Tough Win Extends Bulls Conference Lead to Two Games

Tough Win Extends Bulls Conference Lead to Two Games

The Grizzlies put up a hard, commendable fight, but the Bulls ended up on top 99-96 to extend their home winning streak to 14 and their lead on the Celtics for the top seed in the East to two games.

The Bulls (52-19) haven't lost at home in over two months (Jan. 18) and they weren't letting that streak end, despite a great defensive effort by the Grizzlies (40-33). The 99-96 win with the Celtics (50-21) 83-81 loss to the Bobcats puts the Bulls two games ahead of the currently second-seeded C's.

Memphis was without Rudy Gay (shoulder - out for season), but found firepower with a balanced attack that had them running and punishing the Bulls for mistakes, but the Bulls mad up for the Grizzlies' 13 fastbreak points with 11 of their own and 29 second-chance points on 18 offensive rebounds.
The Grizzlies spacing and transition defense was nothing short of awesomely stifling, but there's no team in the NBA that can rebound like the Bulls -- none and that's a fact, as they lead the league in rebounding rate. The Bulls aggressiveness doesn't make their resets on opposite ends suffer, showing Memphis their athleticism, strength, depth, and aggressiveness were a dangerous weapon no matter how hard you worked to stop it.
Luol Deng was the Bulls best scoring threat in the first half where they only had a 49-46 lead, but were being out-hustled on both ends. Deng finished with 24 points in 42 minutes on 8-for-15 shooting -- 3-for-4 on 3-pointers -- (16 with 2-for-3 on 3s in the first half). He told it like it was after the game, saying the Grizzlies played harder, but the Bulls had more skill is just it just enough to have the final shift of weight in their favor:
Derrick Rose was like an NHL defenseman, forcing shots to the goal, with dribble penetration and trailers behind him to clean up the mess. Fortunately for the Bulls, they did, as Rose's game-high 24 points came on an awful 6-for-22 shooting, bricking all five 3-point attempts -- 18 points in the second half after missing seven of his first eight shots in the game. But his aggressiveness got him to the line when he was off and went 12-for-13 on FTs to go with seven assists and seven rebounds.
The Bulls defense wasn't so much sluggish as it was confused. There was too much hesitation and the Grizzlies got too easily in the process, scoring 44 points in the paint, and shooting a .507 eFG% for a 114.4 offensive rating in the 86-possession game. The Bulls' 42.9% offensive rebounding rate was -- no doubt -- the difference, despite a pretty highlight reel from Rose.
The prettiest was the game-clinching domination of Tony Allen -- an excellent defender -- in isolation:

Tom Thibodeau said after the game. "Poise under pressure, I think that's the biggest thing [needed by a closer]. To not get rattled and to have the confidence to take and make that shot, without fear of missing."

But the team didn't deserve much praise for their piss-poor defense. He implied that teams fighting for playoff spots are simply not as good as the Bulls, but their situation makes it too dangerous to not prey on them, as the opponents build confidence and momentum. "I didn't think we had the necessary edge to compete," Thibs added:

The Bulls travel to Milwaukee for Satuday's game against the Bucks (29-42). The Bulls have been up and down on the road -- 20-15 for the season, but 7-2 since Feb. 26. The Bucks' defense always makes them tough, but the atmosphere will more like a home game than any arena away from the United Center, as the Bradley Center is usually dominated by traveling Bulls fans.
Personally, I want to add that this is completely unfair scheduling by the NBA for the Bucks. I feel like a disproportionate amount of Bulls games in Milwaukee are on the weekends or the day before a holiday, so Bulls fans can easily drive up there. It's better for league attendance and hype, yes, but neutralizes a home game for the team which actually occupies the arena. I like the advantage for my team, but on a universal level, it's a tad troubling.
I don't wanna dwell on much else from this game, other than add that Kurt Thomas was huge -- as the only defender who could adequately help Joakim Noah with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol -- and that Carlos Boozer was good for nothing but rebounding. Fortunately, Booz was great at that, rebounding at a 21.2% rate, but his defense was too much of a liability and coming on and off the floor held back his offensive rhythm.
Also, it was great to see the Bulls not get too shot-happy from long range as the Grizzlies fought them so hard inside and spaced in such an excellent manner. Sure, nailing 3s could've made this a ten-point win, but easily could've made it a ten-point loss with the longer rebounds.
The C's play the Timberwolves (17-56) in Minnesota on Sunday. The Heat (50-22) remained 2.5 back of the Bulls in the third seed with a 111-99 win over the 76ers (37-35) on Friday and host the Rockets (38-34) on Sunday.
Advanced Stats via Basketball-Reference.

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