Shorthanded Bulls fall in Memphis in MLK Day showdown

The Bulls dropped their fourth straight game as they fell to the Grizzlies 119-106
by Sam Smith
Remind Me Later


"We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope." -Martin Luther King Jr.

And so it was for the Bulls Monday in Memphis in the featured Martin Luther King Jr. Day game against the Memphis Grizzlies. The Bulls lost 119-106 to Memphis, the Bulls fourth consecutive defeat and fifth in the last six.

"We never lost hope," said Coby White, who had 16 points starting again with rookie Ayo Dosunmu with both Lonzo Ball and Zach LaVine out injured. "We (felt) we could fight our way back like we did against Boston, but we can't have those lapses, especially against a really good team like them. Like coach always says, as long as we have five guys who play hard, we're going to have a chance to win any game; that's how we feel. We've got to a lot of people out, but a lot of teams have a lot of people out. We're not using it as an excuse. We come into every game thinking we can win."

Not many did in the TNT national game against the league's hottest team, the Grizzlies now 31-15. And led by Ja Morant with 25 points and a split-the-double, 360-degree driving layup for his final bows before bowing out of a game Memphis led by double digits most of the last three quarters and by as much as 28.

"We may have all come on different ships, but we're in the same boat now."

Martin Luther King Jr.

DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 24 points and on his 22nd birthday Dosunmu had his second straight double/double with 15 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and five steals. Six Bulls scored in double figures with fellow Illini Malcolm Hill, now on a two-way contract with Devon Dotson released, adding a dozen and Matt Thomas 13 with three of four threes. But with Javonte Green and Alex Caruso also out, though Caruso could be back for Cleveland Wednesday in the United Center, it remained an on-the-fly Bulls rotation with Alfonzo McKinnie getting another start.

DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 24 points and 5 assists in the loss to Memphis.

DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 24 points and 5 assists in the loss to Memphis.

But the Grizzlies' specialties, league leaders in steals and fast break points, proved too much for the Bulls after eight first quarter turnovers. The Bulls had 18 for the game for 21 Memphis points and the Grizzlies had a 26-9 lead in fast break points.

"For us right now, our margin for error is not great," admitted Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "Turnovers here, offensive rebound, a couple of easy transition points; we have to eliminate those things, the easy baskets. We don't generate a lot of (easy baskets) now because of our size and the way we are.

"What stands out with them is their ability to offensive rebound, get out in transition — they really run well — and when you turn the ball over it allows them to get out and they don't turn the ball over very much," noted Donovan. "The key things for us were to get back in transition and taking care of the ball. We had some possessions that allowed them to get out in the second quarter and open up that lead."

Several ugly possessions, like an inbounds pass with a second left before halftime to get a dunk and Adams snatching a free throw miss and passing to Bane for that three to end a second quarter 16-0 run.

"If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward."

Martin Luther King Jr.

After a jagged first quarter of a 20-20 tie with poor ball handling on both sides and weak shooting, the Grizzlies, now more Showtime than Grit 'n Grind, ground down the Bulls with a show of 10-0 on fast break points and 12-0 in the paint. Desmond Bane scored 15 of his 25 points in the second quarter making three of four threes. The Grizzlies aren't a top shooting team, more relying on defense with steals and blocks (21 combined, a portmanteau now known as "stocks"). Jaren Jackson had five blocks.

So at 23-23 with 10:52 left in the third quarter quickly became 39-23 after Bane's three about three minutes later. The Grizzlies' track meet proved a bane for the Bulls. Memphis led 58-45 at halftime and the Bulls only briefly in the third quarter got within eight points, the closest they would be.

"I thought it was our offense," said Donovan. "We kind of got bogged down, and the turnovers really hurt us. We don't have enough size to get back and not get the floor balanced; the live ball turnovers are hard to get back on."

"You can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream."

Martin Luther Ling Jr.

To paraphrase air traffic controller Steve McCroskey, the Bulls picked the wrong week to show the world how they've become a contender (yes, another 80s reference).

It's still early as the phrase goes, and the Bulls at 27-15 still are holding onto first place in the Eastern Conference. But it was a tough week to keep telling your friends this is not what we've seen all season. And not what the Bulls expect to become. Not only was it the Bulls third national TV game in a week after several years of TNT forgetting how to get into the city from O'Hare, but all three games were losses, and all three in which the Bulls were basically uncompetitive after the losses to Brooklyn and Golden State.

Really, no really, they've been good and are legitimate.

"We had a couple of bad turnovers, but also we had a couple of misses that we didn't get back in the second quarter," said White. "We kind of fell apart in transition and that's where they get a lot of their points, getting out running. We played really well the first quarter and then the second quarter there were gaps on the defensive end, especially in transition, so that led to them going on a run."

Memphis mostly controlled the boards, and it was a rough game for Nikola Vucevic, outmaneuvered by Steven Adams. Vucevic had 10 rebounds and two blocks, but he was scoreless in the first half and two of 13 for the game. He didn't play in the fourth quarter. Donovan attributed that more to not overplaying he and DeRozan with the other absences and the growing deficit in the game.

"Everybody's not perfect," said White when asked about Vucevic. "Vooch is an All-Star, but everybody struggles from time to time. For me all the shots Vooch took today, he gets the same ones I guarantee you he'll knock ‘em down. We have the utmost faith in Vooch. He can have a game like this, then go kill Wednesday. Everybody has an off game; that's how it is."

"We will meet your physical force with soul force."

Martin Luther Ling Jr.

It is a difficult January Doldrums stretch for the Bulls, who are catching up for the postponed games from the early Covid outbreak. Saturday ended five games in seven days, and after playing Cleveland at home Wednesday, the Bulls play four of five and six of nine on the road. They could get some help with Caruso Wednesday and LaVine is not expected to be out long.

The absences have given White and Dosunmu a chance to start with Dosunmu excelling once again, the Illini product a quick learner and showing surprising ease playing point guard.

"I love playing with Ayo," said White. "Especially when we're not starting, when we come in we bring a lot of energy to the game. So I feel like it's a chance for us to grow. It's an opportunity we didn't have early in the year with our whole team, so now we're getting an opportunity. I feel we are trying to grow and develop and get better for the team.

Bulls rookie Ayo Dosunmu shoots a jumper against Memphis on Monday afternoon.

Playing on his birthday, Ayo Dosunmu stuffed the stat sheet in Memphis finishing with 15 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals, and 2 blocks.

"I feel I've been solid, getting us in our sets, but still being aggressive with my shot and getting downhill and making the right play," said White, who made four of seven threes. "I had a couple of bad ones getting downhill in the first and second quarters, but I feel like in the rest of the game I got downhill and made good decisions. It's a chance for me to learn and get better in all aspects of the game."

And continuing to compete.

Donovan was competing, too, and earned his third technical foul of the season to go one ahead of Tom Thibodeau and tied for eighth among coaches. And then with 5:32 left in the game and Grizzlies mostly nursing 20-some leads the game almost became grizzly.

Tony Bradley finished the game for Vucevic and Morant believed Bradley was trying to finish him. With the sleek guard who is drawing comparisons to Derrick Rose streaking toward the basket, Bradley stuck out his leg in what appeared, certainly to Morant, an attempt to trip and injure him. TV broadcaster Stan Van Gundy, the longtime NBA coach, said he believed Bradley just doesn't move laterally very well. Morant didn't think it was funny and got into a shoving thing and pushed the basketball into Bradley's face. Adams took care of anything further by literally lifting up the 250-pound Bradley and carrying him away from combustion.

Tap to listen to postgame thoughts and comments from Bulls coach Billy Donovan as the Bulls fell to the Grizzlies on Memphis on Monday afternoon.

Bradley was assessed a flagrant foul. Morant really woke up and gave the Bulls that 360, and then the benches emptied for the right reasons.

"He tried to trip me. That is not a basketball play, so I reacted," said Morant. "He was grabbing my jersey and I told him to get off me. He was still grabbing my jersey. I don't do any pushing or shoving. Whatever else happened after that happened. Honestly (on the highlight layup), once I split the defense I wanted to rip the rim off after what happened. The defense came over and it was just a reaction. I was going to power up for a dunk and I saw them. Most of the time in the situation, if you don't finish a dunk it's going to be a charge. I just reacted and spun off into a layup."

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Martin Luther King Jr.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


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