Memphis Grizzles v Chicago Bulls
Updated: February 21, 2013 6:54AM
Basketball can be a beautiful game, and then there are nights like Saturday, when the Bulls spent 36 minutes making putting a ball in a basket seem as agonizing as a congressional compromise.
Then an unlikely hero emerged, helping erase a 17-point deficit before the Bulls fell to the Grizzlies 85-82 in overtime at the United Center.
With Luol Deng on the bench nursing a sore right hamstring, backup Jimmy Butler did his best Deng impersonation. In the first start of his career, Butler scored 12 of his career-high 18 points in the fourth quarter to ignite a furious rally. He also added eight rebounds, three assists and three steals while logging a Deng-like 47 minutes, 43 seconds.
“I felt that’s what Lu does for this team, so when he’s out, I have to fill his shoes,” Butler said. “They are big shoes to fill. All I can do is the best I can.”
The frantic comeback was necessary after the Bulls shot only 33 percent from the field through three quarters against a Memphis team ranked second in the NBA in fewest points allowed.
The Bulls had only 34 points at the break, tying a season low set against these same Grizzlies on Dec. 17 at the FedExForum.
“You have to stay disciplined,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You can’t allow frustration to take you away from what you’re trying to get done out there. You have to keep battling, battling, battling.”
Said Butler: “They outplayed us for three quarters, outrebounded us, outhustled us and whipped our tail in every single way.”
It was the first time in team history the Bulls have played three straight overtime games, and they looked gassed before Butler helped fuel them down the stretch on both ends of the floor.
He grabbed the rebound after a Zach Randolph miss with the shot clock winding down in the final seconds of regulation. Butler then erred by letting precious time leak off the clock before calling timeout.
That left only 2.4 seconds for the Bulls to launch a prayer at the end of regulation. Nate Robinson’s 20-footer from the corner was long, forcing overtime, where the Grizzlies scored seven of the first nine points before a Butler layup cut the lead to three with 53 seconds left.
The lead was still three when Butler stole the ball from Rudy Gay, setting up a potential game-tying three-pointer by Robinson, who missed again. Robinson later scored on a driving layup to cut the lead to one with 6.6 seconds left instead of launching a potential game-tying three. Jerryd Bayless responded with a fast-break dunk, and Carlos Boozer’s desperation three-pointer at the horn was short.
“It was a bang-bang play,” Thibodeau said of Robinson’s decision to drive to the hoop. “That was his read. There are several options off of it, and [Mike] Conley was behind him, so he didn’t think he could get the three off, and he had a layup. I had no problem with that.”
Boozer led the Bulls with 17 points and 14 rebounds, and Robinson added 11. Taj Gibson had 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Joakim Noah scored 10 points in the first quarter but played only six minutes in the third and didn’t leave the bench in the fourth, which Thibodeau insisted was a ‘‘coach’s decision.”
Marc Gasol led Memphis with 19 points and eight rebounds.