Nobody predicted the Bulls and Grizzlies would replicate last night’s 128-122 Suns-Thunder offensive supernova, but this was as ugly as basketball gets.
The Bulls failed to score for the last 3:15 of the game and scored just two points the final 5:40 as Memphis ground out a huge win in their race to secure a Western Conference playoff berth.
Both teams hold similar win-loss records, yet the Bulls could claim the 4th spot in the weak East while Memphis was on the outside looking in before tonight’s game.
The game began to turn in the Grizzlies’ favour late in the third quarter with a barrage of offensive tip-ins from their energetic big men and threes from the likes of Mike Miller.
Miller would finish with 14 points on 5-7 shooting including 4-5 from behind the arc.
Marc Gasol added 18 points and 10 rebounds, while his frontcourt running mate also recorded a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards.
Kosta Koufos was the difference maker down the stretch for Memphis, the Greek big man contributed 12 points largely on put-backs from missed shots that kept the Grizzlies ahead.
Losing the rebounding battle was always going to be a decisive factor in this game, though the Bulls lead the fight at halftime. Memphis, however, would dominate the second half glass, outrebounding Chicago 27-14. The Grizzlies pulled down 10 offensive rebounds compared to Chicago’s 12 defensive rebounds.
Looking back to the offense, while Joakim Noah’s stellar passing and scoring repertoire has received ample praise the past week, the Bulls’ offense tonight was a car-crash. Far too often they’d dump the ball to the post and hold, looking for a cutter or dribble hand-off.
These plays work well for the Bulls but when not moving the ball much becomes your primary offense, good defenses like Memphis’ will shut down the passing lanes emphatically. The Bulls gave up several turnovers from the second quarter onwards as Noah tried to thread the ball through gaps that didn’t exist.
Combined with this lack of motion, the Bulls contrived to miss 11 of their 13 three-point attempts.
The first quarter set the low-scoring tone, Memphis leading 15-12 after the first frame as both teams combined for appallingly low shooting percentages.
Joakim Noah played his usual all-round game, finishing with 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists, though his passing was often interrupted and he had several mindless turnovers at critical moments, once throwing away a pass instead of attempting a shot before a travel in the post all but sealed the game.
Taj Gibson kept Chicago afloat at times, leading the Bulls with 18 points and continued his excellent shooting from the baseline, comfortably knocking down a shot that has increasingly become a staple of his game.
He will continually find himself open as Augustin and Noah draw defensive attention with solid pick-and-roll action.
Augustin ignited the Bulls offense in the second quarter, scoring 12 in the period but made too many poor decisions, culminating in his airball on a foot-on-the-line three with the Bulls down six in the closing minutes. Augustin was the third of just three Bulls to score more than 10 points.
This game was supposed to mark the victorious start of a six-game Bulls home-stand. Now the task must be to bounce back, a tough job considering the opponents in the stretch at the United Center includes Houston, San Antonio, Miami and Oklahoma City. We will know much more about this team, especially offensively, very shortly.