With Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol both sitting out against the Clippers on Monday night, I figured the game would go one of two ways. One would be just a complete beat down loss, similar to what happened last season after Rose got hurt in Portland. The other was an inexplicable gritty victory because Bulls.
Turns out I was wrong. Coming off a woeful effort against the Pacers, the Bulls inexplicably THROTTLED a Clippers team that looks like it has no business winning a championship, 105-89. The Bulls got contributions from everywhere, with Jimmy Butler leading all five starters scoring in double figures with 22 points and Nikola Mirotic scoring 12 points off the bench.
Butler struggled with his shot for much of the night, going 6-of-17 overall and 1-of-4 from three. But this was one of the best 6-of-17 performances I've ever seen. His floor game was superb, as he added eight assists, six rebounds and two steals. He went 9-of-10 from the line. He dominated the Clippers in the post. He hounded J.J. Redick into a 2-of-10 shooting night and helped defend Chris Paul. And he did all this while playing 45 minutes and looking absolutely exhausted for much of the fourth quarter. Let's just hope this dude doesn't die by the end of the year.
Every other starter played well. Joakim Noah looked as good as he has all season, putting up 11 points, 16 rebounds and six assists. Noah's troll game was also on point, and one of his final buckets of the night was just a thing of "beauty":
Taj Gibson had 20 points, six assists (!!!!) and five rebounds. Mike Dunleavy had 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting and 4-of-7 from three, while notching a team-high +30. Even Kirk Hinrich was damn good, scoring 14 points, going 4-of-6 from long range and getting as fired up as I've seen him in awhile.
After a rough start on offense, the Bulls shot 48.8 percent overall and went 10-of-26 from three. Chicago racked up a season-high 28 assists and outrebounded Los Angeles, 45-40. The Bulls also outscored the Clippers by 12 in points in the paint. Noah and Gibson did a hell of a job down low on Griffin, getting super physical and making him work hard for his offense.
The Bulls grabbed a three-point lead after one quarter thanks to some solid defense and poor Clippers offense outside of Blake Griffin mid-range jumpers, but things started to get ugly in the second quarter. That three-point lead turned into a 14-point deficit, as Jamal Crawford and Spencer Hawes caught fire. Some Mirotic offense notwithstanding, the Bulls' bench was horrific, with Mirotic and Doug McDermott again really struggling on the defensive end.
But after going down 46-32 with just under four minutes left in the half, the Bulls made a strong push with their starters. It began with a Dunleavy jumper, then Butler hit a three and Noah got a three-point play the old-fashioned way. Five Gibson points later and all of a sudden it was a five-point game. Chicago had the final possession of the half, and after a horrific Hinrich iso, Gibson forced a turnover and Butler pulled a Jamal Crawford on Jamal Crawford by drawing a foul on a made jumper to make it a two-point game at the break.
The third quarter was just a bloodbath. Hinrich really got things going with a couple three-pointers and some solid defense, and that helped sparked the rest of the team. The Bulls outscored the Clippers 31-14 in the third quarter, and the lead ballooned to 19 points in the fourth quarter. Going back to the second quarter, the run was a ridiculous 51-19.
The Clippers threatened somewhat in the fourth quarter, getting to within seven with four minutes left. But Butler closed the door with a man's man and-1, and Dunleavy stuck in the dagger with two final threes.
The Bulls are now 6-0 on the road, which matches a franchise best mark. The other time it happened was in 1996-97, and we know how that season ended. This was one hell of a win short-handed, and while we've learned not to put much stock into these types of regular-season wins, this just feels different. If the Bulls have a stacked deck come playoff time, they have as good a chance to win a title as anybody.