Grizzlies' win over Bulls likely seals playoff fate of both teams
The Memphis Grizzlies came in sitting fifth in the Western Conference, while the Chicago Bulls were two games outside the East playoff bubble, but it was the Grizzlies who played like the more desperate team Tuesday night.
Led by a vintage performance from Zach Randolph, Memphis ended a six-game losing streak with a decisive 108-92 win that likely drove a nail in Chicago's coffin.
On a night in which they had a chance to make up ground on both teams they're chasing for a final playoff spot (the Detroit Pistons lost and the Indiana Pacers were idle), the Bulls laid an egg against a team missing six rotation players. They succumbed to the Grizzlies' active, handsy defense by turning the ball over 20 times. They got outworked and outmuscled in the paint. And without their longtime defensive stalwarts down low, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah, they got punched in the teeth by a classic game of Randolph bullyball.
The 34-year-old power forward went for 27 points, 10 rebounds (five at the offensive end), four assists, and two steals, feasting on whichever defender (or defenders) Chicago threw his way. Whether it was Pau Gasol or Bobby Portis or Cristiano Felicio, Randolph had his way.
Meanwhile, the Bulls didn't get what they needed from their own stars. Derrick Rose shot 5-of-15 and committed five turnovers, and Jimmy Butler was strangely invisible, scoring just five points while getting just eight shots up and taking but one trip to the free-throw line. Gasol scored 17, but gave it all back and then some at the other end.
The Bulls remain two games back of the Pistons, but Detroit owns the tiebreaker, and only four games remain to make up the difference. The final two are very winnable for Chicago, but the next two come against the Miami Heat and Cleveland Cavaliers (combined record: 101-54), and even winning out won't matter if the Pistons just split their final four games. A season that began with hopes of pushing the Cavs for conference supremacy, is ending with a whimper.
For Memphis, the win was every bit as salvaging as the loss was damning for the Bulls. With three of their final four games coming on the road, two coming against the Golden State Warriors, and none against sub-.500 teams, the Grizzlies will be hard-pressed to win another game.
They've proven an admirably resilient bunch capable of catching good teams by surprise, but they'd lost 10 of 12 before Tuesday's game and watched a nine-game playoff cushion shrink to three. It's looking increasingly unlikely that Mike Conley will walk through the door to save them. Tuesday's win gave them some much-needed breathing room. Their magic number to clinch a sixth straight postseason berth is down to two.