Blake Griffin impresses, Clippers snap Bulls' seven-game win streak

Derrick Rose had another MVP-type performance Saturday night with 34 points, 8 assists, and 6 rebounds, but he missed the second of two free-throws with 0.8 seconds left. Giving the Clippers a 100-99 win.

It was a shame that Rose couldn't get the second free-throw to fall after making the first one; he made clutch play after clutch play in the 4th quarter for the Bulls but it just wasn't enough.

Give the Clippers credit, they came out to play tonight and controlled the pace of the game. After watching Blake Griffin manhandle the Bulls -- doing whatever he wants on the court at any time -- he's clearly the runaway Rookie of the Year winner right now. He does so much out there on the court; he's the real deal.

Besides Rose's 34 points, Carlos Boozer's 25 points, and Luol Deng's 17 points, the rest of the supporting cast didn't do much at all. The fourth highest scorer last night was Ronnie Brewer, who had 6 points.

With Joakim Noah out, the Bulls needed players to step up offensively to make up for Noah's loss on defense. It just didn't happen tonight, as the Bulls' supporting cast just couldn't get anything going.

Keith Bogans had another underwhelming night, and it's a crazy statistic that he hasn't scored over 10 points since November 13th. I don't know what's taking Tom Thibodeau so long to pull the trigger on removing Bogans from the starting lineup, in favor of Ronnie Brewer or Kyle Korver. I prefer Brewer because he's just as good, if not better, defensively than Bogans and brings more offensively than Bogans, too.

Taj Gibson, who was given the start with Noah's absence, played just under 9 minutes last night but left the game due to a concussion. He was assigned to guard Griffin, but that didn't go too well as Griffin exposed him several times for dunks and/or easy layups.

Omer Asik and Kurt Thomas both looked lost offensively and a step behind defensively. However, Asik did have 6 rebounds in 21:39 minutes, but had just 3 points on 0 for 1 shooting from the field and 3 of 6 from the free-throw line.

Let's take a closer look at what led to the Bulls loss last night:

What led to the Bulls loss

I hate to put tonight's game on Derrick Rose, but it's hard not to. He botched the second free-throw after making the first in a 100-99 game, and could have sent the Bulls to overtime if he made both.

He was outstanding all night, making plays during crunch time, but he just didn't make the one that mattered the most. He'll bounce back; the Bulls will bounce back. But it was depressing to see Rose miss the second. Usually when players make the first in a clutch situation like that, they calm down and make the second. The first free-throw is usually the key, but Rose short-armed the second and that was the ball game.

However, before we put it all on Rose, there's also a lot of blame on the Bulls' pathetic first-half defense. The Clippers scored 61 points in the first-half, which is unacceptable for a team like the Bulls to give up to the lowly Clippers. The Bulls have a tendency to get complacent but usually find a way to come back, and they did that tonight but that's a very dangerous way of playing. And tonight, it bit them in the behind and they deserved to lose.

What does it signify

As if we didn't know: the Bulls will miss Noah. A lot. He wasn't just their emotional leader on and off the court, but he provided excellent team defense and was near the top of the league in rebounds.

Fans will also get an appreciation for his ability to finish around the basket -- yes, he isn't an option in the low-post on a nightly basis, but he has great hands and does an excellent job of finishing in traffic. The Bulls will miss that from their center position during his absence, and they'll also take a big step back defensively, too.

It's clear the Bulls need to pull a trade or sign a big man to give them some relief with Noah out, but who? One option that I expect the Bulls to explore is Portland Trailblazers' Joel Pryzbilla.

His contract expires after this season, and at 7'1", he would give the Bulls an upgrade at the center position with Noah out. Pryzbilla has been known as a good rebounder and excellent shot blocker, and I expect the Bulls to make some phone calls for the veteran center.

Could James Johnson alone get it done? Would we have to throw in a second-round draft pick? At this point, I would do either.

Key performance

Luol Deng had another warrior effort last night, with 17 points, 8 rebounds, and shot 7 for 15 from the field.

Deng has played a career-high 38:47 minutes per game this season, and he's been a true soldier for the Bulls this season. Giving them energy defensively night in, night out, and has a much-improved three-pointer.

Being the number-3 scorer has always been the most ideal role for Deng, but fans will always look at his contract and make judgments about him. Yes, the Bulls overpaid for Deng, but fans need to get over it and look at the facts: he has a really good mid-range shot, has added a three-point shot to his arsenal, can rebound very well for a Small Forward, and plays excellent team defense.

He's never going to be the go-to player that fans expected following his breakout 2006-07 season, but as long as Rose and Boozer are around, he will be used in the best role possible: as the #3 option.

Final thoughts

It's tough to see the Bulls lose a heartbreaker like that, but they didn't deserve to lose in the first place. The Clippers came out and dominated them offensively in the first-half, and the Bulls could never get over the hump until right there at the end.

Rose will definitely be mad at himself for missing that second free-throw, but there's no question he'll bounce back and, as he said, make it when it matters next. (Per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune).

"I thought I was going to hit them," Rose said. "That's basketball. I
hope I get put in that position again. I know I'm not going to miss."  

I love the attitude Rose has; it's not cocky, but it's definitely confident. The Bulls will need him to be much more vocal with Noah out, that's for sure.

What's next

Philadelphia 76ers (11-16) @ Bulls (16-9). 7:00 pm C.S.T. CSN/ESPN 1000

This is another game the Bulls are expected to win. However, the Sixers are playing much better of late, and coming off a win over the Orlando Magic.

Both teams will be playing on two days of rest, but there's no question this is a game the Bulls will need. They can't lose back-to-back games at home.

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