Bulls can't match Conley-Gasol combo in loss to Grizzlies

Bulls can't match Conley-Gasol combo in loss to Grizzlies

It's the simplest play in basketball but when players run it to perfection the pick and roll is almost impossible to stop, as evidenced by the Memphis Grizzlies duo of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

They bludgeoned the Bulls with consistency, the same way they've done to the league since adopting the "grit and grind" mantra at the start of the decade, hitting just enough jumpers late to stymie the Bulls with a 98-91 win at the United Center, making it six of seven losses for the Bulls.

The unheralded center and suddenly well-paid point guard each scored 27 by way of slow death and execution, as they both hit critical triples in the final minutes to help the Grizzlies pull away and hold off the competitive Bulls, who needed one of their stars to step up late.

"They have two great players," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "They made huge shots, big plays. They slowed it down, took away rhythm from us."

Jimmy Butler certainly didn't look like his usual self, struggling to a 14-point night on just four of 16 shooting, missing all his 3-point attempts. Dwyane Wade took a hard fall in the second half on his right elbow and didn't play in the fourth quarter, leaving the team without their top playmakers being at optimal efficiency.

He'll have an MRI Thursday but it could be similar to Butler's 2015 left elbow injury that had him miss a month before the playoffs.

"He asked me how long I was out, I told him and he was like wow," Butler said. "It is what it is. Hopefully it's not what I had. But I know it's pain, I know that much. I know how it feels."

Rajon Rondo led the Bulls with 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds as he kept Conley reasonably in check before Conley found his rhythm against other Bulls defenders.

Conley kept exploiting the Bulls' pick-and-roll strategy where they challenged him to hit perimeter shots and he beat them nearly every time they went under screens as opposed to chasing him over the top.

Hitting critical triples on his way to a 27-point, nine-rebound and seven-assist night, he helped the Grizzlies get critical rebounds and loose balls when it seemed like they were there for the taking.

"They got to all the loose balls. We missed shots, we didn't rebound when we needed to," Butler said. "But we've been up and down all year. And it seems like we're down right now."

One small revelation Hoiberg has probably come upon is that with starting Rondo—despite him hitting three of four triples—he doesn't space the floor enough for Butler and Wade to work their magic, although that didn't contribute wholly to their struggles.

The Grizzlies suffocate even the best teams, so it wasn't much of a surprise to see the Bulls struggle offensively.

"They're tough to score against in the half court. Our pace was really good early," Hoiberg said. "The halfcourt wasn't as efficient as it was the other night. The movement wasn't as good."

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And if Nikola Mirotic is going to play definitively, he has to start over Bobby Portis, just to space the floor.

Mirotic, probably worn down after battling Zach Randolph on the blocks for the majority of his minutes and getting a few pounds of flesh defensively, hit back to back triples to keep pace with the Grizzlies, tying it at 83 with under five minutes remaining.

If not for the Bulls' 3-point shooting, they wouldn't have been able to keep up with the Grizzlies, particularly late as Wade was hobbled and didn't play in the fourth. 

They matched the Grizzlies with 11 triples, with Mirotic and Denzel Valentine each hitting three.

But the Bulls could only muster 37 percent shooting overall as the Grizzlies still had more than enough grit and grind to keep the Bulls at bay, adding one more loss to a ledger that has too many as is with 14 games remaining.

Where it all went wrong for Cubs and Miguel Montero

Where it all went wrong for Cubs and Miguel Montero

WASHINGTON – The Cubs swiftly reacted to Miguel Montero’s jaw-dropping criticism of Jake Arrieta, dumping the veteran catcher the day after the Washington Nationals ran wild with seven stolen bases and exposed some of the issues within the visiting clubhouse.

You could read the writing on the wall Wednesday morning when Anthony Rizzo’s comments on his weekly WMVP-AM 1000 appearance went viral. An All-Star first baseman who is tight with management and picky about when he decides to speak up called out Montero as a “selfish player.”

In designating Montero for assignment – a source confirmed catcher Victor Caratini will also be promoted from Triple-A Iowa – the Cubs will have to eat roughly half of his $14 million salary in the final year of his contract. 

Montero’s biggest sin is that he no longer produces like the two-time All-Star he had been with the Arizona Diamondbacks, where he developed a reputation for blunt honesty and a willingness to mentor young players. The Cubs wanted that edge when they traded for Montero at the 2014 winter meetings, part of a dramatic makeover that included signing ace pitcher Jon Lester to a $155 million megadeal.

Montero’s goofy “#WeAreGood” hashtag on Twitter became a symbol for a rising franchise and a loose team that didn’t care about the weight of history. 

But where Montero could be the spokesman in Arizona and wear the target on his back, a backup catcher can’t torch a Cy Young Award winner and the team’s running-game strategy when he is 0-for-31 and Contreras is throwing guys out 34 percent of the time.     

Montero welcomed Contreras and Kyle Schwarber to the big leagues, generously trying to help with their learning curve, even as they kept taking his playing time. Montero didn’t exactly have the same reaction to David Ross becoming a media darling and a crossover celebrity.

[RELATED: Miguel Montero sends classy goodbye to Cubs players and fans]

Montero already put himself in jeopardy in the immediate World Series aftermath, ripping manager Joe Maddon in a radio interview on the same day as the championship parade and Grant Park rally.  

Montero couldn’t help himself, even after delivering a pinch-hit grand slam against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, and driving in what turned out to be the winning run in the 10th inning against the Cleveland Indians in a World Series Game 7.

Montero wouldn’t bite his tongue late Tuesday night after a sloppy, frustrating 6-1 loss at Nationals Park. With a 39-38 record, several key players on the disabled list and a clubhouse far more complex than Maddon’s Woodstock visions, the Cubs are in crisis mode.   

“It really sucks because the stolen bases go on me,” Montero said. “When you really look at it, the pitcher doesn’t give me any time. It’s just like: ‘Yeah, OK, Miggy can’t throw nobody out.’ Yeah, but my pitchers don’t hold anybody on. It’s tough, because it doesn’t matter how much work I put in.

“If I don’t get a chance to throw, that’s the reason why they were running left and right today, because they know he was slow to the plate. Simple as that. It’s a shame that it’s my fault because I didn’t throw anybody out.”

Miguel Montero sends a classy goodbye to Cubs players and fans

Miguel Montero sends a classy goodbye to Cubs players and fans

Miguel Montero's Tuesday night comments showed questionable judgement, but the veteran catcher was all class in a farewell statement.

Montero said goodbye to his Cubs teammates, staff members and the city of Chicago Wednesday in a series of Tweets:

It's a perfect way for Montero to sign off, using the hashtag that united fans in 2015 as the Cubs' championship window first opened.

Montero has been an integral part of the Cubs the last three years, hitting maybe the biggest home run in franchise history (the grand slam in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers) and helping mentor Willson Contreras.