The Bulls met their match Friday. Or maybe it was more of a mirror image.
A game against the full-strength Memphis Grizzlies brought together two teams that take pride in defense and rebounds.
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By associative property, though, the Western Conference version of the Bulls figured to be superior to the East version of the Grizzlies. And that's how it turned out.
The Bulls were dominated on the boards in the fourth quarter and scored just 2 points in the final 5:54 of an 85-77 loss to Memphis at the United Center.
"I think guys understood tonight that we kind of let one slide," Taj Gibson said. "Like Thibs said before the game on the blackboard, it comes down to who's going to blink first. 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 day, the Bulls ranked last in the league in scoring and Memphis was 25th. The first quarter was a defender's dream, with the Bulls shooting 21.7 percent from the field and the Grizzlies opening up a 15-12 lead after 12 minutes.
"Both teams are similar -- smash-mouth basketball," Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. "Both teams will be sore tomorrow."
Still, the Bulls led 61-54 after Joakim Noah hit a short hook with 3:40 remaining. From there, Memphis went on a 16-2 run and never again trailed.
"The rebounding was the name of the game," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "The last five minutes of the third quarter were a disaster."
The Bulls (34-28) pulled within 2 points a couple of times in the fourth quarter, but eventually felt like a football team that tried to run up the middle and were stuffed four times in a row at the 1-yard line.
Rarely are the Bulls outmanned on the glass. On this night, Marc Gasol (18 points, 10 rebounds), Zach Randolph (10 points, 11 boards) and backup Kosta Koufos (12 points, 6 rebounds) got the best of Gibson, Noah and Carlos Boozer. When the Bulls won in Memphis on Dec. 30, Gasol was out with an injury.
"You've got Zach Randolph, he's tough," Gibson said. "He doesn't jump no more than an inch of the ground, but he's crafty. He's real crafty with his hands and the way he uses his body. Then you've got a similar player in Marc Gasol, but he's 7-foot. And they're both wide bodies."
There seemed to be mutual respect in the locker rooms. Noah credited Memphis guard Tony Allen for being the difference-maker. Randolph welcomed the comparison to the Bulls.
"I think we do play similar," Randolph said. "We're a defensive-minded team. We've got great bigs. I think us and the Bulls match up real well. That's what we do, we bring grind. We played great."
Gibson led the Bulls with 18 points. His jumper brought the home team within 77-75 with 5:54 left, but the Bulls hit 1 of 9 shots the rest of the way.
Gibson scored the Bulls' last basket on a putback with 3:16 remaining to make it 81-77. On the other end, Memphis ran clock by grabbing a couple of long offensive rebounds. Then after D.J. Augustin air-balled a long jumper, Mike Conley was fouled on the fast break and essentially put the game out of reach.
This was the start of a six-game homestand for the Bulls and the teams coming to town include Miami on Sunday, followed by San Antonio, Houston and Oklahoma City.
"It's not our first game against a tough team," Thibodeau added. "In this league, they're all tough. Readiness to play, huge. You have to play for 48 minutes; you can't pick and choose when you're going to play. You've got to go.
"We're at home, five minutes to go down the stretch. This team has shown great toughness all year. I expect us to find a way to get it done."