Clippers’ seven-game winning streak ends in turnover-filled loss to Bulls
It was a bad sign when, early in Sunday’s second quarter, the Clippers had committed more turnovers than made baskets, failed to make a shot outside of the paint and, in the process, proved yet again that they are the NBA’s best at falling behind by double-digit deficits.
It was an equally bad sign for Chicago throughout the second half that despite all that had gone wrong for their opponent, the Clippers were nonetheless doing the other thing they are best at — hanging around, chipping away and refusing to wave the white flag.
So when Paul George drove through his defender’s shoulders with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, cocked his body backward and made a ridiculously difficult jump shot for the Clippers’ first lead in 34 minutes, what erupted inside Staples Center wasn’t the sound of thrilled surprise. It was the kind of noise akin to a concert crowd reveling at hearing the familiar first chords of the headliner’s signature hit.
The Chicago Bulls’ rebuild has a distinct L.A. connection with players Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, Nikola Vucevic and Alex Caruso.
They were doing it again, following the formula that had delivered a seven-game winning streak despite once trailing by at least 13 in four of them.
Even when the Clippers trailed again by eight with eight minutes to play, then nine with 4 minutes 45 seconds left after Lonzo Ball turned an intercepted George pass into a layup on the other end, and Terance Mann limped off, the result felt anything but final. Not until George missed a seventh three-point attempt with just more than a minute to play, and Bulls guard Zach LaVine answered with a step-back two on the other end, did this rally finally run dry in a 100-90 loss, the Clippers’ first since Oct. 29.
“I just felt like we ran out of gas a little bit,” said Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe, who continued his strong play of the past week with 21 points.
George scored 27 points, making all 11 of his free throws, with 11 rebounds, but he made seven of his 25 shots in 41 minutes, a workload coach Tyronn Lue called a mistake of mismanagement on his part on the second night of a back-to-back, one night after a dominant victory against Minnesota.
“We couldn’t make shots,” George said. “Myself personally, I just couldn’t make shots.”
Nothing in the league’s bylaws requires the Clippers to find their rhythm only after falling behind, of course, but it is a pattern that has left Lue at once both pleased with his team’s resilience and frustration in its failure to launch. They committed 10 turnovers in just the first quarter and trailed by as many as 17.
“We didn’t want those kind of starts, as we’ve been talking about the last week or so,” Lue said. “Tonight was another one of those games.”
The Clippers (8-5) mustered only three points in the final 3:16 and didn’t score a basket inside the three-point arc during the last 10 minutes.
Their saving grace was making all 21 of their free throws; everywhere away from the line, their shooting suffered. Their 35% accuracy was their lowest in nine games and they couldn’t score enough to compensate for their mistakes, with more turnovers (20) than assists (16).
DeMar DeRozan dropped 35 points — including 21 in the first half despite scoring only two points in the paint — for Chicago in his homecoming to the city where he was raised and starred at USC and has said he hoped to play in while considering his free-agency options. He made his home, temporarily, instead in the area between the three-point arc and the paint, making eight of his 11 midrange shots.
“I thought he was too comfortable in the first half,” Lue said. “I thought he got to his spot every single time.”
DeRozan has been a good fit in Chicago, it turns out. The Bulls are 9-4, with the Eastern Conference’s third-best winning percentage and even without center and former USC standout Nikola Vucevic, who missed his second consecutive game after testing positive for COVID-19, they outrebounded and outscored the Clippers in the paint.
Paul George scored 23 points as the Clippers routed the Minnesota Timberwolves and ex-teammate Patrick Beverley 129-102 for a seventh win in a row.
Former Laker Alex Caruso started in Vucevic’s absence and finished with nine rebounds, seven points, five assists and three steals, and LaVine scored 29 points.
The early turnovers put an already tired Clippers team further on their heels as the Bulls turned errant passes into fast breaks going the other direction.
“We didn’t match their energy,” Bledsoe said. “They came out with tons of energy and that was the game.”
Not quite, of course. It wasn’t decided until the final minutes, with DeRozan wrapping an arm around LaVine’s waist and putting his head on his teammate’s shoulder after a key basket, secure the Clippers’ streak was finally dead.
“Our guys were tired, you could see that, and that was on me,” Lue said. “Whatever. Start a new win streak.”
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