The Clippers did something tonight they didn’t do last season until December 9 – win a road game.

With 4:00 left in the game, the Clippers trailed 89-85.  The final four minutes was in no way an encapsulation of the overall game, but the Clippers scattered the floor defensively, executed on the offensive end and willed their way to a victory against a quality team with a closing 12-2 spurt.

Here’s how it ended:

•    The only things working from the field all night are Chris Kaman on the block and Cat Mobley from…anywhere really.  The Bulls have Hinrich on Mobley.  Mobley is able to get underneath him in the mid-post.  Thomas –- who earlier muffed one of the worst entry passes you’ll ever see –- gets it into Cat.  Everything has been falling for Cat all night, but here he spins baseline and misses the left-handed turnaround jumper.  

Kaman comes up with the rebound and gets fouled.  On the inbound, the ball again goes into Cat in the post against Hinrich – this time on the right side.  Cat spins into the paint, gets in nicely between Hinrich and the line, puts up a layup.  Wallace goal tend.  

Chicago 89-87, [3:37]

•    The Clippers defend the S/R exceptionally well all night.  Everyone from Kaman to Thornton to Knight [who, I’m coming to realize, is a real pro.  He’s undersized, but is always where he’s supposed to be].  Here, Hinrich/Smith run it up top.  Knight and Thomas run a trap, but Kaman is right there to step out on Smith, who has rolled down toward the left block.  With Kaman in his face, Smith fires up a 15 footer which rims short.  Chris comes down with the rebound, one of 11 on the night.

•    Corey will have some big shots in the closing minutes, but this isn’t one of them.  The Clips have the floor spread nicely.  The Bulls have stayed at home all night, so the sound thing to do here is find the best one-on-one matchup on the floor, and I’m not sure that Maggette-Deng is it.   With Deng smothering him, Maggette takes two dribbles toward the left elblow, elevates, then launches a fadeaway jumper that barely grazes the rim with :12 left on the shot clock.  Gordon grabs the loose ball.

•    Ben Wallace still sets the nastiest screen in the L.  Way, way up top, he pancakes Brevin Knight, leaving Gordon the length of the halfcourt to rev up and drive left toward the hole.  Unfortunately for him, his layup is met by Chris Kaman’s claw.  Thomas grabs the remains and we go in transition.

Knight delivers a perfect outlet to Maggette, who slams home the break.  

Clippers 89, Chicago 89 [2:56]

•    Another high S/R with Hinrich/Smith.  The Clips recover and Hinrich checks out the weak side.   He works a give-n-go with Wallace at the right elbow.  Hinrich, in motion, picks up the feed behind Wallace and gets a nice look at a 15-footer.  The shot is long and Kaman comes down with it.

•    The Clippers are looking for Mobley in the post again.  And why not?  Knight feeds him off the right block against Hinrich again.   This time, the Bulls send Wallace to help on the double-team.  

What happens here is beautiful recognition by the Clippers.  Deng has had to shift low to cover.  The minute Cat sees it, he shoots a bullet across the halfcourt to Thomas on the weak side perimeter.  Deng begins to close, but Thomas has the look if he wants it…but Corey’s – up top on the arc – is much, much cleaner.  So TT swings it over to Corey, who nails the 3PM.  

Clippers 92, Chicago 89 [2:11]

•    The Bulls table the S/R coming out of the timeout.  Instead, they go into Deng in the post against Corey.   With a right-handed dribble, Deng sweeps across the lane, then stops and pops a 10-footer that’s no good.   Kaman grabs the rebound.

•    The Clippers are running everything through Mobley in the post.  A facsimile of the previous set: The instant Mobley sees the double-team, he shoots it to Thomas out on the garden spot.   It’s a clean look, but the rock caroms off the rim toward the corner.

What happens next will never be repeated in the course of league history.  Thomas sprints toward the baseline, springs himself out-of-play, and -- in a single, fluid motion -- catches up with the ball and scoops it back onto the court.  It’s like the baby carriage scene from The Untouchables.  

And it happened right in front of Scott Skiles.  

The Clips reset.  Back into Mobley in the post.  He backs Hinrich down, spins baseline, and hits the fallaway 16-footer.

Clippers 94, Chicago 89
[1:20]

•    Chicago hustles it downcourt.  Wallace offers Hinrich a quick high screen.  Hinrich rushes toward the hoop, flails up a shot, wants a foul called against TT but doesn’t get it.  Utter Chaos.  The ball skips out of bounds for the Bulls.

On the inbound, Chicago frees up Gordon with an elbow screen.  He gets it in the corner, but can’t get himself free of Knight.  He dribbles back up top and fires up a 25-foot 3PA.  Way off.    Maggette is down on the floor with the rebound.  He calls timeout.  

From there, the Clippers hit a few FTs; the Bulls hit a couple, but the Clippers maintain control over the final minute.

A couple of notes:

•    The Clips open the game by running a stack on the left side with Kaman/Thomas for Maggette.  Mobley, who holds the ball up top, can’t time an entry.  But the scheme is encouraging and demonstrates that Dunleavy is looking for creative ways to free up Corey in the halfcourt.

•    Al Thornton has a nice second quarter.  He hits three 3PM, but my favorite is on a clearout at [2nd, 9:04].  And why not?  It’s the single, easiest way to get him a shot because 10 times out of 10, he can take Andres Nocioni off the dribble in an isolation.  And that’s true of most of the guys who are going to be covering him.  If nothing else, an iso for Thornton forces the opponent to send someone from the weak side.  So once Thornton hones his instinct for recognizing where a double-team is coming from and learns to make an NBA pass, he’ll be invaluable – whether he’s getting a FGA or not.

Dunleavy takes a lot of heat, but what I’ve seen in the first three games is a coach who has deftly recognized the subtle strengths of his ballclub and is exploiting them to the best of his ability.  He’s posting his guards; he’s creating opportunities for his slashers across the middle; he’s trusting his defenders [for the most part], and simplifying the defensive rotation.  And the substitutions and matchup selections have been right on.