Game Notes: Grizzlies at Bulls
Bulls lose third straight. Playoff window is closing.
by Bryan Crawford / @From_The_Chi
There isn’t a team in the NBA more banged up than the Chicago Bulls. Both Derrick Rose and Luol Deng were unable to practice on Tuesday and Wednesday due to sore knees. On Wednesday, word came out of Deerfield that Joakim Noah would be sidelined a minimum of three-weeks in order to try and give the plantar fasciitis in his left foot time to heal and get better. That same day, the team announced that although they would retain him in some sort of administrative capacity, veteran PG Lindsey Hunter would be waived in order to make room for the signing of 6-9 PF Chris Richard for the remainder of the season who gives them the frontline help they so desperately need.
With the Bulls in the midst of trying to make the playoffs again for the fifth time in six seasons, being shorthanded with injuries to your key guys no less, couldn’t come at a worse time. Said Vinny Del Negro on the injuries, “It’s been frustrating, but you can’t let that sink in. You’ve got to keep battling and fighting. No excuses.”
On Monday, Chicago gave up an opponent season high 63 rebounds to Josh Smith and the Atlanta Hawks, on Thursday night the Bulls played host to the Memphis Grizzlies led by All-Star and Mr. 20 & 10 himself, Zach Randolph. You might know him as Z-Bo.
The Grizzlies came to Chicago having played a tightly contested game in New Orleans against the Hornets the night before and the Bulls were hoping this time—the Hawks came in off a back-to-back against Milwaukee on Monday—a couple days rest would actually give them an advantage over a team playing on consecutive nights. But it was not be. Memphis came in owners of a franchise high five game road winning streak and was looking to not only keep it going, but win consecutive games for the first time since mid-January and only the second time all season. And back-to-backs? It’s nothing.
“I think we had one of the toughest back-to-backs this year,” said OJ Mayo. “We had Kobe at home and LeBron on the road. So, you know, it don’t get no tougher than that.”
But early on, it appeared as if games on consecutive nights were going to be a problem for the Grizzlies after all as the Bulls, led by Derrick Rose, jumped out to a 13 point lead on Memphis in the first quarter. Memphis shot the ball so poorly, at one point Rose had just as many points (10) as their entire team. Save for an excellent 8-point and 6-rebound performance by Zack Randolph, it looked as if the Bulls had things under control.
With less than five minutes to play in the second quarter, the Bulls led by as many as 17 points, but it was at that point the Grizzlies started shooting lights out and actually closed the quarter on a 13-2 run which cut Chicago’s lead to 6 points and made the score 51-45 in favor of Chicago by halftime.
In the third quarter, the Grizzlies continued their hot shooting going 13-19 (69 percent) from the field and got another excellent quarter of basketball from Z-Bo who had 10 points and four rebounds in the quarter, giving him 24 points and 12 rebounds in the game. Still, the Bulls withstood Memphis’ offensive explosion with timely shooting and big momentum building plays.
One of those plays was a Derrick Rose dunk on Zach Randolph which made the United Center explode. Off a perfectly executed back door play by Rose on Memphis’ Mike Conley, Brad Miller delivered the ball perfectly at the top of the key and Derrick took off down the lane and exploded to the basket. Randolph who is a scorer and a rebounder, not a shot blocker, tried to block the dunk but Rose got to the rim too fast and jammed it home. Said Randolph after the game on the posterization, “He got me good. It got me on ESPN.”
Memphis outscored the Bulls 26-19 in the quarter, but Chicago still managed to hold on to the lead and went into the fourth quarter up 51-45. But the Grizzlies were definitely surging.
In the fourth quarter, it was the OJ Mayo show as he scored 10 points in the quarter and was key in putting the game away for the Grizzlies who won 105-96. Instead of shooting the jumper which is his usual MO, Mayo made aggressive drives to the basket which got him to the foul line. “Man, I’ve been struggling so bad [shooting] these last four or five games. I was just like, pretty much forget the jumpshot and I tried to attack the basket and make plays for my teammates or try and finish at the rim. It kind of worked in my favor tonight and I should probably try and do that more often.”
Zach Randolph continued his dominating performance finishing the game with 31 points and 18 rebounds, but it was all in a night’s work for the Grizzlies big man. “I just tried to be aggressive and put the guys on my back,” said Randolph. Said Rudy Gay on the victory, “I’m just happy we won. It’s my first time winning here [Chicago].”
It would be the second consecutive game the Bulls gave up 18 rebounds to an opposing player and the second consecutive game they would be outrebounded by 15 or more.
“We can’t expect to win games when we’re giving up 53 percent from the field and giving up that many offensive rebounds  and letting them score 60 points in the second half,” said Vinny Del Negro after the game. “We’re gonna win by defending, we’re not gonna outscore people. That’s the makeup of our team right now. We’re gonna have to get better defensively and find a way to get some loose balls and rebound the ball to beat some of these better teams.”
Whatever the Bulls issues are, they’d better find a way to correct them quickly. They’ve already lost three straight and the remaining games on their schedule, including the next seven contests won’t make things any easier. Three weeks ago, the talk was how the Bulls were playing their way into the playoffs. Right now they’re in 7th place in the Eastern Conference with Milwaukee, Miami, and Charlotte all fighting them for playoff position. Unless Chicago can turn things around quickly, it looks as if they’re about to play their way right out of the postseason.