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Nikola Mirotic outshines Gasols as Bulls beat Grizzlies

Grizzlies center Marc Gasol drives against Bulls forward Pau Gasol on Friday in Memphis. | Brandon Dill/AP

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Brothers Gasol were supposed to headline the highly anticipated showdown Friday between the Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies.

Older brother Pau was to lead the Bulls against younger brother Marc, all while their mom watched courtside.

Sharpshooting rookie Nikola Mirotic wasn’t supposed to be part of the storyline, but he turned in one of his more impressive games of the season by scoring 27 points and making all six of his three-pointers in the Bulls’ 103-97 victory.

‘‘He’s only going to get better and better,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘I think he was 6-of-6 from three. He doesn’t hesitate, but he does a lot more than just that. He’s not afraid, he makes tough plays, he hustles all the time and he wants to get better. He’s never satisfied, and I love that about him, too. He’s smart as heck. He loves the game, works like crazy.’’

The Bulls won despite playing without guard Derrick Rose (illness) and forward Taj Gibson (right knee) against a Grizzlies team that entered the game 12-1 at home.

There was no question, though, that Thibodeau was reaching a breaking point with the number of days his core players have missed, whether it has been because of

injury or illness.

‘‘It just seems like we’ve had an inordinate amount of injuries this year, guys out,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’’

He never saw this kind of season from guard Jimmy Butler coming, either. Butler had another stellar game, scoring 31 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He made a clutch bank shot with 1:21 left to put the Bulls ahead 94-88.

‘‘Jimmy has been unreal for us this year,’’ center Joakim Noah said. ‘‘I remember him working out in the summer and shooting shots off one foot. And I was like, ‘Jimmy, what are you doing? You’re not

going to shoot shots off one foot.’ He’s shooting shots off one foot against [one of the top teams] in the NBA in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. It just shows the confidence he has in himself.’’

Butler, though, continued to downplay his All-Star-caliber season.

‘‘I just feel like I took the shot that was there,’’ he said. ‘‘I think my teammates always trust me to take a good shot, and that’s just what I did.’’

Butler scored 20 or more points for the 16th time this season. In his previous three seasons, he scored 20 or more only nine times.

As for the Gasols, Pau finished with six points and 11 rebounds and Marc with 13 points and 10

rebounds. Give the battle to Marc but the war to Pau.

‘‘No, no, no, I’m not Thibs, OK? I’m not Thibs,’’ Noah said when he was asked if it was just another victory. “Just because he says something doesn’t mean I feel the same way about everything. It was a great win.

‘‘Pau told us [Thursday] that this game meant a lot for him. That was cool. I like that sentimental [bleep].’’


Twitter: @suntimes_hoops