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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 the Bulls 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.