Watching the Bulls (23-16) play these days isnt for the faint of heart.
After game-winning shots to win the two overtime games on their recent road trip, including Friday nights thriller in Boston, Saturday evening they returned to Chicago to host the Grizzlies (26-13) and in a battle between two defensive-oriented teams, the Bulls played their third consecutive contest featuring an extra session, falling 85-82, in a wild affair featured had another heart-racing finish, as well as Joakim Noah on the bench for nearly the final 23 minutes.
Playing without sideline leading scorer Luol Deng the small forward was out with a right-hamstring injury, aggravated in last night's win the hosts got out of the gates with a flourish, as Carlos Boozer (17 points, 14 rebounds) opened the games scoring, before Noah (10 points) put on a personal showcase.
The versatile center led a fast break, dishing to Rip Hamilton for a transition layup, then throwing down a pair of dunksincluding one, off an assist from Jimmy Butler (18 points, eight rebounds), who started in Dengs place, over Memphis power forward Zach Randolph (13 points, 19 rebounds), who was a game-time decision with a back injuryand hitting a face-up jumper.
Boozer scored the next two baskets for the Bulls, who saw all five startersincluding Kirk Hinrich, who left the game with two early foulsrack up assists in the early going, but the Grizzlies hung tough, mostly due to the solid play of underrated floor general Mike Conley, Jr. (13 points, nine assists).
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But the Bulls maintained their slight cushion, as Noah made all five of his shot attempts, adding in one more dunk for good measurein an opening period that certainly justified his All-Star consideration, playing against one of the Western Conferences top centers in Marc Gasol (19 points, eight rebounds)to help the hosts have a 22-18 lead after a quarter of play.
Early in the second frame, the Bulls most recent acquisition, sharpshooter Daequan Cook saw his most meaningful action since arriving in Chicago, replacing Butler at small forward and while he didnt do anything noteworthy upon entering the contest, it did demonstrate that notoriously demanding Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau had at least a semblance of confidence in his ability or at least was willing to see what the Ohio native was capable of.
However, the Bulls had their hands full with Grizzlies reserve forwards Darrell Arthur and Marreese Speights, despite Boozers continued scoring efforts after he was reinserted into the contest.
Memphis momentum persisted as the period continued and as Rudy Gay got goingwithout Deng to defend himthe visitors went on a 13-0 run over nearly five minutes of action to not only take the lead, but completely seize control of the game.
A Hamilton jumper ended the spurt, but the Grizzlies post tandem of Randolph and Gasol seemingly wore down the once energetic Bulls, who faced a double-digit deficit, 44-34, at the intermission.
After the break, things didnt get much better for the hosts, as Memphis similarly-stingy defense held the Bulls offense in check for the early portion of the third quarter.
While the Grizzlies werent vastly better scoring the ball, the energy of Chicago native and defensive specialist Tony Allen gave them some life and the visitors managed shoot a better, if not spectacular, percentage from the floor to maintain their comfortable winning margin on the road, silencing the home crowd.
Buoyed by the energetic play of reserve Taj Gibson (10 points, 12 rebounds), the Bulls loyalists got back into the game and although the home team didnt make significant headway, it became a more competitive affair as the period waned on.
Still, in the same week that the Bulls held their previous visitor, Atlanta, to a historic 58-point outingthe Grizzlies held them to a season-low 71 last monththey headed into the final stanza risking setting an ignominious mark of their own, as they trailed, 60-47.
Propelled by the play of a lineup composed of Boozer and second-unit mainstays, including Butler, whose uncanny knack for offensive rebounds was impressive for his sizeit was needed, as Noah, the teams top rebounder, didnt play again after the midway point of the third quarterthe Bulls chipped into the deficit and made it a single-digit contest early in the fourth quarter, scoring the first six points of the frame.
It remained a competitive affair, as the frontcourt trio of Boozer, Butler and Gibson making their presences felt on the interiorthe athleticism of the latter two, in particular, gave the visitors problemsand backup point guard Nate Robinson (11 points, five assists) running the show and leading the squads transition attack, the contest evolved into a two-possession affair midway through the period.
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A Marco Belinelli triple with 4:08 remaining made it a one-point game, 69-68, in the Grizzlies favor, and after a Randolph miss on the subsequent Memphis possession, Butlerwho played a Deng-like minute totalwas fouled on the Bulls next trip and knocked down a pair of attempts from the charity stripe to give the hosts their first lead since the second quarter to conclude an 11-0 spurt.
As the game entered its stretch run, a Robinson bank shot from deep with 1:33 to play gave the Bulls a 75-72 advantage, but four consecutive points by Gasola pair of free throws and a traditional bucket from in the paintgave Memphis a 76-75 lead with 34.1 seconds to play.
Belinelli drove to the bucket and was fouled with 31.4 seconds left and split a pair to tie the contest and after Randolph missed a jumper on Memphis trip downcourt, the Bulls secured the rebound, but following a timeout with 2.4 seconds on the clock, Robinsons attempt to win it at the buzzer was off the mark, leading to the home teams third straight overtime affair.
Memphis struck first in the extra session, scoring the periods first six points via the familiar duo of Randolph and Gasol.
Just when it appeared that the Bulls had run out of gas, Belinelli made a layup with 1:32 remaining, re-energizing the dormant crowd, and after Randolph split a pair of free throws on the Grizzlies next trip, a Butler fast-break layup made it a one-possession affair, 83-80, in favor of the guests.
Randolph was fouled with 39.1 seconds leftdisqualifying Gibson; backup center Nazr Mohammed, not Noah, replaced himbut he missed both foul shots, prompting a Bulls timeout.
A wild sequence ensued when play resumed, as Robinson was stripped going to the basket, but Butler hustled back on defense to take the ball back for the Bulls and after Boozer rebounded an errant Robinson long ball, Belinelli stepped on the sideline, giving the ball back to the Grizzlies with 12.2 seconds on the clock.
After a timeout, however, Memphis was whistled for a five-second violation on the inbounds pass, giving the Bulls another opportunity and after Robinson drove for an uncontested layup, Grizzlies backup Jerryd Bayless leaked out for a layup of his own, making it 85-82.
Still, the Bulls had a final chance, but after Robinsons game-tying attempt was blocked, the ball ended up in Boozers hands, but the big mans corner three-pointer fell short, as did the team.
Watching the Bulls (23-16) play these days isnt for the faint of heart.