MEMPHIS – The game within the game disappointed some Bulls fans as much as Monday’s 80-71 loss to the Grizzlies, which marked their lowest offensive output since Jan. 30, 2008.
Marquis Teague, anointed by some followers to be the Next Big Thing after two strong performances with Kirk Hinrich injured, returned to the bench when Hinrich returned from missing two games with a bruised left knee.
Obviously, there’s no knowing whether a rookie who remains prone to mistakes borne from inexperience could have altered the Bulls’ fortunes. But on a night Hinrich fouled out and the Bulls lacked for offense, at least one segment of fandom screamed for Teague to trend.
“He just has to stay ready,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Hinrich finished with four points and five assists and said afterward his bruised left knee “didn’t feel as good as I would’ve liked it to.” Mike Conley led the Grizzlies with 17 points.
“I didn’t play very well,” Hinrich said. “I just need to be aggressive and look for my shot.”
The Bulls shot 37.3 percent and tied a season-low with 28 field goals. Their last gasp faded in a series of poor offensive possessions. Down 68-63, Carlos Boozer tried to make a move, was denied and fed Luol Deng, who got blocked by Marc Gasol. Hinrich was forced to foul Conley on a fast break for two made free throws.
Then Deng, who missed 13 of 17 shots, missed a wild baseline runner and Rudy Gay scored on a fast-break layup.
Boozer led the Bulls with 16 points and 13 rebounds. But Thibodeau said the game turned long before then, pointing to a 28-14 disadvantage in the second quarter. That’s when the Grizzlies’ Wayne Ellington came off the bench to sink three straight 3-pointers, scoring 11 in the period.
“We didn’t cover the line, let guys loose,” Thibodeau said. “We were over-helping. We didn’t read penetration properly.”
The Bulls were outrebounded badly for the second straight game and had their four-game road winning streak snapped.
“You have to read how the group is going,” Thibodeau said. “The group that got us back in the game in the fourth was when we had Kirk, Jimmy [Butler], Lu, Taj [Gibson] and Jo in there. It’s not any one individual player. It’s a team game and how the team is performing. That’s how you make your decisions.”
Joakim Noah, who had 11 points and nine rebounds, followed through on a gesture he first voiced at Saturday’s morning shootaround. In light of the Connecticut school shooting, which Noah has tweeted about often, he shelved his long-standing tradition of firing imaginary six-shooters following made jumpers.
“It’s just not worth it,” Noah said.