This was all about relief and recovery.
Against the Clippers late Sunday night, the Bulls needed to shake lethargic play that extended back to the final quarter of their victory over the Nuggets on Wednesday, a win secured only by a heads-up defensive play by Tyson Chandler.
The next night they were vanquished almost from the start and humiliated in an 18-point rout by Sacramento, on national television no less.
They arrived at the Staples Center 1-5 on a two-week trip and in need of resuscitation. They got it by pulling out a 97-91 victory secured by two free throws by Kirk Hinrich with 9.4 seconds left.
"It's not a game where we want to mess around and fall behind in, that's for sure," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said before the game.
"A lot of times you can come back on teams that don't have experience. The Clippers have a lot of experience. It would definitely benefit us to get out to a good start."
Frustration set in early for the Bulls, but they didn't lose their composure for long. Hinrich picked up his second foul with 6 minutes 25 seconds left in the first quarter and was hit with a technical when he argued the call. Skiles also protested and picked up a technical.
The Bulls already were short-handed at point guard. Chris Duhon didn't suit up because of a bruise in his left thigh and Skiles opted for Jannero Pargo, who became a backcourt savior with 17 points.
By the third quarter, the Bulls had control of the game and never trailed in the second half. Ben Gordon and Hinrich had less to do with the Bulls' lead than reserves Darius Songaila and Pargo. Songaila scored 12.
Hinrich came to life in the fourth and finished with 17 points, although he went 7-for-20.
Michael Sweetney also played a role with four points and six rebounds. He lost a tooth after getting hit in the face in the third quarter.
This will go down as one of the Bulls' memorable wins this season because they upset a far-from-typical Clippers team. In the past they were considered an also-ran behind the Lakers in this town, but they have put together an astounding turnaround and are in second place behind Phoenix in the Pacific Division.
They have a MVP candidate in Elton Brand, traded by the Bulls in 2001 for Tyson Chandler, and boast another savvy veteran in Sam Cassell.
Brand scored 29 points to go with 15 rebounds. Friday he matched a career high with 44 points in a victory over the Grizzlies.
At almost every position, the Clippers were supposed to have a sizable advantage. Brand certainly had it. But he was the one and only.
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