Ivica Zubac and Norman Powell spark Clippers to win over Bulls

Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (40) dunks over Chicago Bulls guard Ayo Dosunmu (12) as Bulls center Nikola Vucevic, righgt, watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Saturday, March 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Eric Thayer)

The day began with Clippers coach Tyronn Lue unable to do his pregame interview session because he wasn’t feeling well. The day continued with the Clippers meandering through so much of Saturday afternoon’s affair against the Chicago Bulls.

It took a 14-point deficit in the third quarter for the Clippers to break free from their slumber.

When they did, center Ivica Zubac was at the center of the wake-up call and that led to sixth-man Norman Powell providing some energy early in the fourth that helped spur the Clippers to a 112-102 win over the Bulls at Arena.

“It’s 48 minutes. You’re going to have… Teams are going to make runs. You’re going to have sluggish moments,” said Kawhi Leonard, who had 19 points and nine rebounds. “So, I mean, it’s the NBA. You play a lot of games.”

Zubac had 10 of his 16 points in the third, making all five of his shots. His two free throws with 2:42 left gave the Clippers an 11-point lead that sealed the game. Zubac finished seven for nine from the field to go with nine rebounds in 25 minutes.

Powell had eight of his 18 points in the fourth, his two threes giving the Clippers some breathing room.

“Every night the game presents a different opportunity for everyone,” Leonard said. “And they took advantage of it.

Read more: Kawhi Leonard helps Clippers erase 20-point deficit, rally for road win over Rockets

“Zu was screening very well, getting out in those rolls and dunking the ball and Norm got some shots and he knocked them down and our defense and everything helped us get in control of that lead.”

Stars Paul George and James Harden did their parts as well.

George led the Clippers with 22 points, nine assists and five rebounds and Harden had a triple-double with 14 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

And Lue was able to coach the game after all, standing on the sideline wearing a black mask, giving his team orders.

But he didn’t speak to reporters after the game, leaving it up to associate head coach Dan Craig to explain how the Clippers had to grind their way through this win.

“Yeah, just our urgency,” Craig said. “I thought particularly defensively we came out and really wanted to put some pressure on [DeMar] DeRozan (24 points, 10 assists), make him uncomfortable, blitz as far a pick and roll, just with his back-downs, try to fire [double team], take the ball out of his hands. That allowed us to get out in transition and get a couple of easy ones. And then I thought just offensively the ball was popping and just moving the ball side to side.”

There is no letup for the Clippers during this stretch in which they played four games last week.

They will play the second of a back-to-back Sunday, a fifth game in eight days, against a formidable opponent in the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Clippers just played the Bucks last week in Milwaukee, blowing a 15-point lead in a game superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t even play because of an injury.

He’s scheduled to play in the matinee game for a Bucks team that has lost the first two games of a four-game West Coast swing, which makes this contest that much more challenging for the Clippers.

The status of Leonard and George for the game against the Bucks also will be something for the Clippers to monitor.

Leonard had been listed as questionable for the Bulls game because of left groin soreness and George had been listed as questionable because of left knee soreness. Both played, George for 39 minutes and Leonard 38.

With that in mind, Leonard was asked if the high minutes will impact him playing in back-to-back games.

“Maybe,” he said. “We’ll talk tomorrow with the medical and see. I don’t have an answer for you right now. We’ll see.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.