Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins assumed his usual chair behind a table in front of the team’s press conference room Monday afternoon, seemingly perplexed that Memphis did not end the first half of the season on a positive note.
Hollins, by and large, appeared bewildered that his team endured one of its worst shooting performances of the season en route to a disheartening 96-84 loss to the Bulls in front of an announced sell-out crowd at FedExForum for the ninth annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day game.
Hollins found it difficult to sum up why the Grizzlies shot a dismal 31.7 percent from the field in a pivotal third quarter that resulted in the Bulls turning an 11-point halftime cushion to 79-60 heading into the final frame.
He struggled to assess why Memphis remained stagnant offensively with only two starters scoring in double figures, and why the Grizzlies allowed Bulls reserve Kyle Korver to be the game’s difference maker with 22 points, including a season-best 6-of-10 shots from beyond the arc. Most importantly, Hollins found it hard to explain why veteran forward Rudy Gay, the team’s leading scorer, matched his second-worst offensive performance of the season with nine points on 1-of-10 shooting in 30-plus minutes.
“I can’t explain why he went 1-of-10 tonight,” Hollins said of Gay, who also registered nine points in a Nov. 15 loss at Orlando. “One night, he went 1 for 11. But it’s basketball. That’s the kind of stuff that basically happens.”
Memphis got a team-high 21 points from Zach Randolph , O. J. Mayo — despite being the center of trade rumors over the past week — scored 15 points off the bench, and Marc Gasol added 12 for the Grizzlies, who saw their season-best four-game winning streak snapped.
It also didn’t help that the Grizzlies — who are currently 2 ½ games behind Portland for the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot — had no answers for Bulls forward Luol Deng and All-Star point guard Derrick Rose. Deng led all scorers with a game-best 28 points. Rose, playing in only his second game in FedExForum since helping guide the University of Memphis to the 2008 national championship game, was met by scattered cheers and applause for most of the contest in what was a career day for the three-year pro.
Rose finished with 22 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists for his first career triple double.
So much for a lethargic start in which Rose misfired on his first five shots and wound up 2-of-7 from the field in the opening quarter.
“That’s what makes him so special. He’s such a clutch player late in the game,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of Rose. “I want him to continue to drive our team and inspire our team, which is what he does daily.”
Andre Johnson is a longtime sports journalist who is a regular contributor for Memphisport. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For live tweets during Grizzlies games follow @memphisport,@douggillon, @cerrito, and @chasingphoto.