It doesn’t happen often, but Friday night at the United Center, the Bulls were beaten up by a more physical team.
Memphis was content to settle for the Bulls’ blue-collar, defensive-oriented, low-scoring style of basketball, simply because that’s how the Grizzlies also like to play. And by the end of the game, the visitors imposed their will on the Bulls, leaving Chicago with an 85-77 win in the Bulls’ first game in a crucial six-game home stand against some of the league’s best teams.
“They’re a tough team. They’re a physical team and you’ve got to get in the fight on every play. I thought we didn’t control the ball as well as we could have and that’s something we have to do better. We have to have more of a multiple-effort mentality. But the rebounding was disappointing,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said. “It’s not our first game against a tough team. In this league, they’re all tough. So readiness to play, huge. You’ve got to play for 48 minutes. You can’t pick and choose when you’re going to play, you’ve got to go. As I said, if you miss some shots, that’s part of the game. There’s a lot of other things you can do to help your team win. So we’re at home, five minutes to go down the stretch. This team has shown great toughness all year. I expect us to find a way to get it done.
"The rebounding was the name of the game. Third quarter, 30 points. The last five minutes of the third quarter was a disaster," the coach went on to explain. "The rebounding in the first half was fine. The second half was poor. "We didn’t play well in the second half. So in this league, you usually get what you deserve. Missed shots are part of it. You can deal with that. But your defense and your rebounding, you have to be able to count on. So the nights in which you don’t shoot the ball as well as you would like, if your defense and your rebounding are good, then you’re going to have a chance to win. Thirteen turnovers or 14, you can live with that. We had some costly ones late. So those are areas we have to clean up."
All-Star center Joakim Noah, who had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists on the evening, had a similar view: “I think they beat us on the rebounding. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. I think we fought hard. We didn’t shoot the ball particularly well. But you’ve got to give credit where credit is due, man. They’re a tough team and they definitely were on us in the second half.
“They outplayed us. They’re a tough team. Marc Gasol and ‘Z-Bo’ are a handful down there, and then you put Tony Allen—I think Tony Allen was really the difference in the game. He just disrupted everything out there with his defense. A lot of guys stepped up. Mike Miller was hitting shots. They hit shots, we didn’t. But I thought we fought hard. We wish we could have that game back, but they beat us. The rebounding was a problem. Usually, we win the rebounding battle and they shot the ball better,” he continued. “We’re fine. We’ll be fine. Overall, yeah, I think we missed shots. I think I tried to sneak some passes in that I shouldn’t have. I threw some passes that I shouldn’t have thrown. I had one, I dribbled the ball up the court, tried to make the cross-court pass. I should have just kept it and laid it in. Just things you wish you could have back. But overall, I’m happy. We fought hard. Just shots didn’t go down. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. They played really well tonight.”
Sixth man Taj Gibson, who contributed 18 points, chimed in: “Thibs said before the game on the blackboard, ‘It comes down to whoever’s going to blink first. It’s about who can take the most swings. It’s a dogfight, who’s going to blink and unfortunately, we blinked first it seems like. They got to a lot of loose balls. It was a real physical game.”
Although the Bulls possess more athleticism than the Grizzlies frontcourt tandem of the rather ground-bound Gasol and Randolph, the Memphis duo makes up for it with both bulk and savvy.
“You’ve got Zach Randolph. He’s tough because he doesn’t jump any more than an inch off the ground, but he’s crafty. He’s real crafty with his hands and the way he uses his body,” Gibson explained. “Then, you’ve got a similar player in Marc Gasol, but he’s seven-foot and they’re both wide-bodied guys, and not like extremely built, kind of muscular guys. They’re just heavyset guys who know how to use their weight and it’s tough in there.
Carlos Boozer concurred: “They’re a very good team. Zach and Marc do a great job. Even Koufos came in, did a good job. They’ve got a good frontline. We feel like we have a good frontline, too. A couple bad bounces at the end of the game, fourth quarter. We pretty much outrebounded them most of the game until the fourth. But give them credit, man. They hustled hard, got to some loose balls we didn’t get to. Got a couple bad bounces that went their way. That happens in basketball. We missed a lot of shots that we normally make tonight, which would have changed the game. But that’s also part of basketball.”
The Bulls’ path gets no easier, as they host defending champion Miami in a Sunday-afternoon matinee. The rivalry game has more at stake after an embarrassing road loss to the Heat last month.
“I look forward to it,” Noah said, unsmilingly. “I don’t think there’s anything to talk about really. Everybody knows what’s up. Playing against the defending champs. Chicago Bulls against Miami Heat. It’s always exciting.
Boozer added: “We’ll be ready for the next one. We let one get away tonight. That’s how we look at it. But give them credit and we’ll watch film tomorrow, make our corrections, get in the lab, work on our game and get ready for Sunday.”