Bulls struggle shooting against Grizzlies, fall 101-90

Poor shooting (41.9% from the floor, 16.1% from three) was too much for the Bulls to overcome as Chicago fell to the Memphis Grizzlies 101-90 on Monday night. Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas had 26 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks. Zach LaVine scored 21 points but shot 5-of-14 from the field and dished nine assists. The Bulls (22-31) will look to end their three-game losing skid against the Orlando Magic (17-37) back in Chicago.

You go to Memphis for the barbeque and the blues. And so the Bulls did Monday. Though getting slow cooked to a gloomy conclusion in a 101-90 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies wasn't exactly the plan.

It was the Bulls third consecutive loss and seventh in the last 10 since the trades that they figured would have them rocking and rolling. And though the Bulls record dropped to 22-31, equalling their lowest point of the season, they're not necessary, as onetime Memphis resident Elvis Presley might have said, all shook up.

"It feels really good at times, and sometimes it's just not good enough," said Zach LaVine, who led the Bulls with 21 points, nine assists, two blocks and 11 of the team's 17 free throws.

LaVine has been remarkable, continuing to push and pull the team through difficult periods and playing every role from scorer to point guard to defender despite constant double teaming and trapping defenses. And then answering all the questions about what happened and why.

"We've got to continue to get better," said LaVine. "We're talented enough to win these games; we're just not going out there getting the results. Today, we really tried to compete defensively and just no shots were falling (a debilitating five of 31 on threes). It's just upsetting.

Zach LaVine finished with 21 points and nine assists against Memphis.

"We know we're a better team now," insisted LaVine. "We've just got to start figuring it out. It doesn't matter the teams that we play. We should go in there and expect to win each time if we play the right way. But throughout the game, we're just not getting it done in certain areas. We're having good parts and bad parts and then obviously in the fourth quarter today, we went into the fourth up four, the game was close (leading by two again with seven minutes left). We didn't make enough shots, me included. We didn't make enough plays. It's frustrating. We've got to get it going.

"Just get a damn win."

The Bulls did do some things much better, especially on the defensive end which had become porous recently and which coach Billy Donovan made a priority. The Bulls held Memphis to 32 percent shooting on threes, forced 20 turnovers and were solid on the defensive boards until late in the game.

"I thought our guys really competed defensively," Donovan agreed. "We were really good defensively. I was really pleased with the way we guarded in the first half. I thought we were physical. The things we didn't do against Minnesota and the things we didn't do against Atlanta we did more consistently. The unfortunate part today was this was one of our poorer offensive games in terms of shooting percentage and numbers in relation to it was one of our better defensive games.

"I liked the way game was," Donovan added. "It was a very physical, grind-it-out game. I thought our guys stepped up to that and really battled and competed. Obviously, the fourth quarter wasn't great for us offensively or defensively. But for the most part those first three quarters, I thought we competed really well."

Billy Donovan takes questions and reacts to the loss against Memphis.

Once again the Bulls couldn't finish what they started. The Grizzlies outscored the Bulls 31-16 in the fourth quarter and 17-6 on the boards. It was the Bulls fourth game in five nights at the end of this long stretch, though no one was offering excuses.

Still, it seemed to be having an impact on many of the younger players.

Lauri Markkanen had the first scoreless game of his career in playing just 16 minutes. Patrick Williams finally got a basket, scoring two points finishing a dunk in the fourth quarter after more than 50 minutes of playing time over three games without a point. Williams finished with two points and three rebounds in 27 minutes. Coby White had six points on two of eight shooting. But there was a chicken/egg element to it as well since Donovan has shifted to using primarily the veteran players with substantially declining roles for Markkanen and White.

Daniel Theis off the bench had 18 points to aid that defensive effort while Thad Young rebounded — and mostly scored — with 20 points on 10 of 15 shooting. Nikola Vucevic had 17 points, 10 rebounds and five steals. But the pesky Grizzlies took advantage of the Bulls apparent uncertainty about playing inside. Or actually who should.

Thad Young finished with 20 points against the Grizzlies.

With Young scoring cleverly inside, his specialty, the Grizzlies switched up trailing 83-81 coming out of that timeout with 7:05 left. Hulking Jonas Valanciunas who had 26 points and 14 rebounds defended Young instead of Vucevic. The Grizzlies then put smaller players like Dillon Brooks or Kyle Anderson on Vucevic. Young's tendency is to play inside, thus forcing Vucevic away from the basket. When Young was unable to navigate Valanciunas' air space, he drifted outside for a three, not his specialty. Valanciunas then helped off Young when Vucevic tried to go inside, effectively forcing the Bulls into a perimeter game without legs late in a road trip. The Bulls missed seven of their last nine attempts with only LaVine getting to the free throw line.

"They came and doubled him (Vucevic) immediately," Donovan noted. "The ball sprayed out and we missed some shots. We got up against the clock a little bit. What they were doing was they were bringing backside help there and they were almost switching trying to front him. We had Thad up high. Thad got a three out of that one time (missed). They were almost forcing us to try to take jump shots to take away Vucevic."

It worked, but the Bulls did work at it. And they do look like they are better, if not in the standings, still 10th in the Eastern Conference.

"Our style of play has completely changed from where it was just in terms of trying to take advantage of our personnel and trying to play to those guys' strengths and that's going to take some time to get used to," reminded Donovan. "I think we need to try to be a little more consistent in how we're trying to play."

Highlights from Chicago's Monday night game against the Memphis Grizzlies

It should help getting home for a few days even if the home record isn't very good, and facing bottom of the East teams like Orlando and Cleveland two of the next three games and three of the next five.

Theis and Troy Brown Jr. with their defensive presence have become rotation and late game regulars, which is improving the defense as Donovan uses them more. The conundrum is the impact it is having on Markkanen and White. As for Williams, Donovan remains protective of the rookie, who has been passive and perhaps exhausted in recent weeks. It's understandable as a 19-year-old who looks older but isn't. Williams obviously is a major part of the Bulls future, and Donovan seemed to indicate that development may transcend any immediate inconsistencies.

"When he goes and drives the ball and he can't get to the basket, what do you expect him to do?" Donovan asked. "I don't love him trying to rise up and shoot over guys at 15, 17 feet and them hanging on him on non-paint twos. He's going to have to get it inside the framework, out of transition, maybe some offensive rebounds or some of those things. He has all the freedom in the world to be as aggressive as he possibly wants to be. But I do think he's the kind of player that is going to try to play the right way. When he does get the ball and tries to put it down and gets shut off, he's trying to make plays.

"I'm not worried about Patrick," Donovan reiterated. "He's 19 years old. He has played an enormous amount of games. This is our fourth game in five nights. I don't speak for him, but I'm sure there is a lot on his plate right now that he's dealing with. For anyone to expect him at 19 years old to be taking over NBA games, I think it's probably a little bit of a stretch right now. He's going to have some good moments and some bad ones."

Donovan also deflected inquires about Markkanen, but his play, albeit in a vastly reduced role, has to be a concern. Here's a player two years ago who was regarded as a potential future All-Star and team leader. He is averaging 9.8 points since the trades and 4.3 per game the last three. He's played more than 20 minutes once in the last four games and has a total of 11 field goal attempts the last three games combined. Tough to score without the ball.

"I'm not really concerned about Lauri in terms of... it's more about our team," said Donovan. "I thought we missed him a few times and I made that comment in the huddle. There was times in transition, guys penetrated we could've sprayed it to him. To me, it's not necessarily about Lauri or Patrick, it's about how is our team functioning and operating."

Not really that badly if, once again, not showing the results.

Donovan attempted to adjust. The Bulls opened the game with a play designed for Williams and got a three when he passed to Vucevic. Which maybe is part of the problem, if Donovan doesn't see it that way. He credits Williams for making the so called right plays when defended. But sometimes, especially when you are his size, perhaps you have to collide with the defense on occasion. Williams looks like he'll get up more often. The Bulls also faded down the stretch in Minnesota Sunday not going much inside to Vucevic. So they did to start, but Young also likes that space. Young was scoring, but it also was sending Vucevic outside as Memphis took a 20-11 lead. With Theis subbing in for Young, the Bulls tied at 22 after one quarter.

Daniel Theis finished with 18 points off the bench against the Grizzlies on Monday night.

"Our defense was probably the best we've had since the trades," said the rugged Theis. "We were definitely more physical. It was a big emphasis, especially after the Atlanta game. We gave up so many lobs."

The Bulls were much improved closing the lane and helping on the pick and rolls against the elusive and exciting Ja Morant. He had 13 points and 10 assists with a few stunning slam dunks, but five turnovers as the Bulls sealed the lane well. The Bulls trailed 48-47 at halftime in one of those Memphis Grind House games even with new faces, and then led 74-70 after three when Vucevic had a huge quarter with 12 points and a pair of threes.

Donovan got LaVine out earlier in the third quarter so he could play virtually the entire fourth quarter unlike Sunday. But no one among the Bulls had much left, 11 missed fourth quarter Bulls threes being too much to overcome.

"We only scored 90, so now we've gotta look at our offense again," said Theis. "One night it's turnovers cost us a game. Yesterday, we didn't get to the line a lot. We lost the game by, what, six, and we had half the free throws. Today, we didn't shoot the ball well from three. We made five, maybe six for the whole game. Now we gotta put together a complete game. If we play defense like today and we make our shots, we're gonna win games. We've been on the road for, I think, 16 of the last 18 days. So now we go home. We're going to look at stuff and then we‘re going to start a winning streak."