LOS ANGELES—In the NBA, a few things are undefeated: Father Time, a spurned player and the streets of Los Angeles.
With two days in between games on a California weekend, the rain arrived Sunday morning and that’s precisely when the fun ended for the Chicago Bulls.
Only they didn’t know it until Jamal Crawford emphatically slammed the door down on their chances as the Los Angeles Clippers shot and dribbled the Bulls into oblivion with a 120-93 win at the Staples Center, completing the L.A. two-step with a 1-1 record but leaving with a terrible taste.
Having to come with the appropriate mental toughness against an opponent more than capable of blowing you out, the Bulls failed that test yet again.
“We had no grit or toughness,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said in a short, terse postgame news conference. “We were way too lackadaisical with closeouts, we didn’t do a good job stay in front of the ball and they were able to kick it out for open shots.”
The Bulls’ defensive intensity went on vacation after having two days in Los Angeles, particularly on the perimeter as the Clippers torched the Bulls for 17 triples, most of them from JJ Redick, Wes Johnson and Jamal Crawford.
The Bulls have given up 15 triples three times this season alone after giving up just five such games since the 2004-05 season, and this one was seemingly without resistance, as the Clippers scored 69 points in the second half after leading by just four at the half.
Perhaps feeling they should’ve had a lead due to missing more than their share of makeable opportunities, the Bulls let that lethargy carry on after halftime, as their defense gradually evolved from one stage to the next: decent, alarming, to finally, unacceptable.
“It just snowballed,” Hoiberg said. “They got comfortable and our shots weren’t falling, which affected us on the other end. You’ve got to fight through these struggles.”
[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]
Crawford, who wanted to be a Bull a few seasons ago after having a stint in Chicago as a youth, danced around with the ball at every occasion and scoring on consecutive 3-point plays to break the game open in the fourth as the Bulls were hanging by a thread.
He scored 12 in the fourth after Redick scored 11 in the third, most off long balls.
“We’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Loose ball, you gotta get that, rebound, you gotta get that,” Jimmy Butler said. “We lack discipline in a lot of key areas, which is why games turn out the way they do at times.”
They were only close early because Derrick Rose was attacking Chris Paul and getting to the lane at will, scoring 20 on 10 of 17 shooting. Although Jimmy Butler led the Bulls in scoring with 23 points, he was 8 of 22 from the field and couldn’t get it going until late, almost when the game was out of reach.
The Clippers’ bench had its way against the depleted Bulls’ reserves, with Johnson, Crawford and Austin Rivers combining for 53 points. Crawford scored a game-high 26.
“We’re not guarding anybody,” Butler said succinctly. “I think guys play hard but we gotta play on every possession.”
Nobody on the Bulls’ bench scored in double figures, but more than that they were undependable on both sides of the ball, unable to hit open shots and blowing assignments on defense.
“There’s no way our missed shots should’ve affected us on the defensive end,” Rose said. “It’s a learning experience once again, and we’ve got some young guys who we still have to give that confidence (to) if their shots aren’t falling early.”
It led to the Clippers shooting 54 percent and 53 from 3, as they amassed a 27-point lead late in the fourth just to make the score look lopsided.
DeAndre Jordan played over the top of the Bulls defense and grabbed 20 rebounds to go with 17 points, and despite that, the Bulls were within striking distance at halftime and after the third.
Butler’s triple pulled the Bulls to within six with a minute left but the Bulls gave it right back, falling behind by 11 at quarter’s end.
Before the Bulls even touched the ball in the fourth the lead ballooned to 14 on a 3-point play from Crawford and he had more coming, earning another 3-point play with a jumper and foul from E’Twaun Moore.
But it became a laugher from there, leaving the Bulls to regoup with a little over a day before playing in Salt Lake City.
But get them away from L.A., A.S.A.P.