So much energy had been exerted by the Clippers on Friday night in Sacramento that they were forced to summon whatever they had in reserve for a back-to-back game Saturday night.
It was going to require a supreme effort by the Clippers after they got down by 19 points in the second quarter, and it was an effort they put forth to pull out a 102-95 win over the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center.
Marreese Speights was the main reserve who triggered the Clippers’ returned effort with 11 of his season-high 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Blake Griffin had 26 points and 13 rebounds. His two free throws with 20.8 seconds left sealed the game, giving the Clippers a 99-95 lead.
Chris Paul had 19 points and eight assists.
Speights had a three-pointer that pulled the Clippers to within 82-80 in the fourth and a three-pointer that gave them an 87-85 lead later in the quarter.
But Speights’ biggest play was getting an offensive rebound off a Jamal Crawford missed three-pointer. Speights then found Crawford for a reverse layup that gave the Clippers a 97-92 lead with 49.7 seconds left.
The Bulls answered right back when Isaiah Canaan made a three-pointer to cut the Clippers lead to 97-95.
But the Clippers improved to 12-2 because they withstood everything the Bulls threw at them.
After Jimmy Butler (22 points) had tied the score with two free throws, Austin Rivers scored and Crawford made a three-pointer for a 92-87 Clippers lead.
The Clippers then didn’t help themselves late.
Speights was called for a foul on Dwyane Wade. Paul was called for a technical foul.
So after Butler made the technical foul free throw and Wade (28 points) made two free throws, the Clippers lead was down to 92-90 with 2 minutes 49 seconds left.
But Griffin scored and Paul made one of two free throws for a five-point Clippers lead.
In recent games, the Clippers have not been a menacing defensive unit.
And in the first quarter against the Bulls, the Clippers were inadequate on defense.
They gave up 33 points in the first and saw the Bulls blitz them with 68.2% shooting from the field, 75% (three for four) on three-pointers.
But it has been a sudden defensive slide the Clippers have noticed themselves.
Before meeting the Bulls, the Clippers had allowed over 100 points in four of their previous five games. They had given up more than 100 points just once in the first eight games.
Entering the Bulls game, the Clippers had dropped to third in the NBA in points allowed (95.4) from first. They have dropped to second in field-gold percentage (41.3) and defensive rating (95.6%) from being first in both categories.
Those aren’t bad numbers by any means. It’s just that the Clippers are expecting more this season.
“It just us building early leads and we don’t know how to keep it,” DeAndre Jordan said. “We play like we up 20. We can’t do that. We can’t do that. But we’ll fix it.”