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Bulls tame Grizzlies
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 26
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It was a playoff type game for the Bulls Friday at the United Center with their 99-96 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.
Not necessarily because of the physical, defensive struggle, the half dozen technical fouls and the veteran officiating crew led by Joey Crawford. Sure, the Bulls will see all that as they try to move deeper into the playoffs.
But they’ll also begin to see the simple strategy the Grizzlies dropped on the Bulls that necessitated Derrick Rose’s driving three-point play with 10.8 seconds remaining to hold off the Grizzlies and move the Bulls two games ahead of Boston for best record in the Eastern Conference at 52-19.
That strategy is: Let’s see if your other guys can beat us.
“We’ll probably see that,” agreed Kyle Korver. “The rest of us have to be ready. I think we have guys who are able to do that.”
That will be the test for the Bulls as the Grizzlies with three guys shading toward and chasing Rose, denying the driving lane and challenging his shots, pushed Rose into a six for 22 shooting game, though he finished with 24 points, including the Bulls’ last six, seven assists and seven rebounds.
Next: Box and one with someone face guarding.
“Everybody is going to help,” agreed Rose. “That’s the way it’s going to be in the playoffs. Grinding me every time I go to the hole. Foul me real hard. Try to put me on the floor. I’m ready for it.”
It’s a risky strategy and it, perhaps, doomed the Grizzlies as with their big men out of position chasing toward Rose, the Bulls were able to come from on top and the back side for a 45-32 rebounding edge on a usually good rebounding team and a 29-15 edge in second chance points.
“Their 18 offensive rebounds and 29 second chance points were the difference,” said Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. “We just couldn’t turn them over tonight. That, with the fact we got crushed on the glass, was the difference.”
But the Grizzlies often outplayed the Bulls, shooting 49.3 percent in a mixed defensive effort for the Bulls and getting eight steals and eight blocks while the Bulls didn’t get a block from the starting lineup.
It is becoming something to watch as both Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, back together after injuries, haven’t played anywhere near their pre injury form. Both have been spotty on defense and Noah’s rebounding has been relatively non existent, four in 32 minutes Friday and an average of 5.8 in 29 minutes the last four games. Thobodeau has mentioned about neither being back in game rhythm after injuries and still working their way back.
Friday after the Bulls started poorly and fell behind 20-11, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau pulled both Boozer and Noah with almost five minutes left in the first quarter and Taj Gibson, who had seven rebounds in just 16 minutes, led a frenzied effort that enabled the Bulls to pull within 22-21 after one quarter.
“We know when we come in we have to play with a lot of energy to get the lead back or maintain a lead,” said Gibson, who has been the team’s best rebounder of late averaging 9.2 the last six games in just over 20 minutes per game. “We brought energy and got that lead back.”
Gibson has been reduced to primarily a defensive role. But he said in addition to constant work with Kurt Thomas he received some motivation from the 1991 championship reunion ceremony earlier this month.
“The guys from the old Bulls team were talking to me and telling me one good thing about me was I can make a difference for other players without having plays called for me,” said Gibson. “That I can get my points and rebounds from working and guys like them did that, like Horace Grant, who was talking to me a lot. He said to play defense and I can help the team get scores in other ways. They won championships that way.”
The reserves did take the lead back going ahead 35-31 midway through the third quarter before Boozer and Noah returned. The Bulls fell behind 45-37 before Luol Deng hit a pair of big threes off Rose penetrations and Rose fought off the entire Grizzlies’ inside for a loose ball and putback to close the half with the Bulls back ahead 49-46.
“We were up 45-37 and they went on a 12-1 run,” noted Hollins. “That was the other big part of tonight’s game.”
But it also was the Grizzlies, in effect, daring the other Bulls to beat them, and there was just enough with Rose pushing the team over the finish line at the end. But the Bulls are going to see a steady diet of this come playoff time against better competition with the Grizzlies at 40-33 fighting for the last playoff spot in the West.
“I thought we were really flat to start the game,” said Thibodeau. “They were out working us. I wanted to try to get some energy into the game. When you allow a team to get gong early, which we did, it becomes more difficult to slow them down. We gave them confidence early. You have to play with an edge and if you don’t you are asking for trouble. And I did not think we had an edge. We were trying to outscore them and that’s a recipe for disaster. We were fortunate to win in the end.”
Rose made sure of that with a classic close.
Rose really has no weaknesses. But he is right handed, so the Grizzlies laid on his right side, forcing him left. But with the clock running down and the Bulls leading 95-95, he saw a lane open and gunned it past Tony Allen, whizzing by Zach Randolph who’d come up on a Thomas screen attempt, and then bouncing into Marc Gasol at the basket. Rose finished a layup left handed and was fouled for the three point play to send the growingly electric United Center crowd into delirium with the 98-93 lead.
“I was just trying to go hard, try to get the foul,” said Rose. People played me to my right hand and I’m pretty good (going) left. I was just trying to get contact and I did. And then I tried to focus and make the layup. I’d missed so many bunnies.”
Still, the Grizzlies had one more chance after O.J. Mayo made a three when Shane Battier tipped a miss to him with 4.3 seconds. The Bulls got the ball to Rose, but he missed his only free throw among 13 he attempted, giving the Grizzlies a last shot at a tie. Thibodeau doesn’t like to foul in that situation despite being up three with 3.6 seconds. The Grizzlies got the switch, but Noah stayed tall and straight and Conley’s three point attempt over him came up short.
“I thought (Rose) adjusted,” said Thibodeau. “His three wasn’t going (zero for five), so he started going to the basket a little more to get fouled. That’s what I like about him. He didn’t get discouraged. He had some drives he didn’t get the call and kept going. At the end, he made some drives. You like the way he stayed with the game. And I liked his effort defensively in the fourth quarter (after going under screens for Mike Conley early).”
The Bulls weren’t as generous and unselfish with the ball as they’d been in the big margin wins of late, getting 19 assists on 34 field goals. And they were a modest six of 17 on threes, though Deng was big with three of four and 23 points to complement Rose. Boozer with 12 points and nine rebounds was the only other Bull in double figures.
“I thought the last couple of games we moved the ball better with the second and third pass than we did tonight,” said Korver. “When teams load up on our first option, the key for us is to make the second and third and fourth pass to the open guy. The shots are there. We have to have the trust.”
But in what the Bulls should expect as well, the Grizzlies constantly went at Boozer no matter whom he was playing, putting him often in pick and roll.
The Grizzlies opened the second half going to Gasol, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds, against Boozer. And then when the Bulls switched Boozer onto Randolph, the Grizzlies posted Randolph, who led Memphis but with just 16 points. The Bulls did a good job helping, which is one of their strong points, though the Grizzlies pounded away inside with Gasol getting 12 of his 14 points in the third and the Grizzlies within 74-72 after three.
Toward the end of the third Tony Allen, who was playing active defense and getting steals early, drew a technical foul for screaming at the Bulls bench among a series of oddball antics all game that included giving himself a giddyap after baskets and sticking his tongue out or gesturing to the crowd. I assumed he wasn’t having a breakdown as no one on the Grizzlies benched seemed surprised.
Earlier before halftime, Boozer and Randolph drew technicals when Boozer pushed Randolph down from behind, and with Crawford lead official you can always count on two or three technicals for overeager comments, which Noah and Battier, of all guys, drew.
Like good teams do, though, the Bulls pride themselves on outworking teams throughout. The Bulls defense stiffened later and the players began to move a bit more.
“Even when were on the bench with Derrick penetrating, we were saying the perimeter guys have to move, not just stand around,” said Deng. “Derrick draws so much attention, you have to lock in and make your shots.”
It should be pretty much the formula for the playoffs because without another All Star on the team, the strategy the Grizzlies deployed is going to become boiler plate. The Bulls have seen it at times this season, but not as much lately. Better teams will work at it, especially in playoff series when you have time to prepare and focus on a team’s strengths.
“They have a shot blocker coming to contest my shots every time,” said Rose. “The high (defender on the pick and roll) will show and wait until I get the ball to a certain side. Then the guard goes off his man. It’s why I was able to skip (cross court pass) to Keith (Bogans) or Jo, who got some layups. They’re helping so much off the pick and roll making sure I don’t drive, so Keith and Lu made some big shots.”
They can be sure they’ll continue to get them.
It’s become a delight to listen to Rose talk about basketball, and you begin to also see the way the rest of the league treats him. Forget all the MVP chants around from fans. Rarely have you heard as many players mention another for MVP, as Randolph did Friday for Rose, and watch player reactions when they make a play against him, like when Darrell Arthur had a block.
But I loved Rose’s response. Motivated to get back? Nah.
“A blocked shot is a blocked shot. It doesn’t bother me,” said Rose. “I don’t get mad or anything. If anything we get the ball back. It went out of bounds, so we get another shot at the basket. I’d be mad if it were on a fast break. But the majority of times when someone blocks a shot at the basket it goes out of bounds and we get the ball back.”
It just shows how Rose is always thinking the game forward, how they talk about the great ones seeing the game in slow motion or anticipating what will occur. It’s second nature already for him.
“At the end I knew I had to make shots or make plays,” said Rose. “I’m trying to get better at the end just being a closer. I’m still trying to get there.”
If he’s far away, it’s hard to see where that is. You won’t see many better finishes than Rose had Friday against a triple team and over a seven footer at the rim. The Grizzlies played it exactly as they planned. And Rose still beat them, pumping his arms in a rare show of emotion afterward. It doesn’t get much better than that. It’s the stuff of greatness.
“I forced him to the left and obviously his body control is amazing,” said Allen. “He was able to finish over our big and that was the big play.”
“Poise under pressure,” Thibodeau said about Rose’s finish. ”That is probably the biggest thing. You don’t get rattled and have the abilioty and courage to take and make that shot and not have the fear of missing it. And if they miss, have the courage to come back next game and do it again. He has no fear.”
Thibodeau brought out Kurt Thomas for more play Friday to get some size in against the clever Randolph, who isn’t a jumper, and it was an effective strategy to close as Thibodeau went primarily down the stretch with Thomas. Though Boozer had a key putback on his own miss to pull the Bulls within 91-90 with 4:17 left.
The Grizzlies led 86-82 with 6:36 left and 88-84 with 5:58 left before Deng and Boozer had the hustling putbacks off misses and Korver got Allen to fly by on a pump fake and made a three to give the Bulls the 93-91 lead with 3:44 left. Memphis never tied or got ahead after that as they went more than four minutes without a field goal until that late, desperation three by Mayo. During that stretch, Thomas got a big block on a Randolph attempt and Deng and Noah had strong closeouts to help force Conley and Mayo misses.
“There are nights we are not going to shoot the ball well,” said Deng. “But there is no excuse for a team playing harder than us. That’s the way we define ourselves. We want to be the team that dives on the floor, plays hard. That’s out game.”
But it is enough?
Having Rose may just make it so.