CHICAGO — Two teams that are practically mirror images of each other put on an appropriate performance, a game that was decided by rebounds and defense.
Center Marc Gasol scored 18 points and the Memphis Grizzlies defense dominated down the stretch in an 85-77 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night at the United Center.
After forward Taj Gibson hit a jumper to make it 77-75, the Bulls managed just two more points over the final 5:54, hitting one of nine shots from the field.
“That’s what we do, we bring grind,” Memphis forward Zach Randolph said. “I think we do play similar. We’re a defensive-minded team. We’ve got great bigs. I think us and the Bulls match up real well.”
Guard Mike Miller added 14 points for the Grizzlies (35-26), while guard Mike Conley and center Kosta Koufos scored 12 each. Memphis won the second-chance points 16-4 and posted a 14-7 rebounding advantage in the fourth quarter.
“This was a good team win,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. “Both teams are similar — smash-mouth basketball. Both teams will be sore tomorrow.”
Gibson led Chicago (34-28) with 18 points. Center Joakim Noah finished with 15 and guard D.J. Augustin scored 14.
“Like (coach Tom Thibodeau) said before the game on the blackboard, it comes down to who’s going to blink first,” Gibson said. “It’s all about who can take the most swings. It’s a dogfight. Who’s going to blink? Unfortunately, we blinked first, it seemed like.”
This game figured to be low-scoring and it met expectations. At the start of the night, Chicago ranked last in the NBA in points per game, while Memphis was 25th.
Sluggish doesn’t begin to describe the first quarter, which ended with the Grizzlies leading 15-12. The Bulls shot 21.7 percent (5 for 23) and collected a single assist in the opening quarter. Memphis wasn’t much better, shooting 33 percent.
In comparison, the second quarter was an offensive explosion. Chicago scored 27 points, which all came from three players. Augustin scored 12, Gibson eight and Noah seven in the second quarter.
The Bulls led 61-54 with 3:40 left in the third quarter after a Noah jumper. Memphis turned it around, though, taking a 65-63 edge into the fourth quarter. Then when Miller opened the final quarter with his fourth 3-pointer of the night and Conley added a lay-in, the Grizzlies completed a 16-2 run and took a seven-point lead.
“In the second half, we did a much better job of getting back and pressuring them,” Gasol said. “We kept the pressure when they swung the ball to the weak side. Everybody moved.”
Chicago got within two points a couple of times, before Memphis built the lead back to 81-75 on a fast-break lay-in by Koufos. Gibson hit a jumper to bring the Bulls within 81-77 with 3:16 left. On the other end, the Grizzlies took time off the clock by grabbing a couple of offensive rebounds. Then after Augustin air-balled a long jumper, Conley was fouled on the fast break and his free throws made it 83-77 with 2:14 remaining.
“We didn’t play well in the second half,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “In this league, you usually get what you deserve. Missed shots are part of it. You can deal with that, but your defense and your rebounding, you have to be able to count on.”
The Bulls started the night with 10 wins in their previous 12 games and during that span, eight different players scored at least 19 points.
Memphis, chasing Dallas and Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, improved to 20-7 since Jan. 10.
This was the first date in a six-game homestand for the Bulls. Four of the next five opponents had one of the five best records in the NBA as of Friday morning.
NOTES: Memphis F Zach Randolph returned to the lineup on Friday night after sitting out Wednesday’s game in Brooklyn with flu-like symptoms. “It was something bad he ate and he felt awful. Part of the long road,” Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. … Chicago C Joakim Noah injured his right thumb during Wednesday night’s victory at Detroit but was in the starting lineup against Memphis with the thumb taped. Coach Tom Thibodeau called it a sprain. “I got an MRI. I’m good,” Noah said at Friday’s shootaround. … Noah refused to comment on a report he told New York’s Carmelo Anthony during all-star weekend that joining the Bulls would give him a chance to win a championship. “I don’t feel like addressing it,” Noah said. “I really have nothing to say about it. A lot of gossip.” … Chicago wore a patch on its uniforms bearing the initials DJR to honor David Reinsdorf, who passed away this week at age 51. David is the son of Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.
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