The Clippers once again started the game slowly. While their defense was mostly sharp, the ball barely moved on offense, and players didn’t move with any zip. They struggled to create any looks, and did so mostly through Gallinari and Shai in isolation. After a timeout about five minutes in, the offense opened up a bit, with Shamet in particular attacking off the catch and creating nice looks for teammates. However, the Bulls offense also got untracked, mostly behind Zach Lavine and Robin Lopez. Doc switched up his rotations, leaving Ty Wallace on the bench for Wilson Chandler, playing a very big lineup. This unit was destroyed in the waning minutes of the quarter on defense, ceding open shots time and again and giving the Bulls a 34-29 lead.
The Clippers’ bench rebounded from their horrible end to the first, quickly closing the cap and then takig a three point lead on a 9-1 run led by Montrezl Harrell. Trez’s activity and energy was notable, and he was able to bully his way inside for easy dunks. However, Lou Williams misfired from the field, and that along with some slippage defensively let the Bulls take the lead once more. The Clippers’ starters trickled back in, but they couldn’t make up the difference, particularly against Lopez and Kris Dunn, who got hot. Shai was the only Clipper really creating any easy looks, and they fell behind by six at the half, 63-57.
The Clippers flipped the script in a huge way in the 3rd quarter. Unlike so many of their 3rd periods this year, where the Clippers’ energy and execution have dipped, they stepped up across the board in this one. They dove for loose balls, forced misses and steals, and got out on the break in transition. Shamet hit a three, Gallo nailed one, Zubac hit an and-one, and all of a sudden the Clips were up. The floodgates opened, and the Clippers poured through, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Pat Beverley leading the charge with defense, rebounding, and finishes around the basket. Trez came in and picked up the energy even further with a huge block, and soon, the Clippers were up by 18 points. Then, Doc Rivers and Bulls’ coach Jim Boylen both got ejected from the game after Boylen said something to Trez, Doc replied, and the two coaches exchanged some words. The Bulls went on a run, but a Lou four-point play and Trez and-one got them back up 18.
The 4th quarter was mostly a comfortable affair, with the Bulls consistently nagging at the Clippers’ heels, but never really getting in striking distance or truly putting the game into balance. The Clippers were powered offensively by Montrezl Harrell early on, who had several thunderous dunks to cap off a huge night. However, the Bulls scored easily on the other end, and when the lead was down to 12, Rex Kalamian put the starters back in. They didn’t play much better, but had just enough stops and scores to secure the 128-121 victory (it wasn’t as close as the score makes it look).
Historic 3rd quarter: The Clippers outscored the Bulls 45-21 in the 3rd period, one of their best quarters of the entire season. In fact, 45 points is the most points ever scored in a quarter by the Clippers, so we all watched a bit of history tonight. Really, the defense, energy, and hustle in that quarter was phenomenal, but even more impressive was the ball movement and player movement that led to so many easy looks. The Clippers are at their best when they’re playing loose, and they’ve rarely looked looser than it that quarter. More of that, please.
Spectacular Shai: In an incredibly promising rookie season, this might be Shai’s best and most special performance so far. He scored 17 points on 7-12 shooting, dished out 7 assists to 1 turnover, brought in 7 rebounds, and added 3 steals and a block to an exceptional defensive effort. He was everywhere on both ends of the court, and his long arms and quick instincts were on full display tonight in poking away steals and putting together crazy finishes around the basket. He looked confident and aggressive, led the team on offense throughout the game, and guarded several positions on defense. This is the kind of game that makes you think Shai could be an All-Star, All-Defense level player in his prime.
Winning the offensive glass and turnovers: Two areas where the Clippers have struggled this season is in securing defensive rebounds and turning the ball over. In this one, they were able to win both categories. They brought in 15 offensive rebounds to the Bulls 8, and forced 16 turnovers to their own 7. This enabled them to win the game fairly handily despite the Bulls shooting much better from the field and from deep than the Clips. The Clippers took 99 shots to the Bulls 80, and sheer weight of numbers won out, especially in that 3rd quarter. When they’re getting second chances and not giving opponents easy fastbreak opportunities, the Clippers are very dangerous.
Gallo and Bev continue to percolate: While Lou Williams and Landry Shamet had off nights from the field (though Shamet did make 3-6 threes), their slack was more than picked up for by Gallo and Beverley. Gallo had an incredible 27 points on 14 shots, draining all of his four threes, and generally looking unstoppable whenever he had the ball in his hands. Beverley had one of his now-usual performances, adding 13 points, 8 rebounds (5 offensive), and 7 assists to no turnovers. He’s creating a ton of shots on offense, picking his spots on when to score, and wreaking havoc defensively and on the glass. What a combo those two are in the starting lineup.
Wilson Chandler comes up empty at the 3: Outside of Montrezl Harrell (26 points) and some defense from Garrett Temple, the bench did not play well at all. JaMychal Green could not find any space to launch his shots, Lou Williams didn’t have any space and seemed pressured to do too much on offense, and Wilson Chandler was generally invisible. While Chandler might be a better player in a vacuum than Ty Wallace, he’s not a small forward anymore, and the Clippers’ bench really needs Wallace’s defense, ball-handling, and ability to push the pace. It’s just one game, but the Chandler at the 3 lineups did not look good on either end, and the fit just doesn’t seem right.
Next up, the Clippers play the Nets at home on Sunday. The Nets are a solid enough team, but the Clippers are better, and that’s another game they need to win if they are to avoid the 8th seed – and a date with the Warriors in the 1st round of the playoffs.