COMMENTARY | Something was wrong with the way the first half was going for the Chicago Bulls against the visiting Los Angeles Clippers Tuesday.
The Bulls were staying with the Clippers, who appear to be the better team as long as the Bulls play them without Derrick Rose. But the Bulls were staying with them by using the three-pointer, a weapon they don't make nearly enough use of in most games.
By the time the second half rolled around, the Clippers had a head of steam and used it to run the Bulls out of the United Center. The final score was 94-89, but the Clippers were in control of the second half, and were stealing and dunking the way they do so well, as well perhaps as any team in the league.
"When you give a team like that lay-ups and dunks, you are making your job twice as hard,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said after the game.
Going into the game, the Bulls had their first three-game win streak of the season and were coming off their first signature win, the victory over the New York Knicks on Saturday. But the Clippers were coming into the game with their second six-game win streak of the season and one of the best overall records in the league at 14-6.
The Bulls average just over four made 3-pointers a game. They had four in the second quarter alone Tuesday. That's why they had a 38-37 lead with four minutes to go in the first half. But the Bulls missed six straight shots and had three turnovers, allowing the Clippers to score the last six points of the half and take a 47-40 lead into the locker room. When the second half started, the game changed into a running, high-pressure contest. It's not the kind of game the Bulls like to play, and it showed, as the Clippers held court through the second half. They had 10 baskets in the fourth quarter, and four of them were dunks.
Carlos Boozer finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds, and Marco Belinelli had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists. He had four 3-pointers, which was the same number the Clippers had as a team. He also went six for 22 in getting his 18 points.
But in an up-and-down game, even the losing team is going to compile stats.
"We cut it down to a couple of points, but Blake (Griffin) and Chris (Paul) made tough plays,'' Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. "We have to do a better job of closing out quarters and finishing games."
What they have to do is instill their will upon a game. They did not play against the Clippers Tuesday; they played with them. It ended up being a Clippers kind of game, and the Bulls had to know they wouldn't beat the Clippers at their own game.
The Knicks and Clippers were the first of eight straight games for the Bulls against teams with winning records. They play at Philadelphia Wednesday (with short rest thanks to the late starting game for national TV Tuesday), then they play Brooklyn, Memphis, Boston, New York again and Atlanta before getting a break of sorts against the Houston Rockets at home Christmas Day.
The Bulls must play those games in their own style, which is disciplined offense and aggressive defense. Nothing else will serve them for the next two weeks.
Kent McDill has covered the Bulls for three different companies: for United Press International from 1985-88, for the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Ill., from 1988-99 and currently for NBA.com. He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title "100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die'' published by Triumph Books.