Chicago’s overall D was strong. The Bulls held the home team to season-low 80 points on 37.5 percent shooting while blocking 5 shots and forcing the Grizzlies into a season-worst 19 turnovers.
Despite their dominant front court duo of Marc Gasol (14.9 PPG) and Zach Randolph (17.2 PPG), the Grizzlies scored only 32 points in the paint and shot a mere 10-for-22 (45.5 percent) at the rim, with Gasol and Randolph combining to go 1-for-6 directly under the hoop.
Memphis’ big three of Gasol (1-for-7), Randolph (4-for-14) and Rudy Gay (5-for-13) were all held in check and Gasol was the only Grizzlies starter who finished with a positive plus-minus score (+5).
The Bulls rank third in the league in Opponents Three-Point Percentage (32.1 percent). Unfortunately, they were late or confused (or both) on several contests last night and the Grizzlies went 6-for-11 (54.5 percent), with reserves Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, and Quincy Pondexter combining to shoot 5-for-6 from beyond the arc.
In fact, three-point shooting is what turned this game around in Memphis’ favor.
Chicago held the Grizzlies to 4-for-22 shooting in the first quarter and led 20-11 after the first 12 minutes. However, less than three minutes into the second quarter, the Grizzlies had hit a couple threes (one each by Bayless and Pondexter) and a 22-footer (by Bayless) to pull to within 22-19.
Then midway into the quarter, Ellington drilled an 18-footer and three consecutive three-point shots in a span of about two minutes to turn a 22-20 deficit lead into a 31-28 lead. The Bulls never got the momentum back after that.
The Grizzlies weren’t doing anything particularly special. Most of these shots came off basic drive-and-kick plays.
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: ”The whole game changed in the second quarter. We didn’t cover the (3-point) line. We let guys get loose, not reading penetrating drives and flat drives, over-helping, not recognizing what’s going on in the game. Throwing possessions away.”
Even worse, the Bulls failed to protect their defensive glass. The Grizzlies ripped down 18 offensive rebounds. And while those extra opportunities “only” translated into 13 second-chance points, the boards themselves still represent offensive opportunities they Bulls lost.
These are the nights when the absences of Derrick Rose and (to a much lesser extent) Rip Hamilton become glaring. The Bulls were living an offensive nightmare last night.
Carlos Boozer “led” the Bulls in scoring with 16 points on 17 shot attempts. Luol Deng also attempted 17 shots but finished with only 11 points. Kirk Hinrich — in his first game back from yet another injury (left knee bruise) — was a typically dismal 2-for-8. Deng and Hinrich also combined to shoot 0-for-8 from downtown. Marco Belinelli went 2-for-3 on triples but finished only 4-for-12. Taj Gibson and Nate Robinson were 3-for-9 off the bench.
Percentage-wise, Joakim Noah (5-for-8) and Jimmy Butler (3-f0r-4) were the team’s best shooters. Sadly, Noah either couldn’t work his way into a shot or at times pass up shots despite having deep post position. Maybe the Grizzlies’ interior defense had him hearing footsteps.
In the final tally, the Bulls were held to a season-low 71 points on 37.3 percent shooting. They also went 2-for-11 on three-pointers and even missed seven free throws (13-for-20). That last part was pretty uncharacteristic, given that the Bulls rank third in the NBA in Free Throw Percentage (80.1 percent) and had gone 66-for-75 (88 percent) over their previous four games.
Bench Production (or the Lack Thereof):
The Memphis reserves outperformed their Chicago counterparts in scoring (31-16), rebounding (16-7), assists (6-2) and blocked shots (3-1). But the plus-minus scores tell a bigger story:
Taj Gibson: -14
Jimmy Butler: -12
Nate Robinson: -3
Not only did the Grizzlies have greater depth — going 10-deep compared to eight-deep — but their bench was wildly more productive. The Memphis reserves were the ones who led the charge back after their terrible first quarter. They had energy and made key plays, whether it was the hot three-point shooting by Bayless, Ellington and Pondexter, or the combined 7 offensive boards for Pondexter and Speights.
The Final Word:
Despite the offensive meltdown, the Bulls could have won this game had they 1) done a better job closing out on Memphis’ three-point shooters, 2) done a better job on the offensive glass, 3) knocked down free throws at their usual rate and 4) taken better care of the basketball (they committed 16 turnovers).
Would it have helped to have Derrick Rose in a game like this? Of course. Heck, it would have helped if Deng had hit a three or if Hinrich could throw a shot into the ocean.
But realistically, the Bulls could have changed the outcome of the game by taking care of all those little details I mentioned. Contesting three-pointers, blocking out and converting free throws don’t require a superstar nor are they affected when shots aren’t falling. Fundamental basketball can still win games…as the Bulls proved last season and have proved at times this season.
They just have to go out and do it.
The Bulls were outrebounded 51-39 (including 18-10 on the offensive glass) and outscored 28-14 in the second quarter. They shot okay at the rim (12-for-20), but went 11-for-34 (32 percent) from 16 feet and out.
Player of the Game:
I’ve got to give this one to Boozer. He didn’t shoot well (7-for-17), but he led the team in points (16) and rebounds (13) and was the only Bulls player to have a positive plus-minus score (+1). Neither Randolph nor Gasol took advantage of his D. But then, Boozer’s defense is usually at its best against slower big men who like to wrestle down low. Speed and lateral movement are Boozer’s weaknesses, not brute force.
Goat of the Night:
Hinrich had another terrible night in a season full of them, scoring only 4 points on 8 shots, missing all four of his three-point attempts and finishing with more turnovers (3) than assists (1).
Quote of the Night: Noah said: “We got outrebounded. We got to do a better job at rebounding the ball as a team,” said Noah. “I feel like we got a lot of good stops, then we ran transition. We got to get better at scoring in transition. We are getting good stops and we are getting on the break, but we are just not getting those easy points. We are turning the ball over a little bit too much on the break. If we can score on those, we can be better. It is a step back because we lost. It is always. That is the one reason why it is a step back. But you know there is another one tomorrow. We don’t have time to get too down. Learn from it and move on.”
So, uh, those Grizzlies sure came to play, didn’t they?
After two ridiculous (and ridiculously fun) blowout wins in which they enjoyed 40-point leads, the Bulls walked into a buzz saw. Memphis was obviously fired up for this game and apparently not the least bit intimidated by Chicago’s 31-4 home record. With about four and a half minutes left in the first quarter, Mike Conley stole a bad pass by Carlos Boozer, sprinted the other way, and then dished the ball off to Tony Allen for an easy dunk that gave the Grizzlies a 20-11 lead.
Next thing you know, Boozer, Keith Bogans and Joakim Noah were all on the bench in favor of Taj Gibson, Ronnie Brewer and Kurt Thomas. Clearly, coach Tom Thibodeau was not happy with the team’s early defensive effort. Or their offensive effort. Or anything. The Bulls were being outhustled all over the floor.
Said Luol Deng: “I felt like they outworked us. I just felt like we have more talent in this team. And we made big plays at the end to win, but throughout the game I just thought they played harder. They got to the loose balls first. They’re a very good team and they really outworked us. And we got to recognize that.”
In retrospect, though, it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The Grizzlies are a top 10 defensive team (in terms of Defensive Rating) and, in the last 30 days, had beaten the Spurs, Mavericks (on the road), Thunder and Celtics (also on the road). The Griz aren’t pushovers…and they’re playing with a lot of swagger right now.
But so are the Bulls.
They fought back, thanks to the reserves, who wrested back control of the game after the starters came out sluggish. Thanks to Deng, who scored 16 of his 23 points during Chicago’s offensively-challenged first half, including back-to-back three-pointers late in the second quarter. Thanks to a dominant rebounding effort in which the Chicago outrebounded Memphis 45-32, including 18-8 on the offensive glass, which led to a 29-15 advantage in second-chance points for the Bullies.
And, of course, thanks to Derrick Rose.
Rose struggled with his shooting last night, which, unfortunately, has been happening a lot lately. Derrick went 6-for-22 from the field and 0-for-5 from downtown. Those are bad numbers, even if you mitigate them by pointing out that one of his missed treys was a forced buzzer-beater at the end of the first quarter and another was a beat-the-shot-clock bailout with 51 seconds left in the fourth.
Still, Rose being Rose, he finished with game-highs in both points (24) and assists (7) to go along with his 7 rebounds (3 offensive). Derrick also had a game-high 13 free throw attempts, converting 12 of them, including four of five in the final few minutes.
Rose had his share of clutch moments, too, starting with a 17-foot buzzer beater at the end of the second quarter to give the Bulls 49-46 halftime lead. He then scored seven points in the final 4:03 of the third quarter to give the Bulls a 74-73 lead heading into the fourth.
Rose went on to score eight points in the final 12 minutes. He scored six of those points in the final 2:17, which included a true MVP-style moment: With less than 20 seconds remaining and the Bulls clinging to a two-point lead, Rose absolutely burned Tony Allen (a really good defensive player) off the dribble and banked in a running left-handed layup while getting fouled by Marc Gasol. He knocked down the freebie to give Chicago a five-point lead with 10 seconds left.
Let’s go ahead and watch it:
After a Memphis timeout, the Bulls forced Darrell Arthur into a badly missed three-point attempt — why Arthur, who hasn’t hit a three in 178 career games, took that shot is anyone’s guess — but Shane Battier batted the rebound to O.J. Mayo, who drilled a triple with four seconds left (call it the Law of Averages, since the Grizzlies had been 1-for-13 from downtown before that shot).
Allen was forced to foul Rose, who hit one of two to giv the Bulls a 99-96 lead, and Conley shanked a 27-foot attempt as time ran out. And — big sigh of relief — the win was secured.
Blowouts. Clutch victories. The Bulls are doing a little bit of everything this season.
Said Boozer: “For us, we get poise at the end of the game. We’ve been there before this season. We’ve had games where we had to come back. We’ve had games where we went up by a lot and the other team came back and we’ve had to hold them off. We’ve had games where we fought from being down a lot. We’ve almost seen every scenario this season, so when the game got down to the wire we were comfortable because we had already been there.”
That has to be a good sign for the upcoming playoffs, right? This squad hasn’t been battle-tested together in the postseason yet, but they’ve been through an awful lot this season: Roster overhaul, new coach, new system, injuries, so on and so forth. But here they sit, on top of the Eastern Conference standings, a full two games up on the Boston Celtics (and, more importantly, two fewer losses).
But the focus isn’t on Boston.
Said Deng: “I really don’t care, I swear. That’s the honest truth. I think everyone’s looking at it that way. We just got to stay focused on us. Boston is an experienced team. I don’t know how much they want that home-court advantage or not, but I’m sure they feel like they can beat anyone. I think we, as a team, are finding ourself where we’re at for the first time, we got to keep going. We got to keep on getting better right now.”
Agreed. The Bulls need to stay focused on themselves…
Memphis Grizzlies Status Check: Record: 40-32
Road Record: 15-22
Last 10 Games: 6-4
Streak: Won 3
Last game: Beat Boston 90-87
PPG: 99.9 (13th)
Opponents PPG: 98.1 (14th)
Offensive Rating: 107.2 (15th)
Defensive Rating: 105.3 (10th)
Pace: 92.1 (15th)
Effective Field Goal Percentage: .490 (21st)
Turnover Percentage: .129 (8th)
Defensive Rebound Percentage: .728 (20th)
Offensive Rebound Percentage: .285 (6th)
Free Throws Per Field Goal Attempt: .219 (21st)
Opp. eFG%: .504 (19th)
Opp. TO%: .162 (1st)
Opp. FT/FGA: .232 (16th)
Leading scorer: Zach Randolph (20.0)
Stats from Basketball-Reference.com.
Grizzlies Injury Report: Rudy Gay: to undergo left shoulder surgery (will miss the remainder of the season)
Xavier Henry: sprained right knee (is expected to miss at least one month)
Jason Williams: sore lower back (is out indefinitely)
Overview: The Bulls have dominated their last two opponents winning by a combined score of 73 points; with Deng being the only starter to play in the fourth quarter of either game. It must be in Lu’s contract that he has to play more than 30 minutes every game… or, maybe he made fun of Thibodeau’s voice and Thibs is seeking revenge. Who knows why, but let’s hope he’s fresh for the playoffs.
Both of those last two games, against the Kings and Hawks, were “revenge” games for the Bulls. Chicago, especially Rose, remembered past games and embarrassments, and wanted to crush the other team. So if Rose is motivated by past games and failures, how can we find things for him to be upset about against every team? Would he fall for me making up stories?
Rose is 2-2 in his career versus the Griz. In 2008, the Bulls lost to Memphis 103-96. Rose only scored 12 points on 6-14 shooting and he had three turnovers. Will that work as motivation?
But seriously, the Grizzlies really helped Chicago out on Wednesday by beating the Celtics. Now it’s Chicago’s turn to help themselves.
Chicago stayed hot on their back-to-back games, and they have won ten of their last eleven. They now hold a one game lead over Boston, with 12 games left for both teams.
Memphis is in eighth place in the Western Conference, two games up on Houston for that last spot. So the Grizzlies really have something to fight for. And some might expect the Bulls to have a minor let down after their two dominating performances; but not if you’ve watched this team all year. Thibs and the team will not let that happen, they know how important every game is.
“Playing for that one seed every game means so much,” Kyle Korver said. “We’re going to be right there with Boston. One bad loss or a couple of wins means everything.”
Losing at home is something the Bulls are unfamiliar with. Chicago has won 13 in a row at home, last losing at the United Center in January. This home win streak is approaching the 17-home-win-streak in MJ’s last season with Chicago. Anytime you’re approaching Michael, it’s a good thing.
Earlier in the year, Chicago beat the Grizzlies on the road, without Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer (Taj Gibson recorded a game high +/- of +16 in Booz’s absence). And this was also when the Grizzlies had Rudy Gay (he is now out for the season), who is second on the team in points, assists, and blocks and third in rebounds and steals per game.
However, the Grizzlies won the last game between the two teams in Chicago 105-96. Zach Randolph had 31 points and 18 rebounds.
Chicago’s bigs better be up for this one, as they can expect more of the same from the Grizzlies. Memphis is first in points in the paint per game at 50.8. They are 5.4 points better in that category than the second place Clippers. Chicago’s inside defense has been tough all year, allowing 36.3 points in the paint per contest. That puts them in third, right behind Orlando (36.0) and Boston (36.1).
Holding on to the ball will go a long way for the Bulls as well. The Grizzlies lead the league in steals, with 9.4 and are fourth in fast break points (16.7). In March, D-Rose is averaging 3.0 turnovers per game, his lowest monthly total of the season.
About the Author:
Braedan Ritter was born and raised in Pennsylvania but was swayed by gifts from his aunt to follow the Chicago sports teams. It didn’t hurt that the Bulls had a guy named Michael Jordan playing for them, and the Sixers had…Derrick Coleman. Braedan has stuck with Chicago through thick and thin, and really thin (see: Chicago Cubs). And speaking of Coleman, Braedan is currently a student at Syracuse University.
Two of the team’s best three players out of action.
Things looked bad.
As a fan, when things look bad, all you want to see out of your team is a sense of urgency. Guys stepping up. A team playing good basketball.
Well, that’s what Bulls fans got today.
Derrick Rose? His first career triple-double (22 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds).
Luol Deng? A game-high 28 points on 11-for-17 shooting to go with 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and some killer defense on Rudy Gay. Mind you, Gay averages 21 PPG on 48 percent shooting (including 41 percent on threes). Today he finished with 9 points on 1-for-10 shooting.
Taj Gibson? He’s not the scoring threat that Boozer is, but he finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds and a game-high 6 blocked shots. Oh, and a game-best plus-minus score of +16. Yes, Zach Randolp had a sizable double-double (21 points and 13 boards), but Taj helped harass Z-Bo into missing 13 of his 20 field goal attempts.
Kyle Korver? He scored 22 points off the bench while going 8-for-12 from the field and 6-for-10 from downtown. He even added 4 rebounds.
Kurt Thomas? Quiet numbers (9 points and 6 rebounds), big body, solid impact. He’s not the defensive foundation that Noah is, but he bangs and intimidates.
Chicago’s defense? It held Memphis 15 points below their season average of 99.6 and limited them to 37 percent shooting (including 1-for-7 from downtown). And check out the Grizzlies’ team splits: They averages 102.6 PPG at home. So the Bulls actually held them 18.6 points below their season average for home games.
Teamwork? The Bulls registered 24 assists on 36 made field goals and committed only 11 turnovers (the league average is 14.5 TOs per game).
It should come as no surprise, then, that Chicago built a 22-point lead before settling for a 12-point win. If it hadn’t been for an off-the-bench outburst by O.J. Mayo (15 points on 7-for-14 shooting) and a 35-19 free throw advantage (including 16-4 in the third quarter), the Bulls might have won by 30.
Still, it was a pretty sweet win, regardless of the margin of victory. The Grizzlies may be a sub-.500 team, but they had won five of their last seven games, including wins over the Lakers (30-12), Thunder (27-13), Jazz (27-13) and Mavericks (26-13).
And, as I pointed out, the Bulls were minus two of their three biggest guns.
This win made me appreciate some things even more than usual. The team’s defense-first focus. The way Luol Deng fills whatever role is asked of him. And the fact that Rose has become one of those superstars that can generate wins by his force of will.
It’s good stuff all around.
Admittedly, I’m worried about tomorrow’s home game against the Bobcats. It’ll be Chicago’s fourth game in five nights and their second straight without Boozer. And last week they finished up a stretch of five games in seven nights. Plus Rose, Deng and Gibson all logged at least 40 minutes last night.
Winning isn’t going to be easy. But this Bulls team keeps stepping up despite adversity. Why should I doubt they can do it again?
All D-Rose could do was watch as the Bulls lost their eighth straight.
Imagine if a Bulls fan had used the Hot Tub Time Machine to travel from some time last October to right before last night’s tipoff against the Grizzlies in Memphis. They’d probably think they had traveled to some horrific alternate reality instead of through time.
After all, Chicago opened this season with a core group of Derrick Rose (out with a sprained wrist), Joakim Noah (out with plantar fasciitis), Luol Deng (out with a strained calf muscle), Kirk Hinrich (serving a one-game suspension), John Salmons (traded to Milwaukee) and Tyrus Thomas (traded to Charlotte).
In the absence of that core group — which includes the team’s current best four players – the Bizarro Bulls opened last night’s game with a starting lineup of Brad Miller, Taj Gibson, Flip Murray, Acie Law and Jannero Pargo. After giving it some serious thought, I came to conclusion that it was the worst lineup I’d seen since 1998-99 when Chicago finished the season with a starting lineup of Tony Kukoc, Ron Harper, Dickey Simpkins, Rusty LaRue and Cory Carr.
Honestly, I expected the Bulls to get blown out in the first quarter…so imagine my surprise when Law hit four of his first five shots (including a few wide open layups), Memphis couldn’t hold onto the ball (7 turnovers in the first 10 minutes) and Chicago took a 20-10 first quarter lead. It felt too good to be true.
And it was.
The Grizzlies went on a 17-0 run during the second quarter to establish a 55-44 halftime lead. That bulge grew to as many as 25 points in the third quarter before Memphis went back to sleep on the Bizarro Bulls…
…and the Bizarro Bulls nearly pulled off the upset.
They were aided and abetted by the Grizzlies, who opened the fourth quarter by missing 10 of their first 12 shots – which included two sweet blocks by James Johnson — and committing 5 turnovers. Chicago rampaged all the way back from that 25-point hole to within four points (94-90) with under three minutes to go in the game.
Then things came undone…thanks to Pargo. If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder whether somebody in the Memphis front office had paid off Pargo to throw the game. Not only was his shooting horrific (4-for-15 from the field and 0-for-4 from downtown), but Jannero committed three of his co-game-high 5 turnovers in the final 2:27. That included turnovers on back-to-back possessions, which led to a hook shot and layup for Zach Randolph that pushed the Memphis lead to 98-90.
After Hasheem Thabeet hit a shot on the Grizzlies’ next possession to put Memphis ahead 100-90, the game was pretty much over. I just hope Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins did the right thing and gave Pargo the game ball. He was their MVP down the stretch.
In all, the Bizarro Bulls gave up 20 points off 19 turnovers. That’s way too many for a team that had basically no margin for error, even if the Grizzlies surrendered 25 points off 22 turnovers themselves.
Said coach Vinny Del Negro: ”We had too many turnovers. We cut it to four, we couldn’t convert. We had a couple stops. We didn’t value the possession of the basketball well enough and just turned it over too much. It’s frustrating because you don’t even get a shot at the basket. We had some costly turnovers and that was unfortunate. … I was pleased with the effort, but I was disappointed with the outcome.”
The outcome was Chicago’s eighth straight loss, which dropped them to 1.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The only good news is that the Charlotte Bobcats lost to the Pacers in Indianapolis and the Miami Heat dropped a home game to the San Antonio Spurs. Every loss by a team competing for the East’s final four playoff spots is kind of like a win for the Bulls, right? Which is important, since the Bulls can’t win an actual game themselves.
Chicago’s Bizarro squad gave a strong showing, especially Murray (game-high 25 points), Hakim Warrick (22 points off the bench), and Law (season-high 18 points). I’m not sure what that means. If things were going a little better, I’d say their increased PT might lead to some development that would benefit the Bulls come playoff time. Only Chicago’s playoff hopes are looking worse by the day.
Let the “if the Bulls can only get healthy” refrain continue.
Well, those three players ended up with only 60 points and 30 rebounds to go along with 6 steals and 5 blocked shots, while shooting 22-for-42 from the field and 15-for-18 at the foul line. To put that into perspective, Chicago’s entire starting lineup combined for 78 points and 23 rebounds, and the Bulls earned 21 free throw attempts as a team.
More painful numbers: The Grizzlies outrebounded the Bulls 46-31, outscored them 62-42 in the paint and finished +9 in free throw attempts. To put things in a more science-y way, Memphis had decided advantages in Effective Field Goal Percentage, Offensive Rebound Percentage and Free Throw Rate…as illustrated by this Four Factors chart from Statsheet.com:
The Grizzlies outscored the Bulls 29-16 in the final quarter, and the most telling stretch occurred after Memphis had tied the game at 90 on a foul shot by Randolph. The Grizzlies then got two three-point plays — a layup and one — from Gasol on back-to-back possessions to go up 95-90. Gasol missed the free throw on his second three-point play opportunity, but Gay ended up with the offensive rebound, and then O.J. Mayo swooped in for a layup.
Just like that, the Grizzlies were up 97-90 and the game was essentially over.
While Memphis was getting high percentage shots at the basket — the Griz finished with 23 layups — the Bulls were settling for long jumpers, or forced jumpers, or having layups blocked.
Said Rose: ”It hurts. We worked so hard, then the ball bounces their way. We were right there and they made some great plays, effort plays, and they got the ball.”
Added coach Vinny Del Negro: “We have to get bodies on people and be more physical. You have to control the tempo of the game and get more baskets. Everyone has to be more physical and get more loose balls.”
Yeah, well, it’s hard to do that when your best defender and interior defender is sitting out due to plantar fasciitis. Now maybe people will start to understand why Charles Barkley thought Joakim should have been an All-Star. His absence is slowly killing the Bulls. And they have seven more consecutive games against potential playoff teams, including division leaders Dallas (twice), Orlando and Cleveland.
Said Luol Deng: “It’s not time to panic. We’ve got 21 games left. We’ve got to play with a lot more energy than this, especially in the second half.”
I’m all for the Bulls playing with more energy, but that’s not going to make them grow any taller or add any bulk. Brad Miller is a savvy veteran, but he’s old, slow and much more suited to a backup role at this stage of his career. And Taj Gibson has been fantastic for a first year player, but he’s still a rookie, and he got used like an old dish rag by Randolph before fouling out.
Chicago needs Noah back. Desperately. But that’s not going to happe for a while. This next 8-10 games could get ugly, folks. So, with all due respect to Deng…
…it might be time for a little panic.
1st timeout: Rose missed 19-footer
2nd timeout: Warrick was fouled before the timeout
3rd timeout: Deng had a 19-footer blocked by Gay
4th timeout: Randolph was fouled before the timeout
5th timeout: Murray turnover (Gay steals)
6th timeout: Deng drew a foul (2-for-2)