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Bulls rookie, Butler deliver Chicago victory in Memphis

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Chicago Bulls didn’t have Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson, but did they ever have Jimmy Butler and rookie Nikola Mirotic.

Butler posted a double-double with 31 points and 10 rebounds and Mirotic scored a career-high 27 points off the bench as the Chicago Bulls defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 103-97 on Friday night at the FedExForum.

“Niko was amazing,” Butler said.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau had much the same opinion about Butler’s game. Not just because of the numbers he put up, but because every time the Grizzlies started to get a little momentum and claw their way back, it seemed Butler stemmed the rally.

Chicago led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, but the Grizzlies pulled to within four — 92-88 — at the 1:37 mark when center Marc Gasol (13 points and 10 rebounds) hit a short jumper. Butler answered with a tough step-back jumper with 1:21 to play to make it 94-88 and keep the heat off.

“Every time the game was hanging in the balance, he came up with a big play for us,” Thibodeau said.

Mirotic, meanwhile, made a career-best six 3-pointers — without a miss — and grabbed eight rebounds.

Butler had scored 35 points Thursday night in a win over New York

“He continues to do what he does,” said Bulls forward Pau Gasol, who had 11 rebounds and six points.

Memphis (21-5) played from behind throughout the fourth quarter but was within two at 99-97 with 12.9 seconds left after a 3-pointer from point guard Mike Conley, who finished with 21 points. The Grizzlies, however, did not score again. The Bulls were up four with 7.6 seconds to play when Butler grabbed a rebound, was fouled, and finished things off the scoring with two free throws.

The Bulls (17-9) were without Rose because of an illness and Gibson because of a sprained ankle. They ended the Grizzlies’ six-game winning streak and became just the second team — San Antonio was the other — to beat Memphis at home this season.

Less than 48 hours after a triple-overtime victory at San Antonio, the Grizzlies were sluggish from the start and shot just 33.3 percent from the field (15 of 45) in the first half as Chicago carried a 51-43 advantage into the break.

“It felt like we were moving in mud early in the game,” Conley said. “They’ve got a good defense, give them credit, but we missed some shots we don’t usually miss. Everything was just a little short or off.”

After a recent stretch of stronger outside shooting, Memphis made just 2 of 13 from 3-point range (15.4 percent). Conley was 1-for-5 deep and 7-for-18 overall. Power forward Zach Randolph had 12 rebounds, but just eight points on a 4-for-11 shooting night and Marc Gasol was 5-for-15 from the floor.

“We didn’t have enough effort due in large part to very tired legs,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “The minutes have added up on us and it just is what it is.”

Chicago also stopped Memphis’ 13-game home winning streak against Eastern Conference teams. The Bulls were the last team from the East to win here, back on Dec. 30, 2013.

Guard Aaron Brooks contributed 17 points off the bench and Joakim Noah had 10 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulls. They shot 43.8 percent from the field (32 of 73) and beat the Grizzlies 12-2 in fast-break points.

Memphis got 15 points from backup point guard Beno Udrih, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a jammed index finger.

The Bulls are 12-4 on the road this year and just 5-5 at home, a fact not lost on Butler.

. “We’ve always played well on the road,” he said. “We have to turn around and do the same at home.”

NOTES: PG Derrick Rose was inactive for Friday’s game because of an illness. It’s the second straight game that Rose missed and the 10th time in 26 games the Bulls have not had him available. Asked before Friday’s game if he was frustrated about Rose’s absence, Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said, “Sick is sick.” … F Taj Gibson (right ankle) also was out Friday for Chicago, missing his second consecutive game. … Memphis was without swingman Tony Allen (right corneal abrasion), who was injured in Tuesday’s game with Golden State and sat out his second straight game. … The Grizzlies’ win at San Antonio on Wednesday night was the first triple-overtime victory in franchise history. … Bulls G Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 35 points with seven assists, five rebounds and four steals in Thursday night’s win over New York. He also leads the NBA in minutes played at 39.8 per game.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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