The Los Angeles Clippers are now 10-5 on the season, but none of their first nine victories were truly dominant. In home wins over Houston and Golden State, they built huge leads on the strength of spectacular offensive displays, but they also allowed those opponents to score almost at will, always leaving a bit of doubt as to whether the lead was truly safe.
Sunday against the Chicago Bulls, the Clippers finally got that wire-to-wire domination they had lacked all season. Clearly the Bulls were out of sync after the loss of superstar Derrick Rose to a knee injury for the second time in 18 months -- but then again, it's possible the Clippers were simply in such a good groove on Sunday that it wouldn't have mattered much who was playing for the Bulls.
It should be noted that though the Bulls finished the game below 40% shooting from the field, most of that was due to a dismal showing by their reserves in the fourth quarter. Through three quarters, the Bulls were actually shooting better than 50%. But although it wasn't a great defensive performance to that point, it was still pretty good, and much better than we've come to expect. The Bulls were making some tough shots, and the Clipper defense was contesting almost everything. Through three quarters, the defense did enough.
More importantly, for the first time in a while we saw the offensive juggernaut that this team can be. The Bulls were third in defensive efficiency coming into the game, and that's no fluke given that they have been a top defensive team ever since Coach Tom Thibodeau arrived in Chicago in 2010. Chicago had not given up 100 points in eight consecutive games, and hadn't given up more than 107 all season. The Clippers hung 121 on them. Yes, Chicago was missing two starters and Jimmy Butler is a key defender for them, but still, this is the Thibodeau Bulls, and teams just don't do whatever they want against them.
But the Clippers did. LA scored 65 points in the first half. They reached 100 just a few minutes into the fourth quarter. The shot over 58% for the game. They put six guys in double figures and all 12 Clippers in uniform scored. And for perhaps the first time, the full vision of the Jared Dudley/J.J. Redick wing tandem came into focus, as the two newcomers combined to score 40 points on 16-21 shooting.
Now you might say that jumpshots are not going to fall at a 75% clip for Dudley and Redick all season, and rightly so. But I would counter that wide open looks, which we've always assumed would be available for the Clipper wings in abundance, which came their way today and indeed have been there pretty much all year, should be falling at a pretty high rate -- higher than we'd seen through the first 14 games. So no, I don't expect them to make every jump shot the way they seemed to today, but I do expect them to make a lot as long as they keep getting clean looks.
We also got our first look at Antawn Jamison today, and one thing is for certain -- he can score. He missed his first three shots before hitting four of his last five, including a three pointer. He finished with 11 points in 15 minutes in his first game action of the season. Given that the Clipper reserve bigs have been terrible on defense and rebounding already, there's little downside to playing Jamison ahead of Byron Mullens or Ryan Hollins, because at least Jamison should be able to help on the offensive end.
Chris Paul finished with 17 assists, tied for the highest single game total in the NBA this season, and the second time he's done it. And he accomplished that in 27 minutes while sitting out the entire fourth quarter. Blake Griffin had 15 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots in just 27 minutes himself. The three blocks were particularly impressive -- all three came from on ball defense, one against Joakim Noah, one against Carlos Boozer and one against Taj Gibson. Griffin was as active on defense and rebounding, as he has been in any game this season.
The Bulls are obviously not the same team without Rose, and they could be excused if the first game after the devastating news of his injury were not their best performance. But the Clippers have had letdowns against the Lakers (without Kobe Bryant), the Magic, and played to the level of the Nets (without pretty much everybody) so it was still good to see four quarters of dominant basketball -- perhaps especially because the Bulls were wounded.
Last season, the Clippers bench was so good that the starters took the fourth quarter off almost as often as not in the early part of the season. This year, that has not been the case, as no lead has been safe from the effects of the Clippers bench. But with Griffin, Paul and DeAndre Jordan all logging season lows in minutes, the starters finally got a quarter off in the 15th game of the season. The fact that Chicago's already thin bench was missing two guys who had moved into the starting lineup had more than a little to do with that, but still it was good to see. Darren Collison, who has struggled all season despite the fact that he was expected to be a key catalyst off the bench for the Clippers this season, had by far his best game since joining the team, with season highs of 14 points and 5 assists, while making 4-6 from the field. If Collison can get going, it will do a lot to help the second unit.
The Clippers face another reeling opponent in their next game, when the confused and confusing Knicks come into STAPLES Center Wednesday night. Hopefully LA can build on the momentum of their most impressive showing of the season and put together another dominant performance.