Yesterday afternoon, I received an email from fellow TrueHoop Network member Kevin Arnovitz of ClipperBlog informing me that Baron Davis was probable for the Bulls-Clippers game. My heart sank. My heart threatened to hop out of my chest and go watch figure skating instead when, right before tipoff, I realized that Marcus Camby also was going to play. Not exactly Magic and Kareem*, I know, but here’s something I couldn’t help but to have noticed over the years: In many cases (if not most), NBA teams choose home games against bad teams to bring back injured players. Especially stars.
(*It’s kind of sad that the Clips don’t have their own great former guard/center combo I could use for that example.)
And it makes sense, if you think about it. It pumps up the team and the fans, and it lets the returning player (or players) get their feet wet against lesser competition…usually with very good results. I mean, did you see what Orlando’s Mickael Pietrus did to the Pacers the other night?
Davis and Camby were understandably rusty during the first half. But, luckily for L.A.’s Other Team, the Bulls were sloppy (10 turnovers through quarters one and two) and failed to capitalize on a strong first quarter one-two punch from Luol Deng and Derrick Rose (who combined for 21 of the team’s 24 points).
I was nervous and twitchy during those initial 24 minutes. Against my wishes, Vinny Del Negro gave Aaron Gray some daylight in the first half. The big man quickly earned an “And one!” off a nifty jump hook, after which (per usual) the Bulls broadcastng team of Stacey King and Neil Funk tried very hard to talk themselves and their listeners into Gray’s potential. Sadly, the Gray Experiment quickly fell apart and resulted in three quick turnovers: One when Aaron traveled on a post move and two back-to-back as the Chicago guards tried to force the ball into him. So much for that. Gray did finish the game with 9 points but also had more fouls (2) than rebounds (1).
The Bulls completed the first half of action with a 47-44 lead. My palms were sweaty. I figured it was a tease. The Clippers would come out fired up and take control of the game with a big third-quarter run. Right scenario, wrong team. The Bulls outscored the Clips 26-9 in the third stanza and the game was pretty much over. L.A. never got any closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
Several Chicago players had really strong games. That’ll happen when the other team can’t be bothered to play defense. Luol Deng scored a game-high 23 points (on 10-for-17 shooting) to go along with his 9 rebounds. Derrick Rose added 21 points (9-for-13), 6 assists and (ugh) 5 turnovers. Tyrus Thomas finished with a double-double (16 points, 10 boards) although, typically, he took way too many jumpers (eight of ’em, of which he hit two). Joakim Noah almost had double-double (10 points, 8 rebounds) plus a game-high 4 blocked shots. Ben Gordon shot only 4-for-12, but he did have a season-high 8 assists.
On the flipside, the Clippers, well, they are who we thought they were. L.A. shot 36 percent as a team and didn’t get much out of their returnees: B-Diddy finished with 3 points on 1-for-10 shooting and The Camby Man had 6 points (1-for-3) and 6 boards. Rookie Eric Gordon led his team with 19 points (6-for-16), 7 assists and a game-high 6 turnovers. Oh, and just like when the teams met in December, Eric fouled Ben on a three-point shot, only with far less drama.
It was the Bulls biggest win of the season, both in terms of final margin (95-75) and its effect on the team psyche. Losing this game might have been like slamming a couple photon torpedoes into their Starship Enterprise. And Vinny Del Negro was suitably relieved afterwards: “I thought our ball movement was the difference. We had a good flow tonight. Winning builds confidence, that’s the bottom line. We just have to build, play smarter, execute better down the stretch. I like our mind-set right now.”
Blowing out bad teams on the road can do wonders for the mind-set of a struggling team. And their coach. But Vinny should probably keep in mind that, coming into the game, the Clippers had lost 16 of 18 games. Now it’s 17 of 19. They have only 10 wins on the year. I’m just saying: Let’s keep things in perspective.
But let’s also enjoy the win.