Entering the night, the LA Clippers had gone 7-3 in their last 10 games, sported the 7th-best offense in the NBA, and held 7th place in the Western Conference standings. The difference between 3rd and 10th place in the West has been only a handful of games, and with just 17 games remaining in their regular season, the Clippers would begin the first of 10 on the road (3 on this trip). They have upcoming 3 pairs of back-to-back games, with 14 of their remaining matchups coming against teams with winning records. Tonight was one of the few games remaining against a lottery-bound team, making it a must-win.
The Chicago Bulls were without Lauri Markkanen (back) and Justin Holiday (DNP-CD), both notable contributors for an already-struggling team. The Bulls entered the night with a 23-43 record, having won just 3 of their previous 10 games. Though they had a dismissible record, they did just come off a 129-point performance in Atlanta; they have shown an ability to score by committee and pass well, often making them a tough team to guard. They held the lead for most of the 2nd quarter, and even kept it close much of the night. Close calls aside, and despite a very mediocre defensive performance, the Clippers would prevail, 112-106.
DeAndre Jordan led the way for the Clippers with a monster outing of 29 points, 18 rebounds, 5 assists (!), 2 blocks, and 1 steal on 11-12 shooting from the field. Lou Williams, who had a game-high 5 turnovers, made up ground with his 26 points and 5 assists, also going 13-14 at the free throw line. Tobias Harris, Austin Rivers, and Montrezl Harrell would also finish the game in double-figures, with all but Wesley Johnson and Boban Marjanovic putting points on the board. The Clippers can also credit their win to excellent ball movement, finishing with 27 assists on 37 made field goals.
Getting to the Line
The Clippers managed to eke out a win against the Bulls despite getting out-rebounded 45-42, losing the points-in-the-paint battle 54-60, and turning the ball over 14 times (vs the Bulls’ 9). The Bulls also attempted 25 more field goals than the Clippers in the matchup, taking 101 shots from the floor versus the Clippers’ 76. The Clippers can credit some heroic performances and excellent ball movement, but getting to the free throw line was the biggest factor in their win. The Clippers started doing their damage from the stripe early on; with 9:33 remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Clippers were already in the bonus. By the end of the first half, the Clippers had already gone 15-21 at the line. The Bulls, by contrast, had taken just 3 free throw attempts by halftime.
The Clippers got to the line so often by pushing the ball up the floor from the jump. Though it sometimes resulted in some careless passing, being aggressive in transition allowed them to create defensive mismatches and confusion for the Bulls. The Clippers finished the night 30-41 from the free throw line, with 20 of those coming from Jordan and Williams. This has been a strength for the Clippers all season long, and will need to continue to be going forward.
Foul trouble ultimately hurt the Bulls, disrupting their rhythm and forcing lineup changes, but they deserve credit on a few fronts. While moral victories are virtually non-existent in the NBA, the Bulls were clearly out-matched in talent but lost by just 6 points. The Bulls finished the night with 26 assists on 43 made field goals, committing just 9 turnovers in the process. Bobby Portis led the way, off the bench, with 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 steals on 50% shooting from the field and from the arc. David Nwaba, Robin Lopez (who only played in the first half), Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, and Cameron Payne all finished the night in double-figures. This Bulls team shares the ball, plays hard on defense, and finds ways to keep games close, and that’s about as much as you can ask for from a very young, developing group.
The Clippers will enjoy tonight’s win for now, but it’s going to be a tough road ahead. They will face the league-leading Houston Rockets on Thursday, followed by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. With Avery Bradley expected to miss the remainder of the season, and Danilo Gallinari not expected to return any time soon, this Clippers team will need to dig deep to find ways to win.