Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Clippers (02.12.21)
Remind Me Later •
The Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Clippers get together for the second and final time this season at the United Center. The Clippers escaped with a 130-127 victory in the first meeting last month in LA behind an outstanding effort from their perennial All-Star, Kawhi Leonard.
Inside LA's famed Staples Center, Chicago got off to a good start, leading 31-22 after 12 minutes, and 59-52 at halftime. Leonard, who had posted 12-points up to then, got blistering hot, especially from distance. He started the third quarter with a steal and a dunk, and then proceeded to knock down five straight 3s before closing out his explosive run with two more thunderous dunks, knotting the score at 87 going into the final stanza.
The game went back-and-forth throughout the fourth quarter, where at one time the Clippers were able to shoot themselves to a six-point lead. But thanks to some clutch marksmanship from Chicago's Garrett Temple, Zach LaVine and Thaddeus Young, the Bulls stayed close until LA was able to gain some distance down the stretch to put the game away.
Leonard led the Clippers' attack with a then season-high 35-points on 14-of-22 (63.6%) shooting overall, including 7-of-9 (77.8%) from deep. The 6'7" forward also reached the 10,000-point scored milestone that night.
LA's Paul George also had a memorable game with 28-points, seven rebounds and nine assists, while longtime super-sub, Lou Williams, added 21-points off the Clippers' bench.
As he's done many times this season and all throughout his Chicago tenure, Zach LaVine produced another eye-popping effort with a game-high 45-points on 15-of-26 (57.7%)
shooting, including 10-of-16 (62.5%) from behind the 3-point arc, along with seven rebounds and seven assists.
Garrett Temple also contributed mightily by stepping into the starting lineup that day, hitting 7-of-8 (87.5%) from the field, including 3-of-4 (75%) from behind the arc for 18-points. Bulls rookie, Patrick Williams, also left a strong impression with a then season-high 17-points, while second-year guard Coby White recorded a career-best 13-assists.
Overall, Chicago had a great shooting night hitting 61% (47/77) from the floor and 54.5% (18/33) from distance, yet they still came away with a tough loss.
As they have done a number of times this season, the Bulls face a daunting challenge over the next few weeks because of injuries to a number of key players. Lauri Markkanen was sidelined last weekend with a badly sprained right shoulder and looks to be out of action for at least two weeks, if not longer. Starting center, Wendell Carter Jr., is also out for two-to-four weeks because of a leg injury, and veteran forward Otto Porter Jr. is laid up for the time being with a bad back. On top of that, fellow reserve wing, Chandler Hutchison, is unavailable due to personal issues.
In the Bulls last outing Wednesday against the New Orleans Pelicans, Chicago came out firing from the start, with its backcourt of LaVine and White putting on a shooting show for the ages. LaVine notched a season-best 46-points, hitting nine 3-pointers, while White contributed 30-points, knocking down eight treys. Thus, the pair became the first teammates in NBA history to make at least eight 3s apiece in the same game.
As for the game itself, the hot-handed Bulls shot their way to an exciting 129-116 victory over the Pels, as the team rewrote the franchise record book, hitting 25 3-pointers on the night. Veteran wing, Denzel Valentine, who started his third game in a row, added four 3-pointers in putting up 16-points, as the Bulls went 25-for-47 (53.2%) from downtown and 48-for-81 (59.3%) overall in coming away with the victory.
The Clippers come into town to complete a brief two-game road trip after splitting their last six games. However, don't for a minute believe LA has had a rough time, as they're 12-4 in their last 16, and their 18-8 overall record is one of the best in the game. If those numbers don't paint a clear enough picture for you, how about this one? If at any point tonight they jump to a 10-point lead, keep this in the back of your mind – they've gone on to win 17 times this season when that happens.
The Clippers have been a top squad in every way, as they're 5th in the NBA in averaging 115 points on 48.1% shooting, while defensively they've been downright stingy, allowing 108 points on 46.5% from the floor.
Leonard leads the charge with an average of 26.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists while shooting a career-best 40.2% from distance. George is close behind at 24.4 points and 6.2 rebounds. Strongman Serge Ibaka is LA's third offensive weapon at 11.8 points and 6.6 boards per game, and veteran forward, Nicolas Batum, chips in 10.1 points and five rebounds.
As a collective unit, the Clippers are shooting an impressive 42.2% from beyond the 3-point arc, and an even more astonishing league-best 84.9% from the free throw line. Defensively, they're holding opponents to just 40.1% shooting, 36.3% from deep, while also grabbing 44.2 rebounds per game.
On Wednesday, LA rebounded from a sluggish start to take down Minnesota, 119-112, snapping a two-game losing streak.
Trailing 53-47 at halftime, LA kicked it into gear during the second half, outscoring the Timberwolves, 72-59, to come away with the victory. Leonard stepped up in Paul George's absence (bone edema, right toe), scoring a season-high 36-points on 13-of-25 shooting to go along with eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. Lou Williams had his best game of the season scoring 27-points on 10-of-15 shooting while collecting five rebounds, four assists and two steals. Reggie Jackson was the Clippers' third-leading scorer, tallying 15-points on 4-of-6 shooting while also dishing four dimes.
As mentioned earlier, LaVine has been fantastic for Chicago all season long. He is one of seven in the league, and two in the East, averaging at least 25.0 points (28.2), 5.0 rebounds (5.3), 5.0 assists (5.3) and 1.0 steals (1.1) per game. He's scored in double digits every time out, and has recorded 40 or more points twice, and 30 or more points 11 times.
As great as he has been, the Bulls need more players to consistently deliver, especially now with the team missing many key players to injury.
Believe it or not, defensive pressure is going to be vital in determining tonight's outcome. Chicago will have to stay poised, focused and alert, quickly rotating on defense, and pay very close attention to the arc, aggressively running at snipers hovering outside looking to cash in from long distance.
Offensively, the Bulls must freely move the ball, skipping it from player-to-player, forcing the Clippers to burn energy playing defense. The ball can't get stuck in LaVine's hands, or anyone else's, for that matter, longer than a couple of beats, while the rest sit back and watch. Everyone needs to constantly move in order to help reduce the pressure on LaVine to score most of Chicago's points.
A key principal for the Bulls is to play fast, but to also take care of the ball, keeping turnovers to no more than 12 a game. Continual player and ball movement, in and out of the paint and all around the arc, creates a free-flowing rhythm and forces the defense to scramble, and oftentimes break down.
Another important aspect the Bulls need to keep working on is its ability to effectively communicate at both ends of the floor. With each game, Chicago has improved in those areas, but there is still plenty of work to do.
To that end, the Bulls must hustle in every way and refuse to back down from any challenge. They have to keep pressuring opponents when they have the ball in their hands and refuse to allow them the opportunity to dictate the pace of the game.
As of this writing, the Clippers are listing George as out due to that nagging toe injury (bone edema, right toe) that cost him playing time against Minnesota. For the Bulls, Carter Jr. was just upgraded to doubtful, while Markkanen, Porter Jr. and Hutchison are definitely out of action.