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Clippers 90 - Chicago 82 - Just When We Thought They Were Done

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It's hard to figure this game sometimes.  The Bulls, having just won five straight road games against five good teams, were among the hottest teams in the league.  The Clippers on the other hand had lost four straight, including games against the two worst (not two of the worst, the two worst) teams in the league.  The Bulls were home, rested, and on a roll.  I fully expected Chicago to win this game.

Instead, a 16-4 Clippers run midway through the first quarter resulted in an 8 point lead at 24-16, and they never trailed again.  Chicago got no closer than six the second half.  Each time it seemed that they might make a run, the Clippers responded with a big play - an Eric Gordon three, a steal and a dunk, a defensive stand.


Final - 2.2.2010 1 2 3 4 Total
Los Angeles Clippers 31 19 28 12 90
Chicago Bulls 26 16 21 19 82

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Chicago is by no means a great offensive basketball team - and the Clippers defense exposed their weaknesses.  Luol Deng began the game making five straight jumpers to score their first twelve points, but honestly if you can limit the penetration of Derrick Rose and contest the perimeter shots, you'll take your chances against the Bulls.  Sure enough, Deng cooled off (which is putting it mildly as he missed all seven shots he took after the first quarter), and the Clippers forced every other Chicago player into a tough shooting night.  As a team, Chicago shot only 38%, and that number was the same in each half of the game. 

Offensively it was a mixed bag for LA.  Chris Kaman had a terrific first half; a lackluster second half.  Eric Gordon had a poor first half; a stellar second half.  But each was able to carry the scoring load for a portion of the game, and with the support of Rasual Butler (6 for 8 and 3 for 3 on threes) it was enough to outscore the Bulls. 

Kaman scored 21, 15 in the first half, and in stark contrast to the first game against Chicago, he was dialed in on his jumper.  HoopData has him 4 for 7 from beyond 16 feet.  Unfortunately, he was not finishing well around the basket - they've got him at 3 for 8 at the rim.  And all three of those makes were assisted, so he did not finish a one-on-one post move the entire game.  In his defense, he was not getting any love from the refs - they rewarded him with only a single trip to the free throw line, and there could easily have been several other calls.  But he also had some Mr. Flippy moments where he just missed or didn't finish as strongly as he should have.

Gordon scored 24 in the game, with 15 coming in the third quarter.  It's been awhile since EJ has gone on a scoring outburst like that.  It was good to see.  When his jumper is falling as it was in this game, it makes a huge difference in his game.

When Chicago's defense clamped down in the fourth quarter, things got a little dicey.  Kaman was 1 for 5 in the fourth.  The team began the quarter making just one of their first ten shots - exactly the opportunity Chicago needed to get back into a game they trailed by 15.  Unfortunately for the Bulls, the Clippers defense didn't allow them to capitalize.  So while the Clippers were missing all those shots, the Bulls were missing almost as many (it wasn't the prettiest quarter I've ever watched.)  When the Clippers finally got the lid off the basket, they were able to put it out of reach pretty quickly.  They scored only 12 points in the quarter, but with a 15 point cushion going in and the defense playing well, it was enough.

It's almost cruel how this team does just enough to keep Clips Nation's hopes alive.  They were sub-terrible in the last four games and we were ready to move on to lottery mode around here.  Then again, they're now 11-2 with their 'regular' starting lineup (if you can call it regular when it's been used 11 times in 48 games).  In fact, given that one of the losses was the New Jersey game in which Camby played only seven minutes before leaving with a bruised rib, you could argue that the lineup is really 11-1.  They're 0-6 without Kaman - even .500, 21 and 21 with him.  Similarly they are 4-8 without Eric Gordon.  So with Gordon AND Kaman, they're a respectable 17-13.  But why are they so completely helpless when even one cog is missing?  Why are they so delicate that they can't compete with a single starter missing?

Unfortunately for the Clippers, they now have a really tough back to back tomorrow night against the Hawks.  Not only do they have almost 600 miles of travel (shorter than LA to Portland, but a haul nonetheless), they're going East one time zone - so the Atlanta game starts an hour earlier. 

I didn't think they had much chance in Chicago and they proved me wrong.  Can they do it again tomorrow in the ATL?