10 observations: Grizz blitz Bulls for 4th straight loss


The dogged, shorthanded days of January continued for the Chicago Bulls in Memphis on Monday.

Once again down Zach LaVineLonzo Ball, Alex Caruso and four power forwards (Javonte Green, Derrick Jones Jr., Patrick Williams, Tyler Cook), the Bulls were run off the floor by the Grizzlies 119-106 – pushing their season-long losing streak to four games and season-long record to 27-15.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Grizzlies entered play first in the NBA in steals (10.1) and sixth in opponent turnovers forced (15.4) per game – and well-exceeded both of those averages in this one. Their activity in passing lanes was disruptive to an already-disjointed Bulls offensive attack.

At the end of the first, the Bulls had as many giveaways as made field goals (eight), by halftime they had 12 and by game’s end 18, off of which the Grizzlies scored 21 points (a category in which they are also top five in the league).

The Bulls have been a low-turnover team most of the season, but the absences of Ball, LaVine and Caruso have put an undue playmaking burden on other star and role players alike. Ayo Dosunmu and DeMar DeRozan each had four turnovers apiece, Matt Thomas had three, and Nikola Vučević, Coby White and Troy Brown Jr. all had two.

Worse, 14 of the Bulls’ 18 turnovers were Grizzlies steals, which allowed their fastbreak game to flourish as the game wore on.

2. For a time, the Bulls offset their offensive woes with welcome fortitude on defense and the glass. They played the first quarter to a 20-20 tie, holding the Grizzlies to 34.6 percent shooting, two fastbreak points and zero second-chance conversions (two offensive rebounds) despite Memphis entering play atop the league in fastbreak and second-chance points, and second in offensive rebounding.

But the Grizzlies turned the jets on shortly thereafter, sprinting out to a 19-3 run in the first 4 minutes, 46 seconds of the second quarter. The capper on that surge – a free-throw offensive rebound by Steven Adams that led to a kick-out 3 – was emblematic of the chasm between these two sides at the moment.

The Bulls punched back, but Memphis scored 38 points – 10 on the fastbreak – collected eight second-chance points and shot 7-for-12 from 3 in the second quarter to open a 58-45 halftime lead.

4. A Malcolm Hill 3-pointer and DeRozan 16-footer over Ja Morant between the 38.1-second and nine-second mark trimmed the Bulls’ deficit from 56-40 to 56-45 – potentially a stretch to build upon.

But after a Morant layup attempt was blocked out of bounds with 1.2 seconds remaining, Brandon Clarke got a free run to the rim for a dunk at the buzzer to steal a bit of momentum back. The culprit of the defensive breakdown appeared to be Vučević, who vacated the paint to jump out on Desmond Bane (who had 15 points in the quarter and 19 in the half):

5. That put a bow on as rough a half as Vučević has had this season; the Bulls’ center went scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting with two turnovers, and despite blocking three shots and pulling down seven boards, was party to some defensive and rebounding lapses. He scored his first points on a putback at the 8:26 mark of the third quarter, which brought his shooting line to 1-for-7.

Vučević’s 27-point outing in Boston was all the more important because of the offensive firepower the Bulls have on the shelf. That dynamic makes his seven-point, 2-for-13 performance in Memphis all the more disappointing.

6. Add DeRozan’s 8-for-21 shooting line through three quarters to Vučević’s 2-for-13, and the team’s remaining stars weren’t able to compensate for their short-handedness. The Bulls trailed 104-81 entering the fourth, shooting 41 percent from the field, and saw that deficit swell as high as 28 early in the final frame.

7. Turnovers aside, Ayo Dosunmu was easily the brightest silver lining from the defeat. In typical fashion, he didn’t back down from the Morant defensive assignment, and though the Grizzlies superstar finished with 25 points and a handful of highlight plays, the rook stayed solid more times than not. Dosunmu not only nabbed a career-high five steals, he also pulled down 10 rebounds, tied with Vučević for the team lead.

And, continuing to show off his improved poise as a shot- and decision-maker offensively, Dosunmu scored 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting with six assists at the offensive end. That marks the rookie’s second double-double in a row, done in fourth NBA start and on his 22nd birthday.

8. When Dosunmu and White, who scored 16 points and hit four 3s for his 12th straight game in double-figures, return to their usual post as the team’s reserve backcourt, they could wind up a lethal asset to a team which has struggled to find consistent bench scoring this season.

"I love playing with Ayo," White said. "Especially when we're not starting, when we come in we bring a lot of energy to the game. So I think it's (starting together) a chance for us to grow."

9. The Grizzlies lead the league in paint-points per game, and, in their last 14 games entering play, the Bulls ranked 26th in both defensive rating and paint-points allowed per game. So Memphis winning that battle 64-38 was hardly a surprise.

The rim protection of Jaren Jackson Jr., in particular, put the Bulls on their heels. He racked up five blocks and deterred plenty of other interior attempts. The Bulls shot just 19-for-42 (45.2 percent) in the painted area, and visited the free-throw line just 15 times. For as long as LaVine is out, they’ll badly miss the pressure he puts on the rim.

10. They also miss the defensive communication, and pace-pushing mentality, of Caruso and Ball. Memphis won the fastbreak game 26-9 in this one – another category in which they lead the league, but is also a staple of the Bulls’ identity when they’re humming. In addition to some post bullying by Jackson Jr., and high-flying finishes from Morant and Clarke, those transition baskets added to the Grizzlies' paint dominance.

It also drops the Bulls to 28th in the NBA in fastbreak points allowed per game (14.7) in their last 15 contests. While turnovers played a big part in this one, Donovan has been harping on defensive slippage and poor transition communication since he returned from protocols in early January.

Next up: Home for the Cavaliers on Wednesday.

(The top storyline to watch leading up to that one will be the availability of Caruso. He exited health and safety protocols, and began reconditioning work, on Sunday. Donovan said Monday his status will be determined based on his response to the next two days of workouts.)

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