Some games are lost before the opening tip.
This was one of those games.
The Bulls were without Derrick Rose, who was hurting enough from his toe injury to sit himself out, rating his discomfort at a “six or seven” on a scale of one to 10.
Said Rose: “I went out there to shoot. (I was) a little sore. Sorer than usual. And I decided to sit out. (I was) mad. Mad the whole time. But hopefully in the future it gets better. It’s my decision … they left it up to me for (Tuesday).”
But there was more at work than just a missing superstar. Speaking of which…
…beware of revenge games.
Remember: The Bulls beat the Grizzlies by 40 points on New Years Day.
The Memphis players weren’t going to forget that.
No way. No how.
And before the game, Mike Conley made sure of it: “I said, ‘Let’s not forget what happened. That was the last thing I said to them: ‘That was an embarrassing loss. Let’s go out there and just play hard and leave it all out there on the court.’ I thought guys really took that to heart, especially in the first 6-7 minutes of the game.”
They sure did. And the Rose-less Bulls weren’t ready for it.
Said Luol Deng: “I don’t think we did a good job mentally preparing for them. We should have been ready for that. We should have known that anytime you beat a team like that in the NBA, next time, they can’t wait to see you. We should have been more prepared.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “They got great shots. They killed us on the boards. They turned us over. If you don’t defend, you don’t rebound and you turn it over, you don’t give yourself much of a chance to win.”
The numbers are ugly.
The Bulls rank first in Opponents PPG (85.0) and second in both Points Per Shot (1.03) and Opponents Adjusted Field Goal Percentage (.443). But the Grizzlies finished with 102 points on 54 percent shooting.
The Bulls lead the league in rebounds per game (46.6) and, more importantly, rebound differential (+8.2). But Memphis won the rebounding battle 46-34. And the Grizzlies’ Offensive Rebounding Rate was unbelievable 41.7.
Memphis scored 62 points in the paint and converted Chicago’s 19 turnovers into 26 points going the other way.
Yes, Rose and Rip Hamilton were both out, forcing Thibs to go with a starting backcourt of John Lucas III and Ronnie Brewer. But that wasn’t reason enough for what happened. Derrick may be the heartbeat of Chicago’s offense, but he’s not the driving force behind the defense and rebounding.
The Bulls came out flat. They were smacked around and then beaten down.
I get that their schedule has been challenging: 15 games in 24 days, 10 of which have been on the road, plus injuries and almost no time to practice. But there were other problems.
Such as another fourth quarter benching for Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah. Boozer dropped 13 points in the first half before going scoreless in the second. At least Booz kind of contributed. Noah — whom many people thought could be an All-Star this season health permitting — was awful: 22 minutes, 2 points, 1-for-4, 5 rebounds, 1 block, zero assists, zero steals, 3 turnovers.
I actually wanted Noah off the floor.
I’m officially worried about this. Jo is one of my favorite players ever. I love his fire and energy. But he’s playing like somebody used a time machine to bring back the rookie version of Joakim Noah. I keep wondering: Is he hurt? Like, really, really hurt? He’s playing that badly.
And I have other troubling questions. Such as:
How long will Hamilton be sidelined?
How bad off is Rose’s toe? Will the pain linger all season and into the playoffs?
It’s just one game. The sky isn’t falling. The Bulls still have the best record in their conference.
But I can’t shake the feeling that things are off. Time will tell…