Not one person on the seven continents expected this to be a 125-121 regulation game. Not a single one.
Did they expect this? I did, and if you’ve read what I’ve written over the last several seasons, you’ll know that I’m one of those who absolutely digs games like this one.
Seven beautifully ugly things about this rather, ahem, muddy game…
Thing one: We saw the Conley/Lee/Allen/ZBo/Gasol lineup at the end of the second quarter, and it didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard…then again, nothing about this game lit up the scoreboard, now did it? Noah and Augustin sensed that Conley is still laboring on both ends and found a groove, and with Gasol already having two fouls, Noah was able to get some work done. Especially since he’s totally awesome. More on him later.
Thing two: A tale of two Conleys. The burst he had at the beginning of the second half kept that Chicago run later in the third from getting lethal. He still had a rather horrid shooting game at 4-15 from the field, but seven assists to only two TO’s and some timely defense helped the team string together enough good basketball in the second half to get the win.
Thing three: The last eight minutes of this game, the score was 13-8 Grizzlies. You’ll not find a more ardent lover of the “mud game” than myself, but whoof. That’s rough.
Thing four: A little more detail: the Bulls did not score for the last 3:16 of the game. Make no mistake, the Grizzlies didn’t exactly shred the nets over that stretch-but the defense the Grizz played was the style that makes grit and grind what it is. Don’t forget, offensive rebounds are GREAT defense. As it was for most of the game, the wing players were largely involved in nullifying one another’s offensive impact (yeah, except for that one guy…), and when the Grizzlies (namely Koufos and Calathes) made stopping the Bulls’ paint penetration a bit more of a regular thing, the Bulls had nowhere else to go.
Thing five: Tony Allen gave the hometown crowd a heck of a hustle game. No,his numbers, like almost all the other numbers in the game, were not Earth-shattering by any stretch-but he was always around. And he seemed as motivated as we’ve seen him since his return from injury. Maybe it was the hometown aspect, maybe not-but having a guy like him coming off the bench to provide instant defense could prove invaluable to the Grizzlies as each game grows even larger. It was surely easier for him to wander, as the Bulls didn’t have guys lighting it up from outside.
Thing six: MIIIIKKKE MILLERRRR FOR THREEEEEE. That little machine-gun outburst from Miller seemed to take the wind out of the Bulls’ sails at the end of the third, and was likely the decisive turn of the tide. This kind of game is exactly what the Grizzlies need from him-he’s only had a few games wherein a Grizz victory could be solidly traced to his offensive output, but that’s exactly what happened at the United Center this night. Miller was the only wing player to score double digits. Lovely perimeter defense from both teams.
Thing seven: Gasol v. Noah, victory Gasol. Noah had another great game, but Marc’s boxscore and non-boxscore contributions were nothing short of vital. Holding the steering wheel for the Grizzlies’ defense, and making the Bulls pay over and over again for giving him space to shoot from the elbow. He’s surely still hurting from the knee aggravation, but it’s becoming less and less easy to see. 8 of 16 from the floor with ten boards (and an always-welcome double-double-double for ZBO and Gasol).
Bonus thing: The bench defense, especially Calathes and Koufos (and TA, although it’s still odd thinking of him as a bench player). Calathes had two steals, five assists (no, that’s not defense, but more evidence that he had a very competently played game), and zero turnovers (ditto). The way Calathes and company were able to shrink the floor on the Bulls was just a joy to watch-when a Bull (Hinrich, Augustin, even Snell) went toward the elbow, the Grizzlies brought guys in from the weak side to cut off the crosscourt dish while still protecting the lane. Just glorious.
Quick flight home and the next in a long line of “biggest game of their NBA lives” against the Bobcats Saturday.