Right now, with Derrick Rose rehabbing his surgically repaired left knee and Rip Hamilton recovering from a torn plantar fascia in his left foot, the Clippers are a better team than the Bulls. They have a better record. They have more talent.
That said, the Bulls still could have beaten them last night.
But they did not.
Here are four reasons: 17, 17, 22, and 50.
17 as in the number fast break points the Clippers scored.
17 as in the number of turnovers committed by the Bulls.
22 as in how many points the Clippers scored off those turnovers.
50 as in how many points the Clippers scored in the paint.
When playing a superior team, the lesser team has almost no margin for error.
The Bulls could have survived poor shooting nights from Joakim Noah (4-for-9), Luol Deng (3-for-14) and Marco Belinelli (6-for-22) if they’d taken care of the little things.
Getting back in transition.
Protecting the rim.
Taking care of the basketball.
Instead, the Clippers did major damage in transition, even putting on a dunk fest in the second quarter.
They also went 21-for-27 at the rim — a 77.8 percent conversion rate — with Blake Griffin (7-for-9) and DeAndre Jordan (3-for-3) doing most of the damage.
And there were those damn turnovers.
The Bulls were leading 38-37 with 3:44 to go in the first half. Then Deng had a pass stolen and Griffin got a dunk on the other end. On Chicago’s next possession, Belinelli lost the ball and Griffin got another slam. A few possessions later, Noah got stripped and Jordan finished L.A.’s next possession with a putback dunk of his own.
By halftime, the Bulls were down 47-40. That was a critical sequence.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “The end of the second quarter changed the game. We started dancing with the ball. And when you do that, it leads to turnovers, live-ball transition buckets. We shot ourselves in the foot there. And the end of the third was pretty much the same. You can’t do that against good teams.”
The only thing that kept the Bulls in the game was their three-point shooting, which was an uncharacteristic 10-for-20. Of course, after starting 8-for-10 on threes, they finished with a 2-for-10 stretch we like to call “regressing to the mean.”
The Bulls were also challenged offensively. To be frank, L.A.’s length and athleticism killed the Bulls. The Clippers were able to stay close enough to challenge jump shots while laying back far enough to clog the paint and gum up the passing lanes. And, let’s face it, nobody on Chicago’s roster was beating anybody on L.A.’s roster off the dribble.
Last night’s juxtaposition with the Clippers provided a rather grim example of how modest the Bulls’ talents are in terms of team speed and jumping ability.
That made every nearly every offensive possession an ugly, grind-it-out affair, with plenty of misses (the Bulls shot 40.2 percent) and a rather typical reliance on offensive rebounding (the Bulls had 18) just to stay in the game. Carlos Boozer (24 points on 11-for-20 shooting) and Taj Gibson (10 points on 4-for-5 shooting) had it going…but that was it.
As is often the case, the Bulls tried to overcome their offensive deficiencies by passing the rock, but the Clippers seemed to have an arm or hand everywhere and finished with 11 steals.
I admit to obsessing over the turnover problem, but it’s meaningful. The Bulls rank 26th in Pace (90.3 possessions per 48 minutes), 23rd in Effective Field Goal Percentage (46.9) and 28th in Turnover Percentage (14.8). In summary, they’re slow, shoot poorly and lose the ball a lot.
Simply put, the Bulls are not good enough to keep turning the ball over at this rate. The Bulls were absolutely in last night’s game and absolutely could have come away with a win. But they lost 17 possessions and their opponent turned those 17 lost possessions into 22 points.
There is no safety net of Derrick Rose. There is no safety net of the Bench Mob.
Despite their stellar defense, the Bulls can’t possibly hope to be much better than a .500-ish team if they keep turning the ball over at this rate.
Remember: Belinelli drilled a three to pull the Bulls to within 89-87 with under a minute to go. You think the team would like their 5 fourth quarter turnovers back? You think five extra possessions over the final 12 minutes might have made a difference?
And although they aren’t wrong, last night’s game was up for grabs. With Thibodeau’s defense, this team can win on any given nights if they limit their mistakes.
Sadly, that’s proving difficult to do.