In the quiet of the Chicago Bulls’ locker room on Tuesday night at FedExForum, point guard Derrick Rose tried to explain how a virtual must-win game for his team turned into a 108-92 loss to the reeling and hobbled Memphis Grizzlies.
“They just played like they wanted to get to the playoffs,” said Rose, who went just 5-for-15 from the floor and finished with 12 points, eight assists and five turnovers.
Asked where the Bulls (39-39) go from here, Rose said: “I really don’t know. We gotta figure it out one way or another. It’s going to be a long night.”
The Grizzlies (42-36) needed the victory almost as badly as the Bulls did. They snapped a six-game losing streak behind power forward Zach Randolph’s 27 points and 10 rebounds.
“We’ve been searching and we’ve been desperate for a win,” Randolph said. “We wanted it. We want every game. We lost six in a row. We ain’t lost that many since I first got here seven years ago. We just gotta keep playing, man.”
As if Randolph needed any more motivation, Bulls rookie forward Bobby Portis was mixing it up with Randolph from the start. Big mistake.
“I would leave that dog alone early in games,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “He got into it with young fella and he got very engaged.”
The Bulls saw their dwindling playoff chances grow smaller. Detroit (41-37) lost Tuesday night but stayed two games ahead of the Bulls for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with each team having four games left to play.
“It’s very disappointing to throw away an opportunity like this, especially with Detroit losing,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Chicago trailed by 10 at halftime. Although the Bulls cut the lead to seven early in the third quarter, the Grizzlies were up by many as 22 points late in the quarter and led 83-65 going into the fourth. The Bulls never got the lead down to single digits.
Forward Nikola Mirotic paced Chicago with 20 points and eight rebounds off the bench. Pau Gasol scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds and made four blocks.
Guard Jimmy Butler didn’t score until there was 4:29 left in the game when he made a driving layup. He finished 2-for-8 with five points.
“We know he’s prolific,” said the Grizzlies’ defensive stopper, Tony Allen (six points, nine rebounds and four steals). “I tried to limit his touches. I just locked in.”
The Grizzlies increased their hold on the 5 seed in the Western Conference to a game over Portland and moved closer to clinching a playoff berth for the sixth consecutive season. The Grizzlies’ injury woes are well-documented, with the team having used an NBA-record 28 players this season.
The team has signed several players to 10-day contracts. Veteran point guard Jordan Farmar (15 points and four assists) started on a 10-day deal before being signed for the rest of the season.
“We broke through mentally tonight,” Farmar said. “The energy was positive throughout the whole game.”
Vince Carter scored 17 points with five rebounds, four assists and two steals for Memphis off the bench. Matt Barnes finished with 16 points and seven rebounds and played 41 minutes.
The Bulls shot 44.2 percent from the floor and went 11-for-29 from 3-point range for 37.9 percent. The Grizzlies shot 44.8 percent from the field and were 7-for-19 from deep for 36.8 percent. The Grizzlies scored 38 points off 20 Chicago turnovers.
It all conspired to put the Bulls in a tough position going to Miami for their next game on Thursday. Butler put Tuesday’s loss on himself.
“I didn’t make shots, I didn’t get guys involved, I didn’t guard anybody,” he said. “I’ve just got to go out there and do my job. That’s my fault, to this organisation, to my teammates.”