted by Jordan's foul trouble, Rose excelled about as much as one can against a CP3 with Blake being ridiculous and Clippers' shooters turning broken plays into successes hitting 7-of-15 3s.
- Boozer.... A good stretch in his second shift of the game and a hard foul to prevent Jordan's sixth dunk redeems him from unforgiving venom, but his game was bad. Ten points on 4-for-8 is efficient and the six rebounds in 30 minutes are kinda' meh, but he was almost entirely incapable of finding space in the halfcourt against a defense playing badly.
- Yes, Jordan had five dunks.
The Bulls get a night off before the Jan. 1 home opener against a Memphis Grizzlies squad that'll exploit every failure on defense.
Stats via Hoopdata.com.