Okay. I was wrong.
I predicted that — with Joakim Noah out — the Memphis frontcourt of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay might finish with at least 70 points and 35 rebounds, thereby exceeding their combined season average of 55.7 PPG and 27.0 RPG.
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 fact is, the Grizzlies’ big men wore the Bulls down, especially Zach Randolph. Derrick Rose posterized Randolph with a wicked dunk in the third quarter, but Z-Bo had the last laugh, finishing with game highs in points (31), rebounds (18) and free throws (7-for-8).
Of the dunk, Randolph said: “It got me on ESPN. … [Rose] got me good.” Well, you more than returned the favor, Zach.
Chicago started the game on fire, winning the first quarter 32-19 and going up by as many as 17 points in the second. But teams with an strong inside game and an opposing frontcourt tend to win the battle of attrition in the NBA, which might explain why Memphis is tied for the most comeback victories from a deficit of 15 points or more this season.
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)