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Bulls look bad vs. NBA worst
Scott Skiles, who's about as tough to read as a children's board book, had sounded the alarm well before Saturday night.
In his matter-of-fact manner, the Bulls' coach had downplayed recent lackluster victories and then ratcheted up the volume for accountability after Friday's practice, demanding better defense and more focus.
A stretch run in a season where playoff advancement is the only acceptable result is at stake.
So after the Grizzlies walked off the FedEx Forum court with a 104-103 victory in tow, Skiles was ready, if not relishing the opportunity for an "I-told-you-so" speech.
"Our mental approach to the last few games has been pretty poor," Skiles said. "We're kidding ourselves if we think our approach is good enough to compete with the best teams. It's not even close.
"We're about to find out if this meant anything or if this hurts anybody or if we're embarrassed by our performance. The last couple of games, we've been playing with fire. We've played hard enough at the end to win. But this is what separates the really good clubs from the ones that are mediocre."
Teams with championship aspirations don't often lose to teams with the league's worst record and second-worst home record.
But Hakim Warrick snapped a 103-103 tie by making the first of two free throws after drawing a foul on Tyrus Thomas with 4.3 seconds left.
And, following a timeout, Luol Deng's running right-handed hook from 11 feet rimmed out under pressure from Warrick and Rudy Gay.
"We've been playing down to the level of competition," Deng said.
The final sequence capped a wild fourth quarter that started with the Bulls leading 77-75 after erasing a 12-point, third-quarter deficit thanks to Deng scoring 11 straight and 17 of his 23 in the period.
Then they went colder than Skiles' postgame comments.
The Bulls managed just six free throws between a Ben Gordon three-pointer with 7:20 remaining to another Gordon three with 1:16 left. They missed 10 straight field goals and committed two turnovers.
Still, they trailed just 99-98 after Gordon drained his second consecutive three-pointer with 49.3 seconds remaining.
Pau Gasol countered by drawing a foul on Ben Wallace and converting a three-point play with 32.2 seconds left.
But Kirk Hinrich responded with his own three-point play. After Chucky Atkins missed the second of two free throws with 16.2 seconds left, Hinrich scored on a lean-in jumper with 9.2 seconds to play, tying the game.
Gordon led the Bulls with 33 and watched Deng's number get called on the final play.
"We have an action on the other side, but the other night in Philly, Lu hit Kirk for the shot and the last resort for Lu is to try to go to the hole," Skiles said. "I thought he got a good enough look."
The Bulls had defeated the Grizzlies by 45 points at home but came out flatter than beer opened for St. Patrick's Day and served at a 4th of July barbecue.
"A big focus of the game is to not let Mike Miller get off and he goes for 25 [points] and 12 [rebounds]," Skiles said. "We also couldn't seem to figure out Chucky Atkins was going to his right constantly. Our on-the-ball defense was as bad as it has been. We had breakdowns all over the place."
Those included several broken plays offensively.
"It's disappointing," said Hinrich, who had precautionary X-rays taken on a sore left foot afterward.
"Maybe we had this one coming. We haven't been playing well. Hopefully it will send a message that we have to play better."