Updated: Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012 at 11:05 p.m.
Tom Thibodeau must have taken notes from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick while he was a Celtics assistant coach. The Bulls head coach declined to disclose the fact that a starter would be held out of the lineup during his pregame media availability.
But it wouldnt matter Sunday night, as the Bulls (4-1) beat the Grizzlies (1-3) in a laugher, 104-64, at the United Center. Although visiting Memphis was also short-handed, the home teams focus and defensive intensity were impressive in the rout.
I liked the way we approached the game. I thought we were good on defense and good on offense, so it was a step in the right direction, said Thibodeau. We had a lot of things go our way tonight.
The newest Bull, Rip Hamilton, sat out of the contest, due to a groin strain, which meant the inclusion of swingman Ronnie Brewer (17 points, seven rebounds, five assists) in the starting lineup. For some teams, that could be an issue, but Brewer, who has been playing well from his usual reserve role as of late, stepped up in the opening period by attacking the basket and knocking down his improving outside jumper.
You need everybody, Thibodeau explained. Our bench has played very, very effectively in short minutes.
Ronnie stepped in and hes played great all preseason, played well in the regular season, so it was good for him to get extra minutes, he continued. Hes playing with a lot of confidence and he has right from the start of training camp. I think he just picked up where he left off. At the end of last year, he was playing really well, so I think hes gotten his confidence back and we need him.
With two defensive-minded squads facing off, the early-game shooting percentages were predictably ugly, but the home team, boasting the drive-and-kick abilities of Derrick Rose (16 points, six assists) and the all-around efforts of Luol Deng (11 points, seven rebounds), obtained a bit of breathing room. Chicago continued plugging away and with stout defense leading the way, acquired a 25-12 advantage after the opening period.
The low-scoring affair followed the same pattern in the second quarter, with the Bulls gradually extending their winning margin, as the Grizzlies were forced to play without the services of Zach Randolph, the teams go-to scorer.
Deng and fellow forwards Carlos Boozer (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Taj Gibson were productive against the scrappy visitors, who utilized the likes of second-round draft pick Josh Selby, new acquisitions Quincy Pondexter and Dante Cunningham and free-agent pickups Josh Davis and Jeremy Pargo, the latter of whom started at point guard in place of the injured Mike Conley.
Memphis is a tough team, said Thibodeau. We caught a break with Randolph getting hurt and of course, Conley being out.
Boozer took advantage of Randolphs absence to hit mid-range jumpers, attack the glass and even wreak havoc on the interior with his feathery touch on post moves, reaching a double-double by halftime. Along with stifling defense that held the visitors to 26.8 percent shooting from the field, Roses floor leadership also played a big part in the Bulls taking a seemingly insurmountable lead, 54-28 into the break.
Carlos was big, said Thibodeau. He was really, really good. Ran the floor, played defense, rebounded the ball, scored. He played really, really well.
Chimed in his longtime teammate -- with the Utah Jazz before joining the Bulls -- Brewer: He was really aggressive. I think he set the tone. We were going to be aggressive offensively and we were going to be aggressive defensively. He was making shots, he was rebounding and he was playing like the old Booz that I know.
Things didnt get any better for the visitors after the intermission, as Rose looked to be more assertive as a scorer and other than center Marc Gasol (eight points, 10 rebounds), the Grizzlies couldnt muster up much offense against their hosts. Chicago continued its recent trend of pushing the pace and implanting its transition game, leading to easy baskets off Memphis turnovers.
Derrick, he gives you whatever the team needs. He got us off to a really good start with his defense, pushing the ball up the floor and when hes pushing the ball like that, it gets everyone moving, and we needed that energy. His line doesnt really reflect how well he played, said Thibodeau, always conscious of how hes pacing his team. The thing is, right now were just concerned with improving every day. The minutes part of it Derricks in great shape; he can handle the big minutes. Luols in great shape; he can handle big minutes. The thing I did like is we needed our bench guys to get more minutes. Theyve earned more minutes, but its hard to give it to them.
Joakim Noah (eight points, seven rebounds), was also a valuable contributor, doing everything from hitting his patented Tornado jumper to making plays for his teammates with his playmaking ability, and of course, crashing the boards.
The Grizzlies hole got deeper and deeper as time went on, and an improbable third quarter highlighted by the play of backup center Omer Asik (eight points, eight rebounds, three blocked shots) concluded with the Bulls up by 40 points, 84-44.
It helps my game improve, especially offensively. Those type of games help me a lot, Asik told CSNChicago.com. I try to play more aggressive on offense.
Concurred Thibodeau: Omer was very good and Omers starting to react to the ball again, his rebounding was terrific, clogging up the lane.
The final stanza began on a negative note, as reserve point guard C.J. Watson injured his left elbow diving for a loose ball early in the period, prompting Thibodeau to insert third-stringer John Lucas III. Still, Memphis woeful offensive showing meant that, for all intents and purposes, the game was long over the crowd in an oddly subdued United Center began chanting for Thibodeau to substitute fan favorite Brian Scalabrine into the contest but Lucas didnt make any assumptions, as he poured in eight points almost immediately, matching the point total of any Grizzlies player at the time.
When you have an injury, the next guys got to step in. thats why you have them, said Thibodeau about the point guard, whose father he once worked under as an assistant coach. John has filled that role before.
Bulls fans got their wish, as Scalabrine entered the contest, and rookie Jimmy Butler scored his first two regular-season NBA points. In fact, by the end of the game, the only mysteries were whether Scalabrine would score (he wouldnt), Lucas would reach double figures (he didnt) and if any Grizzlies would reach double figures (reserve swingman Sam Young finished with 10 points) in the blowout victory.
I think every game is important. You dont want to start the season at home with a bad taste in your mouth, especially with the shortened season and how many games are coming up in a short amount of time, so we wanted to get this first win. We knew that they were a good team, said Brewer, who briefly played for the Grizzlies after the Jazz sent him to Utah in a midseason trade the season before the Bulls signed him as a free agent.
We knew we couldnt take them lightly and we had to play them tough, so thats what we did, Brewer concluded.