Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins sat at the podium late Monday night during his post-game conference and explained that his team's bumpy first half and the low scoring was due to defense.
"I said it before the game it was going to be a slugfest between two pretty good defensive teams," Hollins said. "They don't take a possession off on defense, you have to go and earn everything you get against them and we did."
The "they" were the Chicago Bulls, who were in town minus their star player and University of Memphis, standout Derrick Rose. The NBA's former MVP is recovering from knee surgery.
Rose's absence didn't stop the Bulls from going all out in pursuit of a win. But the effort just wasn't enough to keep the Grizzlies at bay.
Memphis defeated Chicago 80-71 at the FedExForum in front of 17,305 fans. The Grizz have won nine of 11 games against the Bulls in Memphis.
Both teams struggled on offense. The Grizzlies shot 37.5 percent from the field while the Bulls finished at 37.3 percent. The Grizzlies were 7-of-24 from the field in the first half. Memphis scored just 11 points in the first quarter, the lowest total for any quarter this season but managed to hold the Bulls to just 34 points in the first half by outscoring Chicago 28-14 in the second quarter.
Hollins turned to his second unit to turn things around. Down by nine points at the end of the first quarter, the Grizzlies went on an 11-2 run in the second quarter. Guard Wayne Ellington made four consecutive shots, including three pointers.
"I just thought the whole group as a unit with their energy, both offensively and defensively, turned the game around," said Hollins. "Once we got it turned around, we continued with the first unit. It was a dogfight. They had to earn stuff against us and they just didn't have enough juice at the end to really make a run at us."
Ellington recorded 11 of his points during the period, going 4-of-5 from the field and a perfect 3-for3 from the three-point range.
"We try to pick up from whatever we see that we're lacking," Ellington said. "Tonight we wanted to come in and bring the intensity on the defensive end of the floor."
Starting Grizz guard Mike Conley led the team with 17 points, along with four assists.
"He ignites everything," Grizz forward Zach Randolp said of Conley. "We go how he goes. He pushes the ball, gets the shots and he's in the lane to make plays for us. He's the secret leader to this team. He is the leader, but he is the secret offensive leader.
"He is the one that goes, and the one who makes us go. We get a lot of attention, but Mike (Conley) does all of the little things. On defense he's stealing balls and making plays."
Randolph maintained his NBA lead in double-doubles with 18 by racking 10 points and 15 rebounds.
"We played one of the best teams, defensively, in the league," Conley said. "We knew it was going to be a hard-fought game and the score shows it, 80-71. We knew coming in if we wanted to be a good team, one of those top four teams with homecourt advantage, then we have to beat teams like this."
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls and recorded his 11th double-double this season, with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Marco Belinelli added 13 points followed by Loul Deng and Joakim Noah, who each scored 11 points.
"We had a great first quarter, terrible second quarter and got out-rebounded on the road," said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. "We have to go after the ball. They played hard. That's how they play. You have to take care of the ball and we didn't do that. Then, we didn't get back and got in a hole, a big hole. The whole game changed in the second quarter."
"It's always a battle," Noah said. "Memphis plays tough, hard-nose basketball. Zbo and Marc Gasol are some big guys down there. They play real physical, real tough."
The Grizzlies will play their next two games at home, facing the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday (Dec. 19).