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.
Speaking of which, the Grizzlies grabbed 8 of those offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter, effectively stifling the Bulls’ attempt to rally.
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
Quincy Pondexter: +14
Wayne Ellington: +13
Jerryd Bayless: +10
Marreese Speights: +9
Darrell Arthur: +5
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.”