SB Nation Chicago
Stay connected for news and updates Follow @sbnchicago
Like us to subscribe
"Memphis played harder than us, and we can't have that. We won because of talent, but we can't get outworked like that."
After two straight blowouts over the Kings and Hawks, Chicago sauntered into the United Center Friday night looking to play a game of basketball, while the Grizzlies were ready to fight for their playoff lives. Memphis, especially Chicago native and Crane High School graduate Tony Allen, pushed the Bulls around for three quarters and dictated the pace of the game. But with the sold-out United Center crowd behind them, Derrick Rose and the now-indispensable Luol Deng lifted their team up when they were needed most.
Deng, the Bulls undisputed leader (yes, even over the electrifying Derrick Rose), is an extension of coach Tom Thibodeau on the court and in the locker room. Thibodeau's message is predicated on getting better every day, and Deng and the rest of the Bulls were disappointed by the fact that they didn't improve tonight. And yet, with its two leaders on the floor, Chicago has a chance to win even on off nights, and the Grizzlies are the latest team in the NBA to experience it.
Deng buoyed the Bulls early, going 3-4 from distance and finishing with 23 points and six rebounds. Rose, whose shot apparently did not make the flight home from Atlanta (6-22 FG, 0-5 3PT), did what he seems to do every night: he closed out the game. He is the Mariano Rivera of basketball.
With less than a minute to go, Rose (23 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) rocked the ball back and forth at the top of the key, shook elite defender Tony Allen, drove left and finished with a lefty lay-up while being fouled by Marc Gasol. Dagger. Ballgame. That's what Derrick Rose does, and it is that kind of play that gives the Bulls a chance to win on nights when they don't bring their "A" game.
The Bulls frontline of Carlos Boozer (12 points, 9 rebounds) and Joakim Noah (5 points, 4 rebounds) struggled in the first half against Memphis' stout front line of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, before finally matching energy in the fourth quarter and getting the Bulls the points in the paint they desperately needed. After the game, Thibodeau said the team needs to work harder to get Boozer the ball where he is most comfortable, as he works his way back from the sprained ankle that cost him five games. That task ultimately falls to Rose as the team's floor leader and distributor. For all of Rose's transcendent skills, his ability to set his teammates up where they want the ball is still a work in progress.
The Bulls' bench unit really kept the team in the game, especially early, as Taj Gibson (6 points, 7 rebounds) and Ronnie Brewer (7 points, 4 rebounds) brought energy to the floor when Chicago seemed to have none.
For Memphis, Marc Gasol had a solid all-around game with 14 points and 11 rebounds, while Tony Allen began with a strong game but seemed to lose his cool in the second half, talking trash after every play and eventually getting a technical foul for woofing at the Bulls' bench. Rest assured that Boozer, Scalabrine and the rest of the Bulls had a good laugh when referee Joey Crawford made the call.
With the Boston Celtics' stunning home loss to the Charlotte Bobcats, the Bulls' hard-fought win gives them a two-game edge in the race for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference. No rest for the weary, however, as the Bulls travel north to play the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night.
Yup, you read that right. Chicago Bulls MVP candidate, Derrick Rose, will donate one grand for each point he scores on Friday night against the Memphis Grizzlies. As if the growing love affair between the world and Derrick Rose hadn’t already reached monumental proportions, this latest act should really tip the scales. Fans inspired by Rose’s remarkable act of generosity can can text "Give10" to 20222 to give $10 to Japan, or can donate directly to the Japan Relief and Recovery Fund at www.directrelief.org/Japanrelief.
This isn't the first time that Rose has offered up a grand for every point in order to do his part to help in releif efforts world wide. Back in early 2010, he did the same after the devastating earthquake in Haiti. All he did that night was score 32 points, including a memorable posterizing dunk.
Go Rose! Drop at least 40 on the Grizz tonight!
Here's what being a Chicago sports fan will do to you:
The Chicago Bulls have 51 wins, their highest mark since the 1997-98 season. They have a one-game lead for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and a soft remaining schedule. According to pundits from coast to coast, Derrick Rose will win the Most Valuable Player award, and Tom Thibodeau seems a likely choice to be voted Coach of the Year. If this team had any more chemistry it would burst into flames. And the Bulls are coming off of their biggest back-to-back wins in franchise history.
This all should please me greatly, and it does. But being a Chicago sports fan, it also scares the hell out of me. The last time something was going this well, I ended up cursing a stranger named Steve Bartman and beating my head against the wall. So please excuse a bit of pessimism from this neck of the woods as the Bulls roar like a runaway freight train toward the playoffs.
Winners of 10 of 11, Chicago returns home to play the Memphis Grizzlies, owners of a three-game winning streak of their own and coming off of a huge win against the Boston Celtics. (Thank you!) Without question the Bulls are currently playing their best basketball and, according to some, the best in the NBA this season. For multiple reasons, however, the Grizzlies shouldn't be taken lightly.
Memphis is clinging to a two-game lead in the Western Conference over the streaking Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns. From this point on, every game is a near-playoff for the Grizzlies -- and their winning of play of late shows they're up to the challenge.
Only two days ago, swingman Rudy Gay was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season, which might set some Bulls fans at ease. Not so fast, as the Grizzlies have actually performed better in Gay's absence. With the inspired play of Tony Allen and Shane Battier, the Grizzlies lead the league in forced turnovers (16.7) and steals (9.42) while ranking second in points off turnovers (19.3). Rose's primary responsibility will be protecting the ball and setting up Chicago's shooters.
Finally, the Grizzlies have been the only NBA team to average at least 50 points in the paint over the last two seasons.
The Grizzlies have outscored their opponents in the paint in 19 consecutive games, the longest streak since the turn of the century, for an average of 18.2 points per game during the run, scoring 60-or-more points five times. The Bulls frontcourt will have its hands full -- especially with Taj Gibsonand Luol Deng nursing minor injuries.
Where Memphis struggles is shooting and defending the three-point line. Grizzlies opponents average 7.3 made three pointers a game, while the Griz only score 3.7. If the Bulls are going to win the game, they'll need to play well on the perimeter.
Grizzlies To Watch For
Zach Randolph is seldom mentioned among the NBA elite, but the stats don't lie. Randolph earned the franchise's first Player of the Month Award in January, and he's averaging a double-double for the fifth consecutive season, the second-longest active streak in the NBA (Dwight Howard, 7). The Grizzlies have a potent second unit that will give the Bulls bench mob all it can handle, with the likes of O.J. Mayo, Shane Battier and Darrell Arthur all playing solid basketball.
Bulls To Watch For
It gives me great pleasure to remind you that Derrick Rose notched his first career triple double in this season's only other meeting against Memphis, going off for 22 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists. Luol Deng (thigh), Taj Gibson (toe) and C.J. Watson(plantar fascitis) are all dealing with nagging injuries. Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver will need to play well for the Bulls to notch their 32nd home victory of the year.
There are no trap games at this point in the season, and the Grizzlies are too talented to consider it as such anyways. Nevertheless, the Bulls spectacular play of late and near-flawless home record could cause a team to lose focus. Rest assured, Tom Thibodeau is well aware of that possibility and will drill it into the Bulls'heads every second leading up to the opening tip.
The Bulls go for their 52nd win of the season tonight at 7:00 p.m. CDT on Comcast Sports Net.