Bulls fall to Grizzlies in battle of NBA's top defenses

Bulls fall to Grizzlies in battle of NBA's top defenses
March 7, 2014, 8:30 pm
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Mark Strotman

Two of the best defensive and hottest teams in the NBA squared off against each other Friday night at the United Center, and it was the Grizzlies who earned an 85-77 victory over the Bulls behind 18 points and 10 rebounds from Marc Gasol and 14 more points off the bench from Mike Miller.

Taj Gibson had 18 points off the bench, and Joakim Noah (15 points, eight rebounds, six assists) filled the stat sheet again in defeat.

The Bulls and Grizzlies entered Friday’s action allowing the second and third fewest points per game, respectively, and it certainly showed. The two teams combined to shoot 11-for-41 in the first quarter. The Bulls made just five field goals in the quarter but were helped out by Grizzlies miscues, turning five turnovers into six points. Memphis closed the quarter on a quick 5-0 run after a 3-pointer from Miller and bucket from Zach Randolph (10 points, 11 rebounds), taking a 15-12 lead. Per ESPN, the 27 combined points between the two teams was the third-lowest for an opening stanza this season.

The Memphis bench got hot in the second quarter behind the shooting of Jon Leuer and Kosta Koufous (12 points, six rebounds), who combined for 11 points which, in part, helped the Grizzlies out to a 21-14 lead early in the stanza.

That’s when D.J. Augustin (14 points, three assists) went to work. The reserve point guard scored eight points in an 80-second span to help pull the Bulls closer, and later in the period his 17-foot jumper gave the Bulls their first lead of the quarter.

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The two teams’ centers closed the half on high notes, as Noah scored seven points in the final three minutes while Memphis’ Gasol countered with baskets on three straight possessions. With a Gibson bucket mixed in with Noah’s run, the Bulls took a 39-35 into intermission.

The Bulls took their biggest lead of the night early in the third quarter, but Mike Conley’s newfound aggressiveness out of halftime allowed the Grizzlies to not let the lead get out of hand — Conley (12 points, five rebounds, seven assists) scored seven points in a four-possession span to get his team back within three 47-44.

It was a reserve, though, who put the Grizzlies ahead late in the quarter. Miller got hot, scoring eight points in the final two minutes to give Memphis the lead heading into the fourth quarter, 65-63.

Miller remained hot at the outset of the fourth quarter, knocking down his fourth triple on the first possession, and a Conley layup the next trip down pushed their lead back to seven points, matching their biggest lead of the night.

The Bulls managed to dwindle the lead down to as few as two points on multiple occasions, but that was as close as they’d come. Augustin had a chance to bring the Bulls within two with fewer than three minutes to play, but he air-balled his jumper and Miller found a streaking Conley, who was fouled by Hinrich before making two free throws to push the lead back out to six, 83-77. The two teams traded misses until a Gasol putback with 21.9 seconds extended the lead to eight and shut the door on a potential comeback.