Well, that was less than ideal. The Bulls rolled into the United Center on Saturday night riding on the wave of their victory against the Golden State Warriors, who they buried at home to preserve their invincible record on Thursday night home games broadcast on TNT. Surely the good vibes would continue into Saturday’s game against the Clippers, right? RIGHT?
For a little bit, yes! The Bulls played a very solid first half on the offensive end. The ball moved around the perimeter with purpose, the Bulls ran the fastbreak with fervor, and they were rewarded handsomely to the tune of 19 assists and 17 fast break points by half time. The bench provided a nice spark, particularly Cristiano Felicio and Paul Zipser, who combined to score 14 points in the half on a pristine 6-of-6 field goals. Coming off a sluggish loss in Milwaukee the night before, the Clippers looked creaky at times, but hung in on the back of some tough Chris Paul and JJ Redick jumpers. Still, up 6 at the half, one had to like the Bulls’ chances of keeping the momentum rolling and getting the win.
Then, in the locker room, Fred Hoiberg gathered the boys round, and his message did not resonate. At the very least, I’m gonna assume that’s what happened, because my word, that 3rd quarter was right up there with the worst I’ve ever watched. The Bulls scored 12 points, a season low for any quarter they’ve played. They turned the ball over 7 times. They committed 9(!) fouls. They made 3 of 18 shots, and were 0 of 4 in the restricted area. And somehow, it was even more horrendous to watch live than it sounds reading those numbers on paper. The Clippers’ defense tightened up a bit, sure, but the transition from the smooth and free-flowing offensive scheme of the first half was incredibly jarring. Just nothing good was happening.
While the Bulls floundered like flopping fish, Jamal Crawford did his thing. He’s not a very good player anymore, but every once in a while he has the juice, and unfortunately, this was one of those nights. He scored 17 of his game high 25 points in the 2nd half, including a high arcing bomb to put the Clippers up 9 to end the 3rd following a missed layup by Felicio. That was pretty much the backbreaker for the Bulls, and they never really recovered.
There were a couple of other points of concern for the Bulls this game. One was Jimmy Butler, who was simply far too passive all night long. Despite playing a team high 36 minutes, Butler attempted just 7 field goals, making 4. He didn’t necessarily play poorly, but too often in the 2nd half he deferred to teammates that clearly just did not have it when he needed to take the game into his own hands. One of those teammates was the newly acquired Cameron Payne, who played his third straight underwhelming game in a Bulls uniform.
Simply put, Payne looks like a player without an NBA niche. He’s not a very prolific shooter, his skinny frame renders him unable to finish inside against top level defenses, and watching him chase Chris Paul and JJ Redick around might have been funny if it weren’t so troubling. The Bulls clearly value Payne highly based on the package they sent the Thunder for him, and to say the early returns are underwhelming would be an understatement. Granted, Payne has had little chance to display his pure point guard skills playing off the bench alongside Rajon Rondo, but it’s not looking like he’s good enough anywhere else to warrant playing time as of yet.
The Bulls are back at it Monday night at the Palace of Auburn Hills to battle the equally inconsistent and confounding Detroit Pistons. Will the Pistons out-weird the Bulls or continue to own them as they have in recent years? We’ll find out, I guess. Go Bulls!