The Lead: Fans tend to focus on their own teams, but this game was probably more about the Bulls than the Grizzlies. Under impressive rookie head coach Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls played hard and did everything right, leading from buzzer to buzzer even without starting frontcourt duo Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, both out due to injury.
The Bulls entered the game as the league's best defensive team, allowing only 97.3 points per 100 possessions, and they collapsed into the paint today, harassing and disrupting the Grizzlies' inside game and shutting down driving lanes, with the incredible length of forward duo Luol Deng and Taj Gibson (6 blocks) leading the way.
On the offensive end, Derrick Rose got to the rim at will. Rose's combination of speed, quickness, and power is both awe-inspiring and fear-inducing to witness from courtside, where you can almost feel the whoosh when he goes by. Rose finished with a triple-double: 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists. And with Rose drawing attention, the Bulls secondary players stepped up and knocked down open shots, with Deng, Kyle Korver, and Kurt Thomas combining to shoot 23-36, mostly on jumpers.
After falling behind by 22 late in the third quarter, the Grizzlies made a run in the fourth with a lineup of Greivis Vasquez, O.J. Mayo, Sam Young, Darrell Arthur, and Hasheem Thabeet. This group went on a 15-5 run in the first five minutes of the fourth, cutting the deficit to nine, but a Luol Deng three-pointer and a trio of Grizzlies turnovers squelched the momentum.
"I told them this is what playoff intensity is," Lionel Hollis said after the game. "We played hard, but we didn't play hard enough."
Man of the Match: Zach Randolph had the best stat-line for the Grizzlies, hitting his season averages with 21 points and 13 rebounds, and his terrific play in the second quarter kept the game from getting out of hand early. But this one has to go to O.J. Mayo. Over his past four games and through three quarters tonight, Mayo had shot a combined 11-50 and looked totally lost. But something clicked for Mayo in the fourth tonight.
Playing with long-lost swagger and leading that mini-run, Mayo scored 13 fourth quarter points on 6-8 shooting, creating small bits of space and hitting contested jumpers like he used to and while going strong to the rim when given an opportunity. And while Mayo was playing well in the fourth, fellow trade-rumor subject Hasheem Thabeet was at least showing a pulse. In nine fourth-quarter minutes, Thabeet finished an easy shot attempt, got the rebounds that came his way, and impacted Bulls shots around the basket. Just the simple, basic stuff. At this point, that's all the Grizzlies can realistically ask him to do, and Thabeet's failure to contribute in at least those areas has been a big disappointment this season.
If Mayo and Thabeet's fourth-quarter performances tonight can carry over at all into the second half of the season, then that will end up being more meaningful for the team than today's loss. This will be something to watch for Wednesday night in New Orleans.
Nightly Number: The Bulls advantage from the three-point line was immense today, out-making the Grizzlies 11-1. The Bulls' defense smothered the Grizzlies' inside game and the Grizzlies' perimeter players never made them pay for it. Through three quarters, Griz perimeter players had shot a combined 7-32 and hadn't made a single three-pointer. Meanwhile, Kyle Korver alone came off the bench for the Bulls to score 22, including 6-10 shooting from long-range. With Korver, it wasn't a case of him spotting up and the Grizzlies forgetting him. The Bulls were running Korver off screens and he was racing to his spots to catch-and-shoot on the move. And most of those shots were hitting nothing but net.
Korver's six made threes was a season-high, as were the Bulls' 11 as a team.
The Match-Up: This may have been the worst game of the season for Rudy Gay. After making his first attempt of the night, he was never able to get another shot to fall, finishing 1-10 from the floor. In some ways, Gay may have been trying too hard on the offensive end, attacking a Chicago defense that was already clogging the paint. Gay got to the line 10 times tonight and never took a three-pointer. Normally, that might be an encouraging combination for Gay, but not tonight. With the Bulls defending the interior so well, the Grizzlies needed to open up the paint by forcing the Bulls the stretch their defense out. Gay has been a 41% three-point shooter this season. He may have helped the team by today by putting up a few.
Meanwhile, the Bulls more limited small forward, Luol Deng, got into a groove, scoring 28 points on 11-17 shooting.
The Jacob Riis Report: This Bulls team is really impressive. They're tough, deep, and well-coached. They have a good mix of role players — shooters, defenders, bangers. And they have a superstar-level offensive center-piece to rely on in Rose. If they're fully healthy come playoff time, I'd put them on the short list of legit title contenders.
Tweet O’ the Game: The officials not very happy with Memphis, apparently. They must hate soul music and good food. Omer Asik is getting star treatment. — HPbasketball
Arena Action: I missed the pre-game symposium featuring NBA Hall of Famers Lenny Wilkens and Willis Reed and baseball legend Willie Mays, but I heard Mays was entertaining irascible. Former Stax star Mavis Staples performed at halftime. And with ESPN broadcasting and the Bulls bringing multiple traveling reporters with them, the game was crawling with media.
The house band tonight played a little bit of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" before segueing into John Mayer's trustafarian anthem "Waiting on the World to Change" then moving into Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." I'm publicly offering my services to DJ the next MLK Day game.
Where They Stand: The Griz fall to 19-22 at the season's precise mid-point. At this writing, they remain 9th in the West, two games behind the Portland Trailblazers.
Looking Ahead: The Grizzlies travel to New Orleans to face the Hornets on Wednesday night, the first match-up between these teams this season.
Announced Attendance: It was an announced sellout of 18,119. There were more than a smattering of actual empty seats, but after looking sketchy at the tip, the arena filled up pretty well.
The Grizzlies didn't have many, getting a season-low 10 deflections on the game, according to Lionel Hollins.
Tony Allen and Xavier Henry remained out for the Grizzlies. No official word on their return, but both players seem to be moving fine. I'd imagine they'd both be back soon.
Griz-for-minute Ronnie Brewer returned, playing 20 minutes for the Bulls, taking one shot. I barely noticed him on the floor, to be honest.
The Grizzlies had an out of character two steals, both from Mike Conley. With Tony Allen in street clothes and Rudy Gay struggling, the Grizzlies didn't apply the defensive pressure that has become common this season.