MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Matched up with a team that in many ways is their mirror image -- one of the leagues best defenses, a rebounding juggernaut and in the absence of Derrick Rose (who starred in this city during his lone year of college basketball) an offense with an inside-out approach -- the Bulls fell to the Grizzlies, 80-71, Monday night at the FedEx Forum.
A low-scoring, defensive-minded and physical affair throughout after jumping out ahead of one of the best teams in the Western Conference, a tour-de-force effort by Memphis bench turned the tables and on a night when points were a luxury, the Bulls kept fighting, but didnt have enough to make a comeback.
In a rugged, defensive-oriented battle between two of the best teams on that side of the ball in the league, the Bulls (13-10) and Grizzlies (16-6) both started out slowly, but the visitors began to find their rhythm as the opening period progressed.
Carlos Boozer (16 points, 13 rebounds) and Marco Belinelli (13 points) got off to hot starts to shoulder the offensive burden for the guests, who played stellar defense on a physical, inside-dominant Memphis team.
Grizzlies forwards Zach Randolph (10 points, 15 rebounds) and Rudy Gay (12 points) were both held scoreless in the frame, while the hosts shot a horrific 18.2 percent from the field, as well as committing six turnovers to three for the Bulls, who have experienced ball-security issues all season long.
After a quarter of play, the Bulls held a 20-11 advantage.
The Grizzlies second unit was sparked by the interior toughness and defensive presence of big man Marreese Speights, the scoring and playmaking of Jerryd Bayless, the athleticism and versatility of swingman Quincy Pondexter, but most of all, the outside touch of Wayne Ellington (11 points).
The reserve shooting guard knocked down his first four shots, including a trio of three-pointers, to help Memphis storm back and rapidly overtake its guests in the second quarter, as Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins rode his bench in the second quarter.
With the Grizzlies having all of the momentum, the Bulls found themselves in a hole and trying to play from behind, despite the continued contributions of Boozer and Joakim Noahs (11 points, nine rebounds) typical high activity level.
At the intermission, the visitors trailed, 39-34.
After the break, Memphis advantage remained somewhat static, as Boozer was still the Bulls offensive focal point and opposing small forwards Luol Deng (11 points) and Gay of the hosts were both more assertive as scorers, while underrated point guard Mike Conley (17 points) was also more aggressive against Kirk Hinrich, in his first game back from a bruised left knee after missing the teams previous two contests.
The visitors simply couldnt get over the hump against the Grizzlies in the first part of the third period, as every positive play was countered by the similarly styled opponent.
As the quarter waned on, the Bulls continually inched closer, making it a single-possession game at various junctures, but were rebuffed at every turn, but the deeper Grizzlies, playing with at least an equal amount of hustle and featuring more offensive weapons, kept the pressure on their guests through the end of the quarter.
Heading into the final stanza, the Bulls were on the wrong end of a 61-53 score.
At the outset of the fourth quarter, the Bulls second unit sparked the visitors, as reserves Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson came alive to help cut into the deficit they faced.
In the low-scoring affair, every basket was a precious commodity, making Butlers transition forays and timely half-court scores even more important, especially because Memphis continued to respond at every turn and Deng, the Bulls leading scorer, was having an off night offensively.
As the game entered its stretch run, the Grizzlies inside muscle began to wear down their guests, as the rebounding of Randolph and center Marc Gasol (11) gave the hosts second-chance opportunities on offense, while limiting the poor-shooting Bulls to just one shot attempt on the other end of the floor.
Although the difference in the contest remained in the single digits, the scrambling Bulls extended their pressure by frantically trapping in the backcourt and in typical fashion, they fought valiantly until the final buzzer, in the end, it was too much to overcome.