With a little less than two minutes remaining, the Bulls were down only four points (95-91) and it looked like they had a realistic shot at stealing this game away from the hometown Clippers. That’s when Steve Nash’s good buddy Baron Davis came down court on a controlled fast break, pulled up just outside the three-point arc, pump-faked Tyrus Thomas into the air, and then jumped right into Chicago’s big man. Davis screamed, flailed his arms and heaved the ball into the air. Whistle. Foul. Three free throw attempts.
That was when I knew the game was over.
Sure, Davis hit only two of the three freebies, but the whole play was a dagger into the heart of Chicago’s comeback attempt. And, honestly, I hate those kinds of plays. Thomas probably wasn’t going to run into Davis, and Davis obviously initiated the contact by intentionally jumping into Thomas. Yet the refs almost always make that call in favor of the offensive player. It’s bogus. Still…Tyrus should have known better. I guess.
All that said, NBA games rarely come down to one play. However, that sequence was indicative of the fact that, overall, the Clippers — yes, the Clippers — played better basketball on the whole. They used aggressiveness and savvy to earn trips to the line, which explains their 39-26 advantage in free throw attempts. Of course, in true Clipper fashion, L.A. missed 16 of those foul shots. Fortunately for them, the Bulls missed nine of theirs.
The Basketball Gods giveth, and They taketh away.
But make or miss, earning free throws in the NBA is like having a great running game in the NFL. It allows a team to set the tempo and control the game. L.A. definitely had the tempo advantage, which showed itself in a 24-10 advantage in fast break points. Yes, you could say that Chicago’s transition defense was something of a problem.
Another problem was the play of Derrick Rose. His final stat line looks great. I mean, he nearly had a triple-double (23 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 blocked shots and a steal). But what bothered me was the fact that he made only two trips to the line all night, and only one trip in the fourth quarter (at which point he missed one of two). Rose was far too willing to pull up for jump shots. In fact, 15 of his 24 field goal attempts were jumpers. When I consider that, all I can think of is Davis making that play to earn those killer free throws in the fourth quarter. That’s how you finish games. Derrick really needs to start learning how to draw fouls. I hated the call that went Baron’s way, but I would have been cheering had Rose pulled it off.
Of course, according to one shot chart, Rose was only 4-for-8 on layup attempts, and he obviously wasn’t earning trips to the line, so maybe the Clippers simply did a good job closing down the paint. In fact, as a team, the Bulls went 11-for-24 (45 percent) on layups and tip shots — and 17-for-33 at the rim (51.6 percent) — so they totally lived down to their rep as one of the worst at-the-rim teams in the league.
Is it better to miss layups or jump shots? Can we get Vinny Del Negro’s take on that?
Chicago also missed John Salmons, who missed the game due to flu-like symptoms. Without the Fish Man — who’s hitting 56 percent of his treys in January — the Bulls had no three-point shooting to speak of and finished 2-for-11 from beyond the arc (including Kirk Hinrich’s 0-for-7 stink bomb). By comparison, the Clips were 5-for-11.
Things weren’t much better on the inside, where the Bulls struggled to contain L.A.’s frontcourt trio of Chris Kaman (20 points, 8 boards, 11 free throw attempts), Marcus Camby (25 rebounds) and Al Thornton (17 points, 7-for-9). It’s worth noting, however, that Chicago got a pretty solid contribution from their own frontcourt contingent of Luol Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds), Joakim Noah (14 points, 15 boards, 3 blocked shots) and Thomas (18 points, 8-for-11, 3 blocks). In fact, Thomas fans could use this game as Exhibit A in the Case for Tyrus Playing 30+ Minutes a Game. Of course, he could get 30+ minutes in the next game and submit Exhibit A in the Case for Tyrus Heading Back to the Bench. You never know with him.
In the final analysis, the Bulls got outplayed by a fairly small margin by a Clippers team that’s not all that bad when healthy. (L.A. recently lost four in a row, including a 40-point drubbing by the Lakers, while Kaman was out with an injury.) Still…opening their seven-game Western Conference road trip with losses to the Warriors and Clippers bodes ill. Chicago’s next five games are in Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans.
Like I said a few days ago, an 0-7 trip isn’t out of the question.
D.J. Foster of ClipperBlog: “The Clippers’ bench built the lead to 14 at the 6:35 mark of the fourth, but the Bulls came roaring back behind some transition opportunities and quick pick and rolls early in the shot clock. After a Noah dunk at the 4:09 mark of the fourth, the Clippers lead was suddenly down to four. Enter Baron Davis. A cringe inducing three point attempt fell first, then a 19-footer the next possession, then a heady pump fake to draw the foul on a three point attempt. After knocking down 2 of 3 from the stripe, the Bulls continued to answer didn’t go away until Baron hit a runner and eventually iced the game with two free throws late. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 9 huge points in the final 4 minutes. Baron’s play down the stretch was clutch scoring at its finest.”