MEMPHISBeaten at their own game. Monday nights 80-71 loss to the Grizzlies at the FedEx Forum was the type of rugged, low-scoring, defensive-minded affair that the Bulls usually thrive in.
But against a team thats just as physical, feels like they should own the glass and has the depth to send waves of bodies against their opponents, as well as weather the storm through a rough start, the Bulls didnt have enough in the tank against Memphis.
The Bulls lost the battle of the boards for the third straight game and notched their lowest point total since scoring 67 points against Minnesota on Jan. 30, 2008.
But beyond that, the frustration and feeling of helplessness in the visitors locker room was palpable late Monday evening off of the famed Beale Street strip in the downtown section of the Bluff City.
The combination of frontcourt stars Zach Randolph and Marc Gasoldespite not having great offensive nightswearing the Bulls down inside as a major part of the Grizzlies 51-39 rebounding edge, underrated point guard Mike Conley Jr. and a bench featuring unlikely contributors like backup shooting guard Wayne Ellington and his trio of long bombs in the second quarter were key elements to the final result.
I think its always what we failed to do. Thats what you can control. I think our defense was pretty good. We just got out-rebounded. Weve got to do a better job of rebounding the ball as a team. We got a lot of good stops and then we ran in transition, Joakim Noah said afterwards.
Weve got to get better at scoring in transition. Were getting good stops and were getting out on the break, and were just not getting those easy points. Were turning the ball over a little bit too much on the break. If we can score on those, well be better.
Weve just got to get in the battle a little bit more. Theyre a great rebounding team. I think that the last game was a little bit different, he continued. Their physicality hurt us a little bit. Weve definitely got to a better job.
Its a step back because we lost. Thats the only reason why its a step back.
Kirk Hinrich added: They did a good job. We got off to a pretty decent start and we had some opportunities on the break we couldnt finish on. We struggled to get rebounds and struggled to score. We just didnt make shots tonight. Youve got to give them credit.
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, never pleased after any defeat, seemed especially displeased with the aforementioned second stanza of the game.
I saw the second quarter was the problem. Outscored 28-14. Great first quarter, terrible second quarter. You dont rebound on the road, you dont take care of the ball, youre not going to win, he said. They play hard. Thats how they play. Youve got to take care of the ball and we didnt do that. Then, we didnt get back and got in a hole, big hole. The whole game changed in the second quarter.
We didnt cover the line, let guys get loose, not reading penetrating drives and flat drives, over-helping, not recognizing whats going on in the game, throwing possessions away. Cant do that, not against a quality team. Not against any team, Thibodeau continued, listing a litany of his teams failures and necessary adjustments.
When youre coming in, its going to be hard fought. Theyre a tough team, so youve got to fight, youve got to know what youre doing, youve got to make the right reads, youve got to sometimes give yourself up, youve got to cut with force, youve got to replace with force, youve got to make the right play, youve got to be willing to move the ball. When you do that, youre going to get good shots. When you dont do that, youre going to take tough shots.
However, as disappointed as the Bulls were with the loss, their opponents came away impressed. Randolph and Conley both shared their thoughts on the retooled Bulls, without superstar Derrick Rose, who played his lone season of college basketball in Memphis, with CSNChicago.com.
Obviously when youre missing an All-Star like Derrick, you cant really replace that with much in this league, but with Kirk and Nate, you know theyre going to try to run the offense and try to get other guys involved more. Theyre the Bulls not as point guard-oriented as they are with Derrick, so you just expect to not hit as many screens and not have to guard as much, Conley explained.
I think theyre one of the best defensive teams in the league. As long as you play D, you can beat anybody and regardless of who your personnel is, so with Derrick back, theyre one of the top teams in the East.
Randolph chimed in: Theyve got a good team. Theyve got Kirk running point. Kirk is solid. Theyre a good team and they can play. They play smart and theyve got a great coach.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for a perfectionist like Thibodeau, things look grim right now. But when have things ever been pretty for these Bulls, still a respected team in the NBA, a team that requires opponents to take their best shot and perhaps most importantly, a team that, for the most part, is in every game, every night, regardless of the caliber of the competition.