MEMPHIS, Tenn. – The Bulls are in no position to judge victories.
Winning ugly is still winning, which they haven’t done much of since Derrick Rose went down and even less against Western Conference teams.
The Grizzlies aren’t a typical Western Conference team, almost as offensively-challenged as the Bulls and without Marc Gasol. But it’s not like the Bulls still didn’t throw away their gift receipt on their way out of FedEx Forum Monday night, triumphant over the Western Conference for just the second time in 10 games.
The Bulls overcame 14 first-half turnovers and 21 overall in their 95-91 victory, their third in four games. And they displayed actual offensive firepower in the third quarter while doing so, paced by Jimmy Butler’s 26 points that featured 14 trips to the line and 21 points and 10 rebounds from Carlos Boozer.
D.J. Augustin added 10 points and nine assists, including two huge fourth-quarter 3-pointers after the Bulls coughed up almost all of an 18-point lead. The second, from well beyond the line after he recovered from having the ball stripped, just beat the shot clock for a five-point lead with just under 6 minutes left.
The Grizzlies missed all five 3-point attempts in an active Bulls’ defensive effort that featured 10 blocks and 13 steals.
The game began about as expected in a battle of the 25th- and 30th-ranked offenses. Neither team scored for 2 minutes, 21 seconds and the Bulls began 0-for-5 with three turnovers while taking 3:06 to score. In the first quarter, the Bulls had nine turnovers to seven field goals.
But Augustin jump-started the offense in the second quarter with seven assists. Augustin repeatedly made quick decisions, including a gorgeous behind-the-back fake and eventual dish to Taj Gibson for a dunk following Augustin’s steal.
“He’s a very bright guy so he can handle whatever is thrown his way,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s taken advantage, and obviously to be playing like he is says that he must have been doing a lot when he wasn’t playing because he came in and hit the ground running.’’
In the third, Butler knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, including a deep one from out front that just beat the shot clock. Butler finished two points off his career-high. When Kirk Hinrich made a steal and fed Butler for an alley-oop dunk in transition, the Bulls’ lead had swelled to 16 en route to an eventual 18-point bulge.
But the Grizzlies clawed to within seven by quarter’s end, aided by a series of calls that incensed Thibodeau. The fiery coach finally drew a technical from official Tony Brothers in the fourth quarter.
By then, the Bulls were en route to bagging their first victory against a Western Conference team since beating Utah at home on Nov. 8.
“The Western Conference has a lot of good teams,” Thibodeau said. “But the same things go into winning. We have to defend, rebound and take care of the ball.”