MILWAUKEETo snap the first three-game losing streak of the Tom Thibodeau era, the Bulls (6-6) relied on two elements that have been there for them since the coach first arrived in Chicago: Defense and rebounding. After trying to keep up with the up-tempo Bucks (6-5) initially, the Bulls went back to the basics and behind a Rip Hamilton flashback performance and a monster night from Carlos Boozer, they won a dogfight of a 93-86 game against their Central Division rival Saturday night at the Bradley Center.
Propelled by point guard Brandon Jennings (23 points, seven assists, five steals), who played like he was happy not to see injured Bulls superstar matching up against him, the Bucks started out on the right note, effectively pushing the pace, as theyve done early this season. Countering for the visitors was Hamilton (22 points), who attacked Milwaukees smallish guardsMonta Ellis (17 points) picked up a pair of quick fouls and was hit with a technical on his way off the courtin the post and via his trademark mid-range jumper.
The Bulls had their own foul difficulties, as starters Joakim Noah and Kirk Hinrich each picked up two fouls in the opening period, but managed to stay in the game, as forwards Boozer (22 points, 19 rebounds) and Luol Deng (14 points, eight rebounds) were productive. However, the up-and-down pace favored the hosts, who adopted an up-tempo style to favor their explosive scoring backcourt, and without stout defense to set the tone, the Bulls trailed, 30-28, through a quarter of play.
Milwaukee built a slight cushion early in the second quarter, as reserves like young big men Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh, as well as veteran backup guard Beno Udrih and Ellis, who had returned to the contest, all made an impact. Bulls backup swingman Jimmy Butler, who apparently has earned a more increased role in the rotation, provided energy and was even a primary offensive option for a stretch.
Toward the end of the first half, the contest evolved into a fast-paced shootout, featuring the quick triggers of Jennings and Ellis on one end, while the Bulls, also pushing the tempo, but playing a bit more methodically against Milwaukees set defense, leaned on Boozers interior game and Hamilton, who looked to be in his vintage Pistons contender heyday form. At the intermission, the game was deadlocked at 52 all.
After the break, the Bulls were successful in slowing down the Bucks and forcing them to play against a set defense, resulting in less easy scoring opportunities, although Jennings still converted some high degree-of-difficulty shots and starting forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Tobias Harris were also contributors. However, Milwaukee also clamped down on the defensive end, ensuring that the game remained a close-knit affair, despite the continued efforts of Hamilton and Boozer, in addition to Noah, who was attempting to make up for his foul-related first-half troubles.
One of the Bulls constant issues throughout the young season, turnovers, made a third-quarter appearance and although the Bucks didnt immediately capitalize on all of their guests miscues, ball security was quite the momentum killer for the visitors. Still, it remained a back-and-forth contest, and with Deng stepping up in various ways, Butler and Taj Gibson, Noah playing with his typical energy and the entire group making key defensive stops to close out the period, the Bulls headed into the final stanza with a 72-69 advantage.
The visitors, utilizing a defensive-oriented lineup, held on to their slight edge early in the games final frame, before going back to more scoring-proficient starters Boozer and Hamilton, illustrating the unsettled nature of the Bulls rotation, at least down the stretch of games. Milwaukee relied on its guard triostarters Jennings and Ellis, as well as key reserve Udrih, who made timely shots before giving way to the explosive aforementioned duofor point production, while Boozer emerged as a catalyst for the Bulls, with both his scoring and dominant work on the glass.
As crunch time in the contest approached, the Bulls past staplesdefense and reboundingcame through for them in the clutch, as a crucial Deng tip-in, defensive and stops were major moments late, while Boozer fittingly sealed the deal with a monster follow-up dunk with 29.8 seconds left, giving the visitors a 89-85 lead. Adding insult to injury, on the ensuing possession, after missing a shot, Jennings crumpled to the floor in a heap, apparently suffering an ankle injury and getting carried off the court by his teammates before the Milwaukees last-gasp and ultimately failed attempt at a comeback.