While it’s nice to be back in Chicago for an extended period of time, the Bulls’ six-game home stand is no piece of cake, as evidenced by Friday night’s physical, defensive-oriented and close-knit 85-77 loss against Memphis at the United Center.
A mirror image in their physicality and blue-collar approach, the Grizzlies were more than happy to play the low-scoring, blue-collar style of basketball that the Bulls typically embody on a nightly basis. Of course, the hosts knew exactly what to expect from the visitors heading into the evening.
“They’ve got a lot of very solid players. Marc Gasol’s a great player. ‘Z-Bo,’ everybody knows what he’s about. They’re a smash-mouth team. Conley’s playing great basketball right now,” explained All-Star center Joakim Noah, who notched his usual stellar all-around effort, going for 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “They’re a very good team.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau added: “Since the start of the year, they’ve played very well. They’re a power team. [Marc] Gasol and [Zach] Randolph inside. Of course, what [Mike] Conley can do off the dribble. He’s real clever in the pick and roll, goes both ways and can break you down easily. And then Courtney Lee has played well for them. [Tayshaun] Prince has been real solid. Tony Allen is a defense to himself. He’s coming off the bench and brings so much energy. James Johnson has played well for them. [Jon] Leuer has done a good job up front with his ability to shoot. They’ve got a lot of experience. It’s a tough team.”
The Grizzlies’ duo of Gasol, their playmaking center and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and Randolph—one of the league’s top power forwards, he’s transformed his reputation off the court, as evidenced by participating in a community event with Noah at Ogden Park in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood Thursday night—combined for 28 points and 21 rebounds. Conley, one of the league’s most underrated point guards, had 12 points and seven assists on the night, but Memphis’ biggest advantage might have been the play of its second unit.
Allen, in a reserve role Friday—Thibodeau is very familiar with the defensive stopper, a Chicago native, from their days together in Boston—made a major impact and actually played down the stretch, as did Miller and backup center Kosta Koufos, who scored 14 and 12 points, respectively.
Aside from Noah, the Bulls’ reserve tandem of sixth man Taj Gibson, who scored 18 points in his 14th consecutive double-figure game, and backup point guard D.J. Augustin also played well, but the team couldn’t muster up consistent offensive when it mattered most. Still, it’s just the first game of six and though the subsequent competition will also be stiff, as other upper-echelon NBA teams—including Miami in their next game, Sunday, not to mention Western Conference powerhouses Houston, San Antonio and Oklahoma City—the Bulls look forward to the test.
“Nah, it’s good. It’s going to be really interesting to see what our team is made of against the best teams in the league. So it’s special to be able to do it in this building. It’s cool. It’s exciting,” Noah said. “I think we have great chemistry on the court right now. I think our mindset is good, our mentality is about progress, getting better, and we’re playing against some of the better teams now, so we’ll see what’s up.”