Since Tom Thibodeau arrived in Chicago, double-digit losses happen to the Bulls about as often as Thibodeau sits down during games.
The notoriously active and detail-oriented coach can talk all he wants about focusing on the task at hand, but don’t think last month’s 21-point blowout at the hands of the Clippers didn’t serve as motivation for Tuesday night at the United Center.
Well, that and a legitimate measuring stick regular-season affair for a Bulls team that has talked about improvement since that Nov. 17 debacle.
And there was improvement: This time the Bulls only lost by five.
The Clippers’ 94-89 triumph marked their first seven-game winning streak since December 1991. Jamal Crawford was 11 then.
“We’re not surprised we’re having success,” Crawford said. “We felt before the season we had a chance to do something special.”
Blake Griffin’s alley-oop dunk from Lamar Odom with 3 minutes, 41 seconds left might have been special for the highlight reels. But it wasn’t rare; it marked one of 10 Clippers’ dunks on the night.
Still, the Bulls, behind surprisingly strong 3-point shooting, rallied. Marco Belinelli’s bomb with 48.3 seconds left pulled them within 89-87. But Chris Paul drove and scored on Kirk Hinrich with 27.1 seconds left.
Joakim Noah then scored on a nifty reverse over Blake Griffin with 22.5 seconds left and the Bulls intentionally fouled Paul. He sank both free throws with 21 seconds remaining.
Hinrich and Luol Deng both missed shots in the lane on the following possession and Matt Barnes won the jump ball over Deng in the ensuing scramble, forcing the Bulls to foul Paul again. He iced matters with 8.5 seconds left.
Four of those Clippers’ dunks came in consecutive fashion during a brutal end to the first half, a problem area for much of this season. The Clippers closed with a 12-2 run even with Thibodeau lighting into his team during a timeout. The Bulls committed eight of their 17 turnovers during this period.
“We have to improve in that area,” Thibodeau said of a recurring issue
The Bulls did improve their 3-point shooting. Ranked 25th entering, they sank their first five from beyond the arc and finished 10 of 20. Carlos Boozer, with his 10th double-double in 13 games, provided a late surge as well and finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
But Griffin’s 22 points and 10 rebounds were part of the Clippers’ 50 points in the paint and 17 fast-break points as the Bulls’ first three-game winning streak ended.
“I want them to take losses personally,” Thibodeau said. “And I want us to understand why we either win or lose and then move forward, get ready for the next one.”
Tuesday’s game continued a stretch where the schedule has turned. The Clippers marked the second of eight straight games against teams in playoff position.