There are quite a few similaraties between the Memphis Grizzlies and the Chicago Bulls, most of them having to do with the defensive foundation and the game revolving around a versatile big man in Marc Gasol or Joakim Noah. The second best team in the Western Conference since the beginning of 2014 turned out to be a bit too much for their Eastern counterparts.
The Grizzlies came away with the 85-77 win in Chicago, enjoying a bit turnaround in the third quarter. It wasn’t a pretty performance on both sides, but the Grizzlies enjoyed dominance under the boards and won the offensive rebouding battler 11-6. It was enough to give them the slight edge and eventually the win.
Marc Gasol led the team with 18 points and 10 rebounds, and doing a good enough job on Joakim Noah, forced to commit six turnovers, ruining a solid 15-8-6 performance from him. The Bulls rely heavily on his ability to make the pass as a pivot at the high and low posts. After getting burned a bit too many times by that play, with Mike Dunleavy often providing the finish, the Grizzlies began playing a lot better on defense, and when it came down to who has more hustle, the Grizzlies came away with the win.
It also has something to do with individual ability. The Bulls don’t have players who can create points on their own except for D.J. Augustin, who isn’t the most reliable of options. He did score 14 points, but rarely creates for others, and shot only 5-of-14 from the field. It wasn’t the best of shooting games for Mike Conley, held to only 4-of-15 from the field and 12 points. But he did have 5 rebounds and 7 assists, and the Grizzlies got more out of him than the Bulls were able to extract from their two limited (each in his own way) point guards.
The big difference, as we mentioned earlier, was the ability to get second chance points. The Grizzlies got a big lift from their bench unit, as Kosta Koufos finished with 12 points and four offensive rebounds. Mike Miller was red hot with 14 points, inculidng 5-of-5 from beyond the arc, and Tony Allen provided much of the energy and steam needed for that third quarter turnaround, continuing in the fourth quarter as the Bulls found it very difficult to develop any kind of offensive game.
Chicago have won 10 of their last 12 games, but even at their most confident, this teams lacks a flow and that extra gear truly dominant teams possess. If their defense is perfect, they might get themselves easy wins, but it’s rarely going to be with an offense that helps make up for any mistakes, and is able to take advantage of a slowly building up lead.
The Grizzlies are 22-9 since New Year’s, climbing to ninth in the West, now waiting for the Mavs & Suns to mess up. The turnaround brought by Gasol’s return and the smart trade for Courtney Lee has put them on a trajectory to make the playoffs, but it’s going to take this kind of effort and hustle, and not just smart basketball led by Gasol and Conley, to overcome whichever teams stumbled in the remaining games.