Five Takeaways – Clippers 101, Chicago Bulls 91
CHICAGO – “We’ve got some smiles again in the locker room,” Blake Griffin shouted out across the jubilant Clippers locker room as the team gathered together to celebrate a 101-91 win over the Chicago Bulls Saturday night at the United Center in Chicago. The win snapped a two-game losing streak, and helped erase the feeling of a lack-luster loss the night before in Milwaukee.
“We needed a win,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “That was what my pre-game speech was – ‘Find a way to win.’ That was it.”
Trailing by six points at halftime, the Clippers burst past the Bulls thanks to Jamal Crawford’s 25-point explosion and a stingy second half defense that limited the Chicago to just 30 points. Four other starters finished in double figures (Chris Paul – 17 points, Blake Griffin – 16 points, JJ Redick – 13 points, Luc Mbah a Moute – 12 points) as the Clippers rolled to a much needed victory.
“We definitely needed a win,” Crawford said. “Everything is better. The food tastes better and the flight home will be better.”
Here are five takeaways from the Clippers win in Chicago:
1) Luc Leads Lock-Down D – Luc Mbah a Moute finished with 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, but it was his defense that helped lead the way for Los Angeles on Saturday night. Mbah a Moute was tasked with slowing Bulls All-Star forward Jimmy Butler, who entered the game 23.9 points and 6.2 rebounds. Mbah a Moute helped harass Butler into 16 points on just 4-of-7 shots and just four rebounds as Butler led the Bulls in scoring, but was not much of a factor.
Overall, the Clippers defense really stepped up in the second half, holding Chicago to just 12 points in the third quarter and a combined 30 total points in the second half on 10-of-35 shooting from the field.
“We held them to 30 points in the second half,” Rivers said. “There you go. If you hold someone to 30 points with the way we score, you are going to win the game.”
2) Crawford on Fire – Three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner Jamal Crawford entered Saturday’s game against the Bulls like much of the team, in a rut. Crawford had not reached double-figures since Feb. 23, and was averaging 5.5 points in his last four games on 9-of-20 shooting.
He burst out of that slump against his former team, pouring in 25 points on a series of patented smooth drives and long-range bombs. Seventeen of Crawford’s points came in the second half as he was the key figure in the Clippers erasing a halftime deficit.
“When he gets going, there is nobody like him,” Blake Griffin said about Crawford. “To see him come of the bench and do what he does best, there is just nobody like him and it was great to see.”
Despite Crawford’s recent struggles, his head coach was not overly concerned.
“I know that Jamal is always going to break out,” Rivers said. “He will sometimes go into slumps, but he will always come out of it. Jamal always gives you a shooters chance.”
3) Bench Play – The Clippers bench unit had also struggled since the return of Chris Paul on Feb. 24, turning in a disastrous performance in Milwaukee and playing ineffectively against Houston on March 1.
Against the Bulls, everyone contributed and the unit more closely resembled the strong Clippers bench from their franchise-best 14-2 start to the season.
“Tonight it really reminded me of the way the bench was playing at the beginning of the season,” Rivers said. “Then, it was either Austin [Rivers], Jamal or somebody else getting it done. Tonight it was Jamal’s turn and you saw it, no matter what happened at the end of the play, he had the ball.”
Mo Speights drew three charges and provided a huge boost with his energy, as the unit of Rivers, Crawford, Rayond Felton and Wesley Johnson enjoyed a solid run pushing the Clippers lead out to 16 points at one point in the fourth quarter.
“The whole bench, it really was everybody doing it and it started defensively,” Rivers said. “It was the little plays from the bench. I wasn’t planning on playing that five all together, but I decided to take a gamble and I told them they had one minute, but they ended up playing eight minutes together because they played so well.”
4) Find a Way to Win – It was no secret the Clippers were reeling after a 1-4 stretch following the All-Star break, and vs. the Bulls they took Rivers pre-game speech to heart and just found a way to pull out the win.
“We were frustrated,” Griffin said. “But this morning we had a good film session. Guys were positive and we saw what we did well and what worked the last time we played Chicago. I think guys had that in their mind and came out and executed.”
Crawford felt the Clippers had a renewed focus after the rough game vs. the Bucks.
“It was a total team effort,” Crawford said. “We knew we need this one. Doc did a great job. He knows the pulse of this team. He knows what to say and when to say it and how to say it to get his message across. We all believe in what’s going on, we all believe in the big picture.”
Tonight, the message was all about finding a way to win.
5) Backcourt Bonanza – It wasn’t just Crawford who led the way for the Clippers, their entire backcourt dominated Chicago throughout the game, as JJ Redick started out red-hot, hitting his first four shots to finish with 13 points. In total, the Clippers guards of Redick, Paul and Crawford combined for 55 points on 23-of-43 shooting, while the Bulls backcourt of Dwyane Wade, Jerian Grant and Rajon Rondo struggled with a combined 17 points on 5-of-21 shooting.
“It was a good win,” Paul said. “But it’s going to take a lot more. This is just one win. We have to play a complete game consistently to be where we want to go.”