The Chicago Bulls sure know how to make things interesting, don’t they?
Chicago hosted the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night in what would prove to be their third overtime game in three contests. Memphis won a gritty, low-scoring game the first time around, and that same theme held true again, as Chicago fell 85-82.
Coming into the game, the Bulls had momentum following back-to-back overtime wins. They began the contest with all sorts of energy, and it was their ability to attack the rim and score down low that gave them a 22-18 lead by the end of the first.
Both of these teams are known for their defense, and both defenses had a field day with sloppy offenses in the first half. The Grizzlies were the ones turning the ball over in the opening period, but the script was quickly flipped when Chicago began playing completely out of control.
At one point, Memphis went on a 13-0 run in the second quarter, largely because of Chicago’s six turnovers in the period. The Grizzlies took full advantage, and they led 44-34 heading into halftime.
Unfortunately for Chicago, the second half began similarly to how the first ended. The Bulls were playing carelessly on offense, and when it came down to it, they simply couldn’t put the ball in the basket.
By the five-minute mark of the third quarter, Chicago had scored just two points in the period. That’s a combined 14 points in a quarter-and-a-half, and when you’re struggling on both offense and defense, that’s a recipe for disaster against one of the best teams in the Western Conference.
The Bulls entered the fourth quarter down 60-47, but they quickly got the lead down to single digits. They were turning defense into offense for the first time in what seemed like forever, and they even snatched the lead with about three minutes to go.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, it proved to be too little, too late. The game would ultimately go to overtime, but fatigue seemed to be a factor with each passing minute. They finished the game shooting just 36.5 percent from the field, and Memphis took home its 26th win of the 2012-13 season.
Kirk Hinrich opened up this game the way no player hopes to begin any contest. He picked up two quick fouls and had to exit after six minutes without taking a single shot.
The second quarter didn't prove to be any better for the point guard, as he took one shot, played five minutes and picked up his third foul.
Hinrich was finally able to stay on the floor in the third, but without having the playing time to get warmed up in the first half, he wasn't able to get anything going on offense. The team desperately needed scoring, but Hinrich certainly wasn't the one who was going to give it to them.
The veteran finished with just three points on 1-of-4 shooting, and he played just 24 minutes in this overtime battle.
If you did your pregame research, you could have guessed that there wouldn't be a lot of scoring from the shooting guard spot in this one.
Entering the game, Richard Hamilton was averaging 12.3 points per contest, but defensive specialist Tony Allen was the man who would look to shut him down. Neither player ever truly got involved in the offense, but it was the Bulls' 2-guard who hurt his team with missed shots.
Hamilton finished this one with five points on 2-of-7 shooting. It was his inefficiency that was the major problem, as shooting poorly is the area that hurt Chicago the most Saturday night.
His 23 minutes were unproductive, which makes it no surprise he found himself on the bench as this one wound down.
With Luol Deng out because of injury, Jimmy Butler earned the nod as the starting small forward. It was the 23-year-old's first start of his career, and while it began in unmemorable fashion, he proved to be a big part of the attempted comeback late in the game.
Throughout his 48 minutes, Butler really struggled to find his shot. Like the rest of the team, he made up for his poor shooting late, but if it weren't for the foul line, where he shot 8-of-8, his offensive game would have been much less impressive.
Defensively, Butler was given the assignment of Rudy Gay. The Memphis Grizzlies forward is tough to contain no matter who is guarding him, but Butler did a good job of crowding him and keeping him away from the rim where he's most comfortable.
He even had the late-game steal that nearly proved to be the play of the night.
Butler made hustle plays in this one, which is exactly what the Bulls need from him. If he wants to truly fill a void with Deng out, he'll have to figure out a way to put the ball in the basket more efficiently, but 18 points and eight rebounds is a great way to step in when called upon.
Carlos Boozer has been playing with some extreme confidence as of late. He entered this game having averaged 23.4 points and 11.8 rebounds in the month of January, and his shot had been falling, as his field-goal percentage has been right around 55 percent for the nine-game stretch.
The key to Boozer's success has been starting off games hot, and that's exactly how this one began.
The big man had his jumper falling, which created opportunities for Joakim Noah inside. At this point in his career, he has the ability to spread the floor, which means him a dangerous weapon in any half-court set.
On the glass, Boozer managed to grab 14 rebounds, but the problem is that he also conceded 19 to Zach Randolph. So many total rebounds is a product of two struggling offenses, and both were able to take advantage.
Boozer finished the contest with 17 points on 7-of-19 shooting, and he was arguably the most consistent Bulls player from start to finish.
It's no secret that Joakim Noah makes plays off of hustle and energy, but the big man was putting that notion on full display from the beginning of this one.
In the opening minutes of the contest, Noah had two finishes at the rim that are highlight-worthy on most given nights. He used that efficiency down low to create open looks up top, and he took full advantage by knocking down a jumper to help spread the floor.
So why in the world did he spend so much time on the bench down the stretch?
This is the question that's going to be asked following this loss. Noah was the key player for the Bulls early, as he scored 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the first period. The problem is that he missed his next six shots and was kept out of the rotation when the team finally got back in it late.
Noah deserves an "A" for his work in the first quarter, but he fell off the map quickly after. He finished the game with 10 points and five rebounds, and it will be interesting to see what is said following Tom Thibodeau's decision to keep him off the floor with the game on the line.
Nate Robinson was the first man off the bench for the Chicago Bulls Saturday night, but he didn't truly show up until the team began to storm back late in the game.
Robinson came in early for Kirk Hinrich, who was plagued with foul trouble. He was matched up against Mike Conley, and he had a hard time stopping his fellow point guard.
On the offensive end, Robinson was as guilty as the rest of the Bulls' backcourt when it came to missing shots. He did a good job facilitating, as he recorded five assists in 29 minutes, but his lack of scoring early was part of the reason Chicago was in such a hole late.
Robinson's energy is a good thing for Chicago, and you can't deny the big-time buckets he made near the end of regulation. But in a game where the entire team scored just six fast-break points, you need better half-court execution, and Robinson's 5-of-15 shooting—including 1-of-5 from deep range—didn't help.
The Chicago Bulls needed bench production in this one following back-to-back overtime games. Their starters have seen a lot of minutes as of late, and any help they could get would be a welcomed addition to the game plan.
Unfortunately for the home team, it wasn't until the Bulls had their backs against the wall that they finally found production.
Nate Robinson played well late, and the team did find a spark off the bench in Taj Gibson. After watching the Memphis Grizzlies increase their lead in the third quarter, Gibson showed that he can make the hustle plays necessary to help Chicago get back in it, and he finished the contest with 10 points and an impressive 12 rebounds.
Outside of Gibson and Robinson, there wasn't much to brag about from this second unit. Marco Belinelli had a big three-point shot late, but he also had a crucial turnover that helped solidify Memphis' victory.
The day that this team is fully healthy is going to be a great day for the starting lineup, but it's going to be even better for a bench unit that won't have to worry about putting up major points in games like this one.