Monday, December 17, 2012

Game 23 Recap, Bulls-Grizzlies: Sound and Fury

Bulls 71 (13-10), Grizzlies 80 (16-6)

The Bulls took a trip down south for the front end of a back-to-back (they play Boston tomorrow night at the UC) against one of the league's best teams. I'm not much for moral victories, but a close result, even in a losing effort, would have constituted a decent performance given the Bulls ongoing Rose-less-ness and the fact that the Grizzlies are pretty good. 

I remember watching the Jordan Bulls dominate the then Vancouver Grizzlies as a good, who then had the 7 foot tall Bryant "Big Country" Reeves. Now, the Grizzlies traded British Columbia for West Tennessee but now boast two very good frontcourt threats in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol (three if you include SF Rudy Gay). 

However, the Grizz looked nothing like the top four team in the Western Conference that they are in the first quarter. It was a disjointed, strange period of 12 minutes, in which Grizzlies players jacked up horrible shots and threw the ball out of bounds to no one in particular. Gasol and Randolph started the game 0/9 from the field, and the Grizz were 3-for-16 as a team through about 10 minutes of play. 

It was a lively first quarter for the Bulls, who appeared to be riding high after a big win Saturday night. Most importantly, despite cynically expecting an appearance from Evil Boozer in the preview, Good Boozer showed up in the first. Boozer dropped 8 points on 4-for-5 shooting, beating Gasol in the process. Meanwhile, Randolph was a complete non-factor early, with zero points in the opening period. 

The Bulls went into the second up 20-11 seemingly in spite of Kirk Hinrich, who return from injury seemed to produce no immediately perceptible positive effect. He was 0-for-2 in only six first quarter minutes. 

Unfortunately, the Bulls' lead was perhaps not as sizable as it could have been. The Bulls were up just 22-19 despite Memphis shooting just 28% from the field and having racked up 8 turnovers as of the 8:45 mark in the second. How did the Grizz do this? Of course, by the great equalizer that is the three, in addition to some less than solid defense from Belinelli. Memphis started the game 5-for-7 from three, and former Tar Heel Wayne Ellington was particularly bothersome to the Bulls (3-for-3 from three, on three straight possessions...ALL THE THREES). 

The first half of the second quarter was all Memphis, with the Grizz outscoring the Bulls 20-8 through 6:25 of play. The Bulls offense lost the swaggering verve it seemed to have earlier (if an offense can lay claim to such a thing in lieu of a 20-point quarter) as jumpers from Boozer, Noah and others started not to fall. 

The Bulls went into the half down five despite the Grizzlies' frontcourt trio of Gay-Gasol-Randolph contributing just a combined six points. As has been the case many times before, the Bulls got a bit of their own medicine thrown back their away; after spending the last couple of seasons winning games with its bench, the Bulls are the ones coming out on the negative side of the proceedings once the reserves come in. 

Halftime Stats (Bulls 34, Grizzlies 39)
-Bulls: 0.76 PPP
  • Boozer: 5-9, 12 pts, 8 rebounds
  • Noah: 2-5, 4 pts, 5 rebounds
  • Belinelli: 2-6, 6 pts, 3 turnovers
-Grizzlies: 0.88 PPP
  • Randolph: 1-5, 2 pts, 6 rebounds
  • Gay: 0-6, 0 pts, 1 rebound
  • Ellington: 4-5 (3-3 from 3), 11 pts
The Bulls couldn't make much progress early in the third, and actually found themselves down 7 about six minutes in before a probing drive from Noah yielded an easy two. Things don't come easily for the Bulls offensively on most nights, but against another team in the NBA's exclusive fraternity of of teams that play defense, things were even tougher tonight.

Conley hit a generally uncontested three to put Memphis up 54-48 after a failed switch recovery between Noah and Hinrich. Despite a double-double from Boozer and almost one from Noah (10 pts, 7 boards) late in the third, the Bulls were down six due to guard production (or lack thereof), as I opined in the preview. 

Belinelli pitched in a three and a pair of free throws late in the third but was otherwise ice cold. Hinrich was a complete non-factor all game. Nate Robinson was 2-for-3 in his 12 minutes of play through three quarters. With Hinrich either still banged up or just plain ineffective, I would have liked to see more Robinson; of course, there is a defensive tradeoff being made there that perhaps makes this move like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. 

The Bulls went into the 4th down 61-53. Chicago's Bench Mob -2.0 had gotten beat to the tune of 23-8 by the Grizzlies bench through 36 minutes. The decline of the Bulls' bench production from last year to this year is similar to what happens in Mario 64 when Mario loses his cap. 

With no one on their game save Boozer (if you're willing to be liberal with the meaning of the word "on"), the Bulls offense late went through him. As you'd expect, the result was flailingly ineffective possessions and lots of yelling. So much noise and facial expressions, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

It kind of lets you know how tonight was when a Butler dunk to put the Bulls down five in the fourth might as well have been like being down 15 for any other team. In that respect, it was like a college game, in which leads actually hold for extended periods of time.

The Bulls were never able to get closer than they were after that aforementioned dunk with five minutes to go. In fact, down the stretch the Bulls scored only three more points, not counting the final minute (the game was over by this point). 

It wasn't as if the Bulls got outworked or out-talented by the Grizzlies. Memphis turned it over 18 times and their frontcourt trio shot a combined 29% from the field. The Bulls had every opportunity to win this game, only to find themselves sinking in the quicksand of offensive ineptitude.

These are the losses that serve as a sort of X-ray of the state of things; if the X-ray, or any man-made machine, could map the outline of a being's soul, there would be a Derrick Rose-sized hole in the space where this metaphysical center would ordinarily reside.

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