LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Chicago Bulls had a difficult time running with the Los Angeles Clippers, who had plenty left in reserve for the fourth quarter — particularly Blake Griffin.
Griffin scored 12 of his 26 points in the final six minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds, helping the Clippers rout the Bulls 101-80 on Saturday night for their fifth straight victory.
“It’s just about getting the ball in the right spot and doing what we work on,” said Griffin, who was 11 for 18 from the field. “I missed a lot of them, but my teammates gave me the confidence to keep shooting. Thankfully, some of them dropped.”
Reserve Jamal Crawford scored 17 of his 22 points in the second quarter for the Clippers, who lead the Pacific Division with a 7-2 mark. It’s their best record after nine games since 2005-06, when they won nine of their first 11, finished 47-35 and came within one victory of the Western Conference finals.
Five of the Clippers’ six wins have come against teams that were in the playoffs last season, including the Lakers, Spurs and world champion Miami Heat on Wednesday. Both of their losses came against clubs which failed to make the postseason — Golden State and Cleveland.
“We’d be in really good shape right now if it was a 10-game season,” said Chris Paul, who had 10 assists and eight points. “We couldn’t ask for more out of ourselves, but we just have to keep remembering that it’s a long season. We have a big road trip coming up that starts in San Antonio, which is a tough place to play”
The Clippers’ reserves outscored the starters 35-18 in the first half and 53-48 for the game. Crawford, who signed with Los Angeles as a free agent in July after spending last season with Portland, leads the team with 20.7 points per game and has scored 20 or more in six of his first nine contests.
Crawford was traded to the Bulls on draft day in June 2000 by Cleveland in exchange for Chris Mihm and cash. The 13-year veteran spent his first four NBA seasons in Chicago and went through two coaching transitions, playing for Tim Floyd, Bill Cartwright and Scott Skiles — but never making the playoffs during that stretch. The Clippers are his sixth pro team.
“It was a tough time, especially since a couple of years before that they had the 1998 team with Michael Jordan and those guys. So to follow that up was impossible,” Crawford said. “My first year there we didn’t have many veterans and were the youngest team in the league. But those years were important for me. It was a learning experience and something I’ll always cherish because they gave me my start in the NBA. I’ll always have a love for the Chicago Bulls.”
The Bulls, who blew an 18-point lead in their previous game on Wednesday at Phoenix before beating the Suns 112-106 in overtime, got 22 points and 12 rebounds from Carlos Boozer on the second leg of their annual circus road trip. Luol Deng and Richard Hamilton each had 14 points.
“I think we took a couple of steps back tonight. We got outscrapped and we got out-competed,” Joakim Noah said. “They’re too athletic. And when they get out on the break, that’s their strength. They were denying everything with their switching and we didn’t finish well around the rim.”
Noah, who has been urged by Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau to take more shots, was 0 for 6 from the field and finished with four points in 30 minutes. It was the 6-foot-11 center’s worst shooting effort in 339 NBA regular-season games, including six occasions when he was 0 for 4.
“Holding Noah scoreless from the field, we did a great job as a team,” Griffin said. “Our rotations were good, and we made sure everyone was accounted for. We gave Carlos Boozer too many easy ones, especially on offensive rebound putbacks and stuff like that. But as long as Boozer has 22 and we’re up by 20, we’ll live with that.”
Crawford led Los Angeles to a 53-40 halftime lead with 17 points, including three free throws with 1:31 left in the second quarter after Kirk Hinrich fouled him on a fadeaway 3-point attempt near the Clippers’ bench.
Los Angeles opened the second half with a 7-0 run and extended its lead to 71-48 on Griffin’s 21-footer with 5:04 left in the third quarter. The Bulls narrowed the gap to 87-74 with two baskets off offensive rebounds and a 3-pointer by Marco Belinelli with 6:14 left in the game.
But Griffin put the Clippers back in control with two free throws, a fast-break layup and another layup — all in a 58-second span. For good measure, the two-time All-Star connected three straight times on perimeter jumpers from 18 feet and out during a 70-second stretch to make it 99-80 with 2:07 to play.
“This one’s hard to let go,” Boozer said. “We didn’t have enough juice. They’re a very good team and they protect the rim very well. And they got their hands on a lot of loose balls.” NOTES: The Clippers came in with an average of 40.9 points from their bench. … The victory put Vinny Del Negro one game over .500 in the regular season for the first time since he took over as Clippers head coach at the start of the 2010-11 campaign. He is 79-78 with Los Angeles, after guiding Chicago to back-to-back .500 seasons and two playoff berths. The Bulls are 117-40 since firing Del Negro and replacing him with Thibodeau.