Five thoughts from tonight’s game:
- Bench Play – After a sloppy first quarter from the starters, the Clippers bench came in and made an immediate impact, accounting for 22 of the team’s 50 first half points. Al Thornton’s role becomes more and more defined as the season moves along, and again tonight he proved what he’s capable of doing when healthy. Thornton went 7 for 9 from the field for 17 points in 17 minutes of play by winning his one on one battles and attacking at every opportunity. Ricky Davis flirted with a triple double with 8 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists in his 27 minutes. Craig Smith didn’t get to double-digit points again tonight, but he did have the game high +/- mark at +12. The bench may need to continue their hot play, as both Gordon and Telfair went down with injuries late in the second half tonight.
- Bulls Offense – It’s no real secret that no one on the Bulls roster can score in the low post. Since that’s the case, the Bulls are forced to shoot a ridiculous amount of jumpers in the halfcourt setting; they actually lead the league by an overwhelming margin in attempts from 16-23 feet, which also happens to be the least efficient area on the basketball court to shoot from. Point being, if the Bulls are missing their perimeter looks in the halfcourt, they’re likely going to lose. Part of the reason the Bulls were able to jump out to an early lead was because they avoided their halfcourt offense like the plague. By constantly pushing the ball and turning the game into a track meet of sorts, the Bulls were able to jump out to an early 26-19 lead. When the tempo finally settled down, the Bulls offensive deficiencies became more clear. They had no one to dump it into on the block, so instead they settled for lots of Hinrich and Rose jumpers. The pair of guards combined to go 13 for 38 (34%) from the field. You live by the jumper, you die by the jumper.
- Clippers Bigs vs Noah – There may not be a player in the NBA who more closely resembles Camby’s unique style of play than Joakim Noah. Both attack the offensive glass incredibly hard, both are very good defensive rebounders, both have hideous jumpers (although Camby’s is effective while Noah’s is not), and both play with an incredible amount of energy. Tonight, Camby pulled in an obscene amount of rebounds (25) while Noah posted yet another double-double (14 points and 15 rebounds). Chris Kaman struggled a bit when matched up against Noah, and found most of his success (surprisingly enough) taking Noah off the dribble. Tonight’s game really served as evidence to the maturation of Chris Kaman. Instead of banging his head against the wall and continuing to fire up jumpers against a phenomenal and lengthy defender in Noah, Kaman put the ball on the ground and forced Chicago to send him to the line. Noah is one of the better post defenders Kaman will see all year, and to put up 20 points against him and a strong Chicago defense is impressive.
- Offensive Versatility – Individually, the Bulls have a ton of defensive talent spread across the floor. Hinrich is a tough perimeter defender, Noah is emerging into a premier post defender, and Luol Deng can more than hold his own against most small forwards. Ideally, you don’t want to attack these defenders in one on one situations. As soon as the outsized Jannero Pargo got on the floor though, the Clippers attacked their new found mismatch. It didn’t always yield points, but more often than not the Clippers offense felt “smart” tonight in the halfcourt. If opposing coaches want to play specialists, smaller guards or general defensive liabilities, Dunleavy will always call sets to attack those players. More often than not, it works.
- Baron Davis, Dagger Provider – The Clippers’ bench built the lead to 14 at the 6:35 mark of the fourth, but the Bulls came roaring back behind some transition opportunities and quick pick and rolls early in the shot clock. After a Noah dunk at the 4:09 mark of the fourth, the Clippers lead was suddenly down to four. Enter Baron Davis. A cringe inducing three point attempt fell first, then a 19-footer the next possession, then a heady pump fake to draw the foul on a three point attempt. After knocking down 2 of 3 from the stripe, the Bulls continued to answer and didn’t go away until Baron hit a runner and eventually iced the game with two free throws late. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 11 huge points in the final 4 minutes. Baron’s play down the stretch was clutch scoring at its finest.