LOS ANGELES -- It's rare that a Tom Thibodeau-coached team gets out-worked and out-hustled, but that's exactly what happened Saturday night as the Los Angeles Clippers crushed the Chicago Bulls 101-80.
"We got out-scrapped tonight," Bulls center Joakim Noah admitted. "We got out-competed. I think we took a couple of steps back today."
It didn't matter which side of the floor, either. The Bulls' usually stout defense struggled after the first quarter to slow down Blake Griffin and Co., which, in turn, only made their offensive struggles more pronounced. Led by Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the Clippers set the tone by controlling the paint all night. They took it to the Bulls and forced the action.
"They were denying everything with their switching and we didn't finish well around the rim," Noah said. "We know we're capable of playing a lot better basketball. We turned the ball over too much, and you can't turn the ball over against a team like this. They're too athletic, and when they get out on the break, that's their strength. They're probably the best in the NBA in getting out on the break."
The issue for the Bulls against elite-level teams is that they almost have to play a perfect game to win. Their defense has to be on point and their offense must have consistent options to play through. Aside from Carlos Boozer, the Bulls' offense was flaccid and the defense had no life to it after the first 12 minutes. It's a trend with which Tom Thibodeau is clearly concerned. He knows his team can't have struggle for large periods of time and expect to win.
"The second quarter was the difference in the game," Thibodeau said. "We gave up 35 points and the tone of the game changed. We put them in the open court. We had 12 turnovers in the first half, too many of those turned into layups and dunks. The second half was not much better. Our turnovers and their blocked shots got us."
What also got the Bulls was the fact that their bench play continues to leave a lot to be desired. Led by former Bull Jamal Crawford, the Clippers' bench outscored the Bulls' bench 53-25. The second quarter was the difference in the game because that's when Crawford and the rest of Clippers' reserves changed everything against many of the Bulls' backups. Aside from Derrick Rose's absence, the Bulls' single biggest issue is the fact that their new Bench Mob isn't playing nearly as well as their old one did.
"Our second unit comes in, we always try and take advantage," Crawford said. "We feel like we're among the best second units in the league and every night we get an opportunity to prove it. So we want to support our starters and once we get everybody together we feel like we'll be among the best teams in the league."
That's exactly what Taj Gibson and his old Bench Mob teammates used to say after games. They would always find a way to extend a lead or keep it at bay until the starters returned. That's not the case anymore. Thibodeau struggles to find consistency from his new group on a night to night basis. When they play higher quality opponents and the starters don't bring the right intensity -- the Bulls are in trouble.
"This one's hard to let go," Boozer said. "We didn't have enough juice. We didn't do it well enough. We didn't do our stuff hard enough to make it a better game. The only good thing about this game is that we have another one (Sunday) night."
That is a good thing for the Bulls. The problem is that the next game won't help them erase the same issues they've had all season. The biggest one being that the don't have the type of high quality depth that they used to.