The Bulls Tuesday moved inexorably closer to the premature end of their season as they were mauled in Memphis and lost to the Grizzlies 108-92.
The Bulls fell back to 39-39. Though still two games behind the eighth place Detroit Pistons, the Bulls have just four games left and the Pistons have the tiebreaker. The Pistons would eliminate the Bulls with one win or one more Bulls loss. Indiana is a half game ahead of Detroit in seventh place, but the Bulls own the tiebreaker. The Pacers magic number to make the playoffs over the Bulls would be two. The Bulls are in Miami Thursday. Memphis is 42-36.
The Bulls were led by Nikola Mirotic off the bench with 20 points. Pau Gasol had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Bobby Portis had 12 points and nine rebounds and Derrick Rose had 12 points and eight assists. Jimmy Butler had five points, shot two of eight and didn’t score until 4:30 left in the game.
The Bulls remained without Taj Gibson, and E’Twaun Moore had to sit with a recurrence of his hamstring issues. Though coach Fred Hoiberg said it is more day to day with Moore. Gibson probably is out for Miami Thursday. But Rose did return. The Bulls started slowly, however, against a Memphis team equally injured this season and with a league record 28 different players in uniform this season. Both Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are out for the season. The game started slowly in a shooting clunk fest for both undermanned teams with the Bulls 31 percent shooting after nine minutes superior. But the Grizzlies were outworking the Bulls inside, Randolph with 10 points and twice digging out misses or baskets for a 16-13 lead with already six offensive rebounds. The Grizzlies moved it up to 33 percent in the first quarter with a 17-10 rebounding edge and 23-21 lead. Butler settled for long jumpers and was zero for five.
The Grizzlies took a 28-21 lead early in the second quarter, but Rose answered with a pair of scoring drives to get the Bulls within 32-30. But again the Grizzlies’ hustle was superior as Tony Allen grabbed the ball away from Doug McDermott on a drive and then the Bulls lost the ball trying to force it into Butler, leading to a Memphis fast break and three for a 39-30 lead. Mirotic was trying to keep the Bulls in the game with his third three pointer of the half, but the Grizzlies finally began to find the range and spurted ahead 50-38 with 2:54 left in the half. The Bulls were unable to control Zach Randolph, trying mostly Gasol and Bobby Portis as Randolph had 18 in the first half and Memphis led 54-44. Gasol had 11 and Rose eight.
The Bulls couldn’t get anything going to open the second half yet again, a stagnant, passive offense enabling the Grizzlies, who came in losing six straight, to race out to a 66-52 lead with 7:15 left in the third quarter. Hoiberg tried to get some hustle into the lineup, sitting all the starters but Gasol about seven minutes into the quarter trailing 71-56. But the avalanche continued with McDermott losing the ball trying to dribble behind his back on a break, Gasol missing a pair of free throws and quick and inaccurate shots while the Bulls were making Vince Carter look sprightly. Memphis went ahead by 22 and led 83-65 entering the fourth quarter. Mirotic added a fourth three early in the fourth, but the Bulls continued to lose the ball, their 16th turnover, and the Grizzlies led 89-70 with 8:55 left in the game. The Bulls finally began to show some energy with a McDermott three, a Rose runner and spirited inside defensive play from Cristiano Felicio. The Bulls got within 91-77 with 6:42 remaining and then Mirotic sank his fifth three to get the Bulls within 11 in their most inspired play of the game. But the Grizzlies escaped as Rose missed after a turnover and a Gasol pass got away after an offensive rebound.