Last night saw a big bounce-back game for the Bulls defense, as they followed up a nearly-worst-of-the-season 119 defensive rating versus the Warriors with their best non-Detroit performance putting up a 91.9 against the Clippers.
Granted, the Clippers are a much worse offensive team than Golden State, and were on the second half of a back-to-back. But being on this road trip without 2 high-minute frontcourt players in Nikola Vucevic and Patrick Williams and seeing defensive slippage stop at a single game deserves a ton of credit.
And it is even more remarkable given how the Bulls rotation backfilled for these big-man absences. Billy Donovan had Tony Bradley in the center spot, but promoted Alex Caruso to the starting lineup to take on Paul George.
And George was held to a fairly pedestrian night by Caruso, as while Caruso gives up a few inches he has the lateral quickness, hands, and tenacity to make life difficult for any offensive focal point. George hit 11 free throws (Caruso got in early foul trouble) but only shot 7-25 from the field. If you watch George’s misses inside the arc, it’s not just Caruso as Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine also had stout possessions against the Clippers’ All-Star.
And then Donovan went even wackier in replacing Bradley with JaVonte Green. Green’s 22 minutes were a +9, and his lineups where the tallest guy was 6’7” played the last 6 minutes of the game and secured the victory.
The Clippers were abysmal taking care of the ball to begin this game with 10 turnovers in the first quarter alone, but eventually settled a bit to where the Bulls defense had to be more just fundamentally sound.
This Bulls' defense is so good pic.twitter.com/r9Vl5rjHPv— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 15, 2021
I guess it’s just the awesome power of wingspan and moving your feet and playing your tails off while disciplined.
And the lack of tall-ies did not hurt the defense in other ways, with Donovan making the correct assumption that the Clippers were not going to punish them with size. L.A. is a bottom-5 offensive rebounding team, and the undersized Bulls held them around their season average in that department. And while it certainly looked dicey to see Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein tower over some Bulls lineups...they’re ultimately still just Ivica Zubac and Isaiah Hartenstein after all. The Clippers only bigs themselves (George plays at PF) combined just 11 points on 4-8 shooting in their 37 minutes, definitely not able to take advantage of what the Bulls were doing.
With the Bulls being forced to innovate out of necessity, a lot depends on these matchups. For the Warriors, not so good. Against the Clippers, a fantastic night.