Baron Davis checks into the game for the first time at [1st, 5:37], along with Marcus Camby. Davis hasn’t played since New Years Eve, and Camby is coming off a five-game absence. The Clippers trail 14-6 and have looked frenetic and without any rhythm whatsoever.
- [1st, 5:37] The Clips are moving right to left. Derrick Rose guards Davis out on the perimeter on the right side of the court. Camby comes up from the box to set a high S/R for Baron. Rose runs through it without much difficulty. The Bulls’ star rookie and Joakim Noah chase Baron has he drives along the left edge of the paint. Luol Deng has cheated off Ricky Davis in the right corner to collapse on Baron. As Baron reaches the restricted circle, he gets up in the air, then swings a beautiful baseline pass to an open R. Davis, who drains the 3PA. At the time, it’s encouraging that Baron chooses to facilitate and challenge the defense on his very first touch.
- [1st, 5:17] In a halfcourt set on the Chicago end of the floor, Baron picks Derrick Rose’s pocket, then ignites the break the other way up the near sideline. Eric Gordon, who had been guarding Ben Gordon out on the perimeter, fills the lane to Baron’s right. As Baron glides into the paint, he flicks a leaping, no-look pass to Gordon. EJ takes a single dribble, then goes up uncontested for the layup…and misses what might be the easiest shot of his life.
Even with Gordon’s missed chippy, it’s hard not to be amped after the first two possessions. Unfortunately, the next 20:30 of Baron’s 21 minutes don’t fare so well. His shot looks very rusty and he has a difficult time finishing. He goes 1-10 from the field, with a single trip to the line, where he hits one of two. A few of his ten shot attempts:
- [2nd, 11:26] Baron doesn’t take his first shot until the opening minute of the second quarter. The Clippers feed Baron in the post just off the left elbow against Derrick Rose. Baron faces up, then launches a 14-footer over Rose that misses short. Baron’s follow-through is off-balanced. It’s almost a textbook definition of “rusty shot.”
- [2nd, 4:29] This is Baron’s only successful shot from the field tonight. Al Thornton kicks the ball out of the post to Davis out on the perimeter against Rose. The rookie has quick feet and stays on top of them to defend. Davis dribbles opposite Rose, trying to tease the rookie with a couple of little fakes as if he’s going to drive, but Rose defends accordingly. So Baron picks up his dribble and launches a long two with his foot on the line. It falls.
- [2nd, 2:11] Davis gets another unmemorable screen up top from Camby that never deters Rose for an instant. Baron bursts into the lane, as all four of his teammates congregate along the arc. Baron’s drive catches the Bulls’ defense by surprise, and the defenders simultaneously collapse. Baron throws himself into traffic and draws the foul. Here, Baron appears to not yet have his game legs. Still a wise play, but if his FGA to start the quarter was a rusty shot, then this is a rusty dribble-drive.
- [4th, 11:23] Jordan tries to set a screen for Baron up top, but it never materializes. Instead, Davis challenges Kirk Hinrich one-on-one. Baron tries to cross him over, but Hinrich isn’t an easily fooled defender, and stays in front of his guy out on the perimeter about as well as anyone. Baron settles for a contested, off-balanced jumper at the elbow that’s nowhere close. Among Baron’s worst FGAs of the night.
It’s a process.
At the time of the last shot, the Clippers are down 20 in the fourth. I point this out not to excuse Baron, but…well…to excuse him a little. Tonight’s game is essentially Davis’ first five-on-five play of the year, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he doesn’t attempt a shot during his first eight minutes of action, but takes a handful of FGAs [and most of the really bad ones] once the game is out of reach. Perhaps I’m giving him too much credit.
In general, the Clippers make life far too easy for the Bulls, who are able to find space for themselves at will in the halfcourt. Chicago makes a number of pinpoint interior passes to find open looks, particularly in the third quarter. They’re not running terribly flashy stuff, just making the best possible pass to the guy who’s got the most space to work with. You see it in the first set of the second half:
- [3rd, 12:00] Noah gets the ball in the post against DeAndre Jordan. Noah faces him up, puts the ball on the floor, and drives left. The instant Noah sees Brian Skinner come to the aid of Jordan, Noah darts a pass right by him to Tyrus Thomas, whom Skinner left along the weak side baseline. Thomas misses the open 12-foot jumper, but it’s a solid set, and a harbinger of things to come for the Clippers in the second half.
The Bulls also execute some very basic stuff to perfection:
- [3rd, 8:38] Something strange happens to the Clippers getting set up defensively. It’s not a quick transition by Chicago, but for whatever reason Al Thornton decides to take Derrick Rose, which would leave the 6′ 2″ Fred Jones on a sizzling Luol Deng. There’s some confusion, as Jones tries to correct the mismatch. But there’s no time, as Rose initiates the offense. It’s a simple pin-down. Deng takes a stroll down to the baseline, then makes a sharp wing cut. Jones can’t follow him because Noah sets a nasty down screen that takes him out of the play. Rose dishes the ball to an open Deng, who nails the easy 15-footer.
The Clippers score only nine points in the third quarter. There are a couple problems that are apparent. First, Joakim Noah takes full advantage of his assignment, Brian Skinner, and essentially operates as an active rover, cutting off penetration, doubling the ball, etc. You’ve also got sets like [3rd, 9:55] where the Clippers simply don’t execute. Jordan is supposed to set an elbow screen that Eric Gordon can rub his man off as he curls up from the baseline to receive the pass from Jones at the top of the circle. Only Jordan’s screen catches absolutely none of Ben Gordon. EJ doesn’t get the space he needs to drain the shot.
The Clips now hit the road for their longest trip of the year, a seven-stop whirlwind that includes games against four of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference.