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Clippers Rally in Chicago to Beat Bulls, 101-91

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The team finally picked up a much-needed win with a second half comeback, but it doesn’t allay their recent struggles.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Chicago Bulls Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The first half of this game seemed like it was more of the same for the Clippers, coming off consecutive blowout losses to Houston and Milwaukee. But in a pleasant surprise, they came out strong in the second half and ended up winning comfortably on national TV in Chicago. The 101-91 triumph, keyed by a vintage performance from Jamal Crawford, doesn’t solve all of the Clippers’ issues, but hopefully it’s the start of a turnaround and not a false flag like the Hornets win.

Alongside Jamal, four of the five starters chipped in double figure scoring (DeAndre Jordan being the sole exception). None of the Core 4 really had a standout performance tonight, despite a solid +/– as a unit. Blake Griffin put up 16-6-7, but the scoring came on an inefficient 18 shooting possessions (his 5-15 mark from the field buoyed by three perfect trips to the line). J.J. Redick came out guns blazing with 8 in the first quarter, but only made 2 of 7 the rest of the way.

The best performance from the starters (relative to expectations) came from Luc Mbah a Moute, who made his first five shots while playing excellent defense on Jimmy Butler, held in check most of the night. But the Clippers’ saving grace tonight was definitely Bulls-killer Jamal Crawford, who turned in one of his best performances of the season against the team that originally drafted him — 17 seasons and 17 coaches ago. He put up 25, with 18 coming in the second half, inspiring and carrying an otherwise moribund second unit.

Speaking of killers, Clippers nemesis Robin Lopez was at it again early on, putting up 10 points and 2 offensive boards in the first quarter. The game started off with hot shooting from both teams, a cavalcade of midrange shots falling for everyone but Blake.

The offense started faltering for LA as the bench entered, much like it did against Houston the other night. Meanwhile, the Bulls started to pull away as they made hay on second chance opportunities, taking advantage of some ludicrous lackadaisery from DeAndre (and the rest of the team, although seeing him neither jump nor box out stuck out).

Chicago opened up a double digit lead early in the second quarter and cut up a woeful Clips second unit, and while the starters cut into that deficit their defensive struggles continued. The Bulls put up 29 in the first quarter and 32 in the second, much of their production coming from their big men.

Bobby Portis easily motored around Blake’s half-hearted perimeter contests and abused him off the dribble in the first half. He outhustled him on several consecutive fast breaks near the end of the second quarter and went on a personal 7-0 run to push Chicago’s lead back to 9 after LA came within 2. Lopez, Portis, and Cristiano Felicio all outproduced a much superior frontcourt.

Sure, some of it was being on a SEGABABA after playing the Bucks, but that was undercut by their second half performance as the Bulls suddenly looked like the team on a road back-to-back. The Clippers came out much stronger in the second half, bringing the deficit to one before seemingly stalling out. As the bench re-entered the game it felt like it was going to be a rehash of last week’s loss to the Spurs.

Instead, Crawford caught fire and the rest of the bench reacted to his offensive exuberance. They ended the quarter on a 10-0 run punctuated by a trademark 30-foot Jamal bomb, and the ball started zipping around in the fourth. Mo Speights, struggling with his shot, drew three charges and dunked on an unchallenged rim run starting from beyond the arc. Once Wes Johnson hit a stepback foul-line jumper off the dribble to push the lead to 15, the rest of the game was merely a formality. The core guys came back in with four minutes left when the Bulls got within 10, but they never put the outcome in doubt.

The Clippers now return home for a Monday night TNT showdown with the Celtics before going right back on the road for a Minnesota/Memphis SEGABABA, an unfortunate scheduling quirk that disadvantages LA. Interestingly, the Warriors are about to go through the same thing, returning home to play Boston on Wednesday before back-to-back road fixtures against the Wolves and Spurs.

Does this win snap the Clippers back into the grooves we saw in early November and January? I’m not sure, especially since the upcoming schedule means they’ll be feeling the real exhaustion and travails of the road schedule alongside whatever slump they’re currently going through. Considering the Hornets win didn’t change much, I’m not sure this provides much of an emotional jolt either, although Doc Rivers might disagree. From Bill Oram’s game recap:

At the Clippers’ morning film session, Rivers told his players they needed to acknowledge they were trapped in a malaise before they could break free from it.

“We had a long talk,” Rivers said. “I said we have to acknowledge it, embrace it and then move on. They moved on tonight.”

These sort of midseason doldrums are stretches every team goes through, but they’ve felt especially true of the Clippers since 2014 — each postseason heartbreak and wasted year of Chris Paul’s waning prime seemingly weighing down the team more and more, an NBA-style Groundhog Day.

Reading the Doc quote above, I was reminded — of all things — Deadpool. While it’s still pretty funny and Ryan Reynolds is great, the plot doesn’t hold up nearly as well on rewatch. Once you get past all the self-awareness and sardonic referential humor, how little does it actually deviate from your standard by-the-numbers superhero origin story? Instead, the film distracts you by lampshading every potential criticism before someone else can do it, as if pointing it out inoculates them from the effects of falling on the same tired tropes.

This is more thematic similarity than full-blown analogy; if we went that route, the Clippers are better compared to an incumbent movie franchise gone stale than an upstart that oversold how groundbreaking it was.

The common thread that struck me is the self-awareness —while the Clippers have never been as beloved or commercially successful or critically well-received as that blockbuster was, they’ve always been their own biggest critics, extremely cognizant of their shortcomings and how others perceive them. I’m sure they have been genuinely trying to address those issues, but the continued sameness of it all is frustrating.

In his movie review, the AV Club’s A.A. Dowd noted, “At a certain point, you have to do more than just recognize and point out the mold. You have to actually shatter it.”

The Clippers continue to feint at subverting expectations, but yet again it seems unlikely to actually end any differently. The eternal optimists like myself will be disappointed again, left with nothing but more egg on our face.