Bulls have Grizzlies all shook up


Jan 2

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The Bulls’ 104-64 annihilation of the Memphis Grizzlies was wonderful for the Bulls in their home opener, but worse than anyone can imagine for Memphis, and perhaps legions of music lovers worldwide.

Elvis has to be dead. Because he had to be rolling over in his grave about this one.

“Embarrassing and humiliating,” lamented Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins.

Though it was such a thing of beauty for the 4-1 Bulls that coach Tom Thibodeau sat for much of the last 21 minutes when the Bulls never led by less than 30. And this is a team I picked to finish top four in the Western Conference. Never mind. There are dogs that don’t roll over as quickly as Memphis did, though you also did get the sense that with Chicagoans Tony Allen and Jeremy Pargo on the roster the Grizzlies may have done a bit too much New Year’s Eve celebrating in the city.

“I thought we were good on defense and we were good on offense,” said Thibodeau in rare all around praise.

Carlos Boozer was terrific with 17 points in 24 minutes to equal Ronnie Brewer and 11 rebounds. Boozer was pivotal in helping break open the game midway through the second quarter to take a 48-28 lead by scoring 11 of 13 Bulls points on an array of post jumpers, bank shots and fast breaks for scores.

“I thought we had chance to win (the championship) last year. I think we have a chance to win this year,” Boozer said. “We’re going to have a chance every year. Aside from Olympics and All-Star teams, this is the most talented team I’ve been on in the NBA.”

Derrick Rose finished with 16 points and six assists in sitting out the last 16:39 while 11 Bulls players scored, including rookie Jimmy Butler’s first NBA basket. And the Bulls will need some of those bench players more as Richard Hamilton sat out with a sore groin and could miss Tuesday’s home game with Atlanta and C.J. Watson suffered a scary looking elbow injury early in the fourth quarter in a loose ball scramble. It appeared his arm was bent backward and it could be a dislocation. The Bulls announced it was a sprain and he’ll have an MRI Monday. It seems likely he’d miss at least the next two games given the look of the injury and that he was wearing a sling going into the training area after the game.

“We took an X-Ray and it did not show anything,” said Thibodeau. “We’ll know more tomorrow. We’ll check how the swelling is, check what the doctors say.”

Until there is some determination, the Bulls don’t plan to bring in another player. John Lucas III, a favorite of Thibodeau’s, came in for Watson and did well in hitting a pair of threes. Also, Brewer, who hasn’t missed on his four three point attempts this season and is averaging 9.2 per game, has some experience playing point guard in Utah and in college. After playing just over 25 minutes Sunday, Rose likely will continue to play between 38 and 40 minutes, anyway, and Thibodeau sees no issue.

“When you have an injury, the next guy has to step in,” said Thibodeau. “That’s the way it is. John has filled that role before. (Brian) Scalabrine has filled that role before. Jimmy Butler is coming along. We have a lot of confidence in our guys on the bench. Derrick is in great shape and he can handle big minutes. Luol’s (Deng) in great shape. He can handle big minutes. Our bench guys need to get more minutes. They earned more minutes. It’s hard to give it to them (because) our starters are getting accustomed to playing with one another.”

I was a little disturbed to see that Deng cut his little Mohawk style in his hair and I hope he maintains his strength, though he left the locker room in a stylish gray suit with a unique double collar. I’d thought it was ripped and re sewn, though given my preference for well worn sweater vests I had to admit I wasn’t much up on the current styles.

Ah, but I digress, and well off the point.

Which was as complete an effort as a team can have. With just over two minutes left in the third quarter, the Grizzlies had just 36 points and were trailing by 46.

Among the first nine players Memphis put in the game, none scored in double figures with highly paid Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol pretty much giving up and Zach Randolph going out with an injury late in the first quarter.

“I think they (fans) got a little bored out there watching,” Rose noted when someone asked him about it being an ideal home opener. “Hopefully they loved it. We played hard and we played team basketball.”

Rose also finally admitted he does have an individual goal this season, though not quite the MVP of last season.

“Defensively, I know it’s a huge thing. I’m pushing myself as a player. One of the goals (I have),” he said, “(is) making (all) defensive team. No matter what it is (first or second). Put me on any team. I’m fine.”

Rose, who had been criticized some about his defense his first seasons, began to make the case against the Clippers Saturday with a stirring defensive performance against Chris Paul, especially down the stretch as the Bulls kept the Clippers and Paul from making a serious run. Rose didn’t get a complete chance Sunday with Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley out and rookie Jeremy Pargo, younger brother of former Bull Jannero, substituting. But coming in shooting 48.3 percent, Rose held Pargo to two of 13.

But it was once again a vital Bulls defense that quickly stole the hearts of the Grizzlies players. The Grizzlies shot 31 percent for the game, one of nine on threes and only had 14 free throws to 29 for the Bulls. But it was the relentless, unremitting play of the Bulls on defense combined with an offense rife with ball and player movement that showed the Bulls several classes above their opponent.

This game was less about any play by play than continuing effort that never stopped and had one my favorite moments Omer Asik flying out of bounds to save a loose ball as Grizzlies players admired, throw it behind his back on the save while falling into the stands. The ball went to Watson, who threw ahead to Brewer for the dunk and 84-44 lead to end the third.

“I love his effort (eight points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes),” said Joakim Noah. “I love his heart. He’s very aggressive going after the ball. He’s getting more comfortable offensively. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do. He got me excited a couple of times tonight.”

And earned himself a leaping chest bump from Noah as the team left the floor to end that third quarter.

The Bulls’ defense frustrated the Grizzlies from the start, smothering Randolph inside with their size as he was wild on his first two attempts.

“We come in waves,” said Noah. “Everybody brings something different to this team. I look at our bigs as (a) strength and we complement eachother pretty well.”

The Bulls got off fast 7-2, Rose getting fouled crossing over Pargo so forcefully it appeared Pargo was waving to the crowd. So much for any lingering good feeling to where Rose attended college.

“Sorry we beat them that bad,” said Rose. “But it still is the NBA. I take home first. I was born here, of course.”

Though playing here is what makes the Bulls potentially a special team.

I also thought the Grizzlies’ plan was poorly conceived as they failed to get Gasol a shot for the first eight possessions. If the Bulls have a weakness defensively on the front line it is Boozer. The Bulls will usually put him on the lesser offensive player, and the last two games he had non scorers in Chuck Hayes and DeAndre Jordan, so there was little worry. Noah is going to get the top scoring center or forward every game. Of course, those kinds of matchups are not unusual around the NBA and most teams move their best defenders to the top scorers if their positions are similar.

But the Grizzlies could get nothing going as the Bulls were exceptionally active. The Bulls were only ahead 7-6 midway through the first (the game wasn’t much contested after the first, so I have to spend more time with this). They forced Pargo into shooting a 30 foot airball for a shot clock violation, Noah blocked Gay when he got inside, Rose swiped an O.J. Mayo pass (he looked really bad, by the way), Taj Gibson blocked Mayo at the basket, Mayo threw a pass out of bounds while being swarmed. While this was going on, Boozer got out to convert a fast break layup after another Randolph air ball. It’s the kind of activity from Boozer more familiar from when he played for the Jazz.

Boozer also got fouled on a nice give and go cut and Brewer took a deep corner pass from Rose for a three.

“D-Rose is playing great, MVP basketball,” said Brewer. “He’s finding everyone. When D-Rose finds you he wants you to shoot the ball if you are open. He’s making us look good and making the game come easy to us.”

And Brewer has been looking much better.

It’s easy to forget the way last season went. But he was supposed to be the starting shooting guard. He hadn’t quite recovered from a serious groin injury after being traded to Memphis before becoming a free agent, and he never could claim the job from Keith Bogans. So, he said, he just tried to heal and then fit in with a new team and not do too much. Also, with the kind of injury Brewer had it’s difficult to get the strength back in your legs for shooting. But Brewer now is healthy and is making shots.

“He’s got his confidence back,” said Thibodeau, “and we really need him.”

The Bulls led 25-12 after the first with Randolph going down. The team said he could return, but the game got away so quickly there was little point. And as a disgusted Hollins pointed out, “We were getting beat before Zach left. It had nothing to do with Zach not being in the game. We only scored 12 points in the first quarter and he wasn’t hurt.”

It was a marked contrast to watch the two teams with Grizzlies players, especially Gay, dribbling too much and jacking up wild jump shots, a lot of standing around and watching, little ball movement or passing. While the Bulls continued to fly around the court, dive on the floor and pressure the Grizzlies. As the Bulls stretched it out later, there was Deng saving a loose ball as Gay stood by watching and passing ahead for a Noah slam. I loved the movement to get to 70-32 with Noah on top watching Boozer clear through and bring defense and Deng cutting in behind for the pass and score. Three times Grizzlies shooters (or attempters) hit the backboard with shots that missed the rim and Asik even had a drive across the key and finish for a score.

While the Bulls came in fifth in the league in assists averaging almost 23 and had 24 on 39 baskets Sunday.
They also were blazing with 33 fast break points to 13 for Memphis.

“Derrick gives you whatever the team needs,” said Thibodeau. “He got us off to a really good start with his defense and pushing the ball up the floor. When he pushes the ball like that he gets everyone moving. We needed that energy. His stat line does not really reflect how well he played.”

The Bulls went to the bench to open the second quarter and kept piling it on. Watson has been much better and more assertive this season in pushing the ball as well along with Rose and found Kyle Korver open for a score after Gay launched another me first shot. Watson scored on a nice reverse from the wing, and then Boozer took over, something we’ve rarely experienced since he signed last season. He stepped to the basket when Rose saw his usual show on the pick and roll and Rose found him for a layup. The Grizzlies did little helping and every time Gasol stepped up to stop Rose, Boozer slipped and sprung open. He stepped out for jumpers and ran the court and finished. Then with just a few seconds left in the first half, Rose held for the last shot and then—whoosh!—just blew by Grizzlies spectators for a layup and 54-28 halftime lead. But that was just four in the quarter for Rose to 11 and six rebounds for Boozer.

“Carlos was great tonight,” said Thibodeau. “Really, really good. He ran the floor, played defense, rebounded the ball and scored. He played really, really well.”

And that wasn’t the Thibodeau speak to protect his players. Boozer was very effective.

So, predictably of late, Boozer was asked about, well, how do you feel about not always being the fans’ favorite. This line of questioning has become somewhat common for Boozer after being booed last season and sitting out some fourth quarters for defense. Similarly, Deng got some of this a few years back. Boozer talked in the preseason about silencing so called critics, but he seems to be tiring of the story line. Two reporters began to question Boozer about the local reaction to him, and he knew where they were going. He is cooperative and cordial with the media, but he isn’t particularly revealing and does seem to be tiring of any need to defend himself. If also the basket, at times. “I’m not worried about any personal stuff,” said Boozer. “It is about the team. Everything will take care of itself as long as we continue doing what we are capable of doing.”

But the questioning persisted about how he felt.

“I feel fine (about how I am received),” Boozer said with a tight smile. “We’ve got great fans who have supported me throughout the whole season and the playoffs and they showed great love tonight. It was exciting.”

But they weren’t ready to quite give up yet.

Asked if he is liked, Boozer said: “I’m not worried about that. I don’t know what story you guys are trying to write. I’m going to tell you we’re just worried about getting better every day as a group and marching in the direction of our goal and you guys can write that story.”

The story Monday may be the health of Watson and Hamilton and whether they’ll play Tuesday against Atlanta or Wednesday in Detroit, where Hamilton has talked about being excited to make his first return. I think Earl Boykins still is out there if things don’t go well for Watson.

But for the New Year’s Day holiday, it was the excitement of what the year can bring.

“It’s a great way to start,” said Noah. “Playing the home opener and to win by 50 is very good. But we’re not satisfied. We want to keep going and keep getting better.”

Yes, you can start feeling a big hunk of burning love for this Bulls team.

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