Bulls' bench extends Grizzlies' losing streak to 19
The Chicago Bulls' trip to Memphis on Thursday wasn't particularly meaningful, but there was an interesting storyline.
Would the host Grizzlies, riding an 18-game losing streak, actually try to win?
There was some evidence to suggest yes. Memphis' top scorer, Tyreke Evans, returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a rib injury and scored 25 points.
During a tight fourth quarter, the Grizzlies had their starters on the floor. The Bulls did not, but still managed to win 111-110 thanks to a pair of Antonio Blakeney free throws with 1.8 seconds remaining.
Memphis put the ball on the hoop with its last chance. Marc Gasol shot an errant 18-foot jumper and teammate JaMychal Green caught the ball out of the air and dunked it through, but the basket happened well after the buzzer. So the Bulls got another win and the Grizzlies' losing streak grew to 19.
With the victory, the Bulls (24-44) finally moved ahead of New York in the standings, which means they now have the league's ninth-worst record. Memphis (18-50) maintained a 1-game lead over Phoenix for the worst of NBA records.
The Bulls' reserves played well Thursday and coach Fred Hoiberg went a little farther down the bench to get his closing lineup of Blakeney, Cameron Payne, Noah Vonleh, Cristiano Felicio and Paul Zipser, back from a foot injury. Bobby Portis and Denzel Valentine were not on the floor, and technically Vonleh was starter since he filled in for Lauri Markkanen (back) for the second-straight game.
Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 20 points, while Portis scored 17 and Valentine 15. So how did the Bulls manage to win?
They led for most of the fourth quarter, at one point hitting 5 straight shots from 3-point range in less than three minutes. Valentine and Payne hit 2 each, while Portis had the fifth.
Memphis took a 106-103 edge when Wayne Selden hit a 3-pointer with 1:52 left. Zipser scored on a runner, then after a mad scramble for a loose ball, Payne flipped in a fast-break layup to put the Bulls back ahead.
After a Green dunk put the Grizzlies up by 1, Felicio rebounded his own miss, was fouled and hit both free throws with 40.5 seconds left. Jarell Martin's jumper gave Memphis another lead with 24.6 seconds left.
Without calling timeout, Blakeney took the ball, waited for the clock to wind down, then was fouled on a 3-point attempt by Evans. Blakeney hit 2 of the 3 free throws, which was enough to give the Bulls a victory they didn't seem to want very badly.