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Bulls ground down by Grizzlies
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 8
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Before Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau went over the Grizzlies plays, as he always does, and his team’s priorities.
Thibodeau drew on a dry erase board, but it might have been a mirror as there is no team in the NBA that more duplicates the Bulls than the Grizzlies, also in the top three in defense and the bottom five in offense, a physical, defensive oriented rebounding and offensively challenged team.
“It’s going to come down to who blinks first,” Thibodeau told his players.
Someone get the Visine.
Because it was the Bulls who seemed to have a tic and blinked furiously as the Grizzlies pulled away in the last minutes for an 85-77 victory.
The Bulls after getting within 77-75 on a Taj Gibson 19-footer with 5:54 left, closed the game missing eight of their last nine shots with a pair of turnovers.
“It was about who can take the most swings, a dog fight, and about who’s going to blink,” said Gibson, who led the Bulls with 18 points coming off the bench. “Unfortunately, we blinked first, it seems like. They got to a lot of loose balls; it was a real physical game. I felt the game was right there for the taking.”
It was and the Grizzlies took it like the Bulls have many games recently, making the hustle plays down the stretch, winning on the boards 45-38, in offensive rebounds 11-6 and second chance points a shocking 16-4.
The Bulls lost for just the third time in the last 13 games to fall to 34-28. The Grizzlies won their eighth in the last 11 to go to 35-26, though they remain ninth in the Western Conference a game behind the Mavericks and Suns. The Bulls remained fourth in the Eastern Conference, a game and a half ahead of Washington.
“They outplayed us,” acknowledged Joakim Noah, who had 15 points, the only starter in double figures, along with eight rebounds and six assists but six turnovers. “They’re a tough team. Marc Gasol and Z-Bo (Zach Randolph) are a handful down there. And then Tony Allen was really the difference in the game (more offensive rebounds than any Bulls player). He disrupted everything out there with his defense.
“A lot of guys stepped up for them,” Noah added. “Mike Miller was hitting shots; we didn’t. I thought we fought hard. I wish we could have that game back. But they beat us. The rebounding was a problem. We usually win those battles, the rebounding battle. And they shot the ball better. Overall I’m happy; we fought hard. Shots didn’t go down and you have to give credit when credit is due; they played really well.”
It was a game that could have gone either way, though you could see what was coming as both teams set season lows for first quarter scoring with a 15-12 Grizzlies first quarter lead.
“Both teams are similar, smash mouth basketball,” said Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger. “Both teams will be sore tomorrow.”
The Grizzlies not quite as much.
Some things didn’t go well for the Bulls that may have made a difference.
Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin were a combined two of 10 on threes as the Bulls were two of 13 overall. The Grizzlies, led by Miller with four of five, were five of eight overall on threes. So, ballgame right there.
But it’s more than just missing shots.
Sure, it happens, but it happens more often when the other team challenges and contests, runs you off the three point line, denies, rotates and makes you rush. Yes, Bulls defense sort of stuff. They faced it Friday, and they didn’t have quite enough as they ended up splitting the season series with Memphis.
“In the second half, (after the Bulls led 39-35 at halftime thanks to Noah with three strong driving baskets to close the half) we did a much better job of getting back on defense and pressuring them,” said Gasol, who led Memphis with 18 points and 10 rebounds. “We kept the pressure when they swung the ball to the weak side. Everybody moved.”
Frankly, Memphis is a bit better and playing similarly should have the edge over the Bulls. Not that Thibodeau ever is going to admit that. But they have their full team that went to the Western Conference finals last season. Randolph and Gasol have been All-Stars, Allen has been a regular all-defensive player. Mike Conley, though struggling with shooting lately, has become a top 10 guard or close. And they have size in reserve as backup center Kosta Koufos was big (tall as well) with 12 points in 19 minutes and four offensive rebounds (Noah had zero). Even former Wisconsin center Jon Leuer had seven points in seven minutes.
“They were scrappy, guys like Tony Allen, Koufos, how he had his hands in there,” said Gibson. “Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are All-Stars. I feel they used our own game against us. You got Zach Randolph; he’s tough. He doesn’t jump no more than an inch off the ground, but he’s crafty. He’s real crafty with hands and the way he uses his body. You have a similar player with Marc Gasol, but he’s seven foot. They’re both wide body guys, not extremely built muscular guys, heavy set guys who know how to use their weight and it’s tough in there.”
Randolph also had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds while it was Miller and Koufos off the bench combining for 26 points that was crucial. Miller made a pair of threes that erased the Bulls momentum after they led 61-54 with 4:06 left in the third quarter. And a Koufos putback of a Conley miss gave the Grizzlies a 65-63 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies would open the fourth with another Miller three and an eventual 18-4 run that left the Bulls to come back from a 72-65 Memphis lead with 9:30 left in the game.
“Rebounding was the name of the game,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who also earned his coaching league high 10th technical foul. “In the third quarter, 30 points. The last five minutes of the third quarter was a disaster.”
The Bulls got 32 points off the bench between Gibson and D.J. Augustin. But there were just too many lost offensive rebounds and loose balls.
And a little anticipation the Bulls will face now that they play so much with Noah out of the high post to initiate their offense. It’s nice when it works and everyone can celebrate the Noah triple doubles. But it’s still not a classic or easy offense to run. And the Grizzlies, a good defensive team, were prepared. It’s the sort of thing you see in the playoffs. Maybe you can run all those back door cuts against the Pistons and Knicks. But the Grizzlies were ready, cutting off the angles and forcing the Bulls into numerous mistakes, especially down the stretch of the game.
After Gibson made that 19-footer with 5:54 remaining for the two-point Bulls deficit, the rest of the game was a study in the Bulls being outhustled and outplayed.
Courtney Lee, the famous favorite of Bulls fans a few years back, missed a jumper. But Allen snuck inside Jimmy Butler for the putback, Noah slamming the ball in disgust. Though he would have his letdowns to come.
The Grizzlies also don’t let you catch so easily. The Bulls went into their offense. First, Allen overplayed Butler to deny a handoff from Augustin. Then Augustin was denied trying to run a back door play with Noah. Gibson got the ball and shot short from 16 feet. Koufas ran out as Gibson missed and Gibson was late getting back, Koufos scoring on a layup, the sort of hustle plays the Bulls usually make to frustrate opponents. That made it 81-75 Grizzlies as the Grizzlies had 15 fast break points.
And again Memphis pressure led to a mistake.
The Bulls continued to go to Noah in the high post, and it has worked well in recent weeks. Butler tried to curl around Noah and cut down the lane, a play that has worked well lately. But Allen held Butler up a split second, which was enough to throw off the timing. Noah’s bounce pass was picked off by Koufos. Who is that guy?
“I think I tried to sneak some passes in I shouldn’t,” acknowledged Noah. “I threw some passes I shouldn’t have thrown. I had one I dribbled the ball up the court and tried to make a cross court pass. I should have just kept it and laid it in. Things you wish you could have back.”
Gasol missed and Noah tried another bounce pass to Butler, which Allen grabbed for a tie up. Butler won the tip and Gibson had a nice put back score after the Grizzlies cut off Augustin’s back door cut and he was forced into an off balanced jumper.
“They know about the back doors,” agreed Augustin. “We’ve just got to do a better job of getting there. Just because they know about them doesn’t mean they can take it away every time. Just keep playing and play better next time.”
Gasol missed another jumper. But Koufos again got the rebound, Noah again slamming the ball down in frustration as the Grizzlies called timeout and Koufos was mentioned by Bulls broadcasters the most in history.
Conley missed, but Gasol tapped the ball back out for yet another Memphis second possession. They missed, but Augustin air balled a three and Conley ran out in another fast break and Hinrich grabbed him. Conley made both free throws for an 83-77 lead with 2:16 left. The Bulls couldn’t get a clean shot and Hinrich forced up a drive as the 24-second clock was to expire. And even as the Bulls continued to defend aggressively as well, the Grizzlies were denying every back door cut and pressuring on the perimeter. Noah drove and was called for traveling as Gasol and Randolph closed on him. Gasol would, predictably, finish the scoring for the game with a putback of a Randolph miss.
“Guys understand tonight we kind of let one slide,” said Gibson. “I’m looking forward to guys getting ready for the next task, and the next task is Miami (Sunday). We’re not going to need extra hype to get ready for that game.”
The Heat players arrived in Chicago early Friday from their Thursday loss in San Antonio. If you see them, buy them a drink. Or two. Or three. Perhaps they’d need the Visine this time.