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Clippers hold off Bulls for seventh consecutive win

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Blake Griffin keeps working on his outside shot, but he scored most of his team-high 22 points Tuesday on high-flying dunks. The Los Angeles Clippers owned the air space around the rim while beating the Chicago Bulls 94-89 at the United Center.

Point guard Chris Paul added 18 points for the Clippers, who won their seventh straight game.

"We never really got our rhythm out there tonight," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We didn't convert on the break, but we found a way to grind out a win."

Forward Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 24 points and 13 rebounds. Guard Marco Belinelli added 18 points for Chicago, and Joakim Noah contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds.

The stat sheet told a couple of different stories. The Clippers finished with 17 fast-break points, not a big number by their standards. However, they owned a 22-10 edge in points off turnovers, which annoyed Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau.

"We started dancing with the ball," he said. "When you do that, it just leads to turnovers, live-ball transition buckets. So we shot ourselves in the foot there."

Thibodeau meant that his players held onto the ball too long instead of moving it to their teammates. Point guard Kirk Hinrich offered a more detailed description.

"It means exactly what he said," Hinrich said. "There were times when we got away from what was being effective for us. When we were able to move the ball side to side, make quick decisions and the ball's hopping, we usually got something good. When we didn't, we didn't."

Entering the game, the Bulls were shooting 33.2 percent from 3-point range, which ranked 25th in the league. They defied form Tuesday, though, hitting eight of their first 10 attempts from long range and 10 of 20 overall.

After trailing by nine points with 2:19 remaining, the Bulls closed within 89-87 with 48.3 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Belinelli. The Clippers answered with a Paul pull-up in the lane to go back up by four.

Noah scored on a driving reverse before Paul hit two free throws with 21 seconds remaining to make it 93-89.

"At the end, we knew we're on the road and we'd have to withstand a run," Paul said. "This was a game where we had a lot of bad breaks. But when we play defense, we know we will be OK. We want our identity to be defense."

The Clippers made a move late in the first half, finishing with a 12-2 run to take a 47-40 advantage into halftime. The lead reached nine before the Bulls climbed back. A three-point play by Boozer followed by a 3-point basket from Hinrich lifted the home team to a 60-57 lead with 5:52 remaining in the third quarter.

The Bulls let it get away again late in the third. A clear-path foul on Noah led to a four-point possession by Matt Barnes, who hit a free throw and a 3-pointer.

Trailing 69-65 heading into the fourth, the Bulls never drew even. A couple of baskets by backup point guard Eric Bledsoe sent the Clippers ahead 77-69.

Another edge for the Clippers was in bench strength. They got 34 points from their reserves, including strong contributions from Lamar Odom and Barnes. The Bulls, on the other hand, played four of their five starters at least 40 minutes.

NOTES: Veteran forward Grant Hill has yet to play in a regular-season game for the Clippers, but he is starting to make progress in his recovery from a bone bruise in his right knee. "Yesterday he started running," Del Negro said before Tuesday's game. "He felt pretty good today. He'll run every other day and see how he feels. That's kind of where it's at. No timetable." ... Hinrich was back in the starting lineup Tuesday after missing the second half of Saturday's win over New York with a hyperextended left elbow. ... Belinelli, who averaged 20.3 points in the previous three games, had the best 3-point shooting percentage of his career (.414) while playing with Paul in New Orleans during the 2010-11 season. ... The last time the Clippers won seven in a row was December 1991.
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