If it wasn’t for bad luck, the undermanned Bulls (8-11), missing four starters, might not have any at all, as their wretched stretch of eight losses in their last 10 games continued Tuesday night at the United Center, with a 78-74 loss to the Bucks (5-16), the worst team in the horrid Eastern Conference.
Playing even more short-handed than usual—All-Star center Joakim Noah was a late scratch with what team officials called a right-knee bruise—the Bulls, equipped with nine healthy players, got off to a lackluster start against the lowly Bucks, the worst team in the subpar Eastern Conference. Rookie swingman Tony Snell (13 points, six rebounds), again filling in for Jimmy Butler (right turf-toe injury) was perhaps the team’s lone bright spot, but his high activity level couldn’t make up for 25-percent shooting in the first quarter and as a result, the Bulls faced a 20-14 deficit at the conclusion of the opening period.
Despite the interior play of second-year Milwaukee big man John Henson (25 points, 14 rebounds) on both ends of the floor, the Bulls rallied in the second quarter behind the outside marksmanship of veteran sharpshooter Mike Dunleavy Jr. (24 points), who filled in for injured starter Luol Deng, sidelined for his second consecutive game with a sore left Achilles’. The interior duo of Carlos Boozer (21 points, 12 rebounds) and Taj Gibson (10 points, nine rebounds), as well as second-year point guard Marquis Teague’s (career-high six assists) playmaking, also made an impact on the contest and at the intermission, the Bulls held a 42-35 advantage.
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After the break, the trio of Boozer, Dunleavy and Snell carried the Bulls’ offensive burden, allowing them to maintain a comfortable lead. But they couldn’t sustain the positive momentum and the Bucks took advantage of their lax behavior, as Henson and Brandon Knight (19 points, 10 rebounds), in particular, keyed a push that trimmed the Bulls’ lead to 57-55 heading into the final stanza.
Milwaukee began the fourth quarter on a 10-2 run, seizing control of the contest and putting the Bulls in catch-up mode. Former college teammates Dunleavy and Boozer were the team’s offensive focal points as the Bulls tried valiantly to regain the lead, but the Bucks’ length—one possession in the game’s stretch run saw them snatch four offensive rebounds—was utilized at both ends of the floor to keep them at bay.
It remained a close-knit affair late and after a Dunleavy triple cut it to a one-point game, 73-72, with 1:59 remaining, the Bulls seemed to have a fighting chance. On the subsequent possession, Henson knocked down a long jumper at the shot-clock buzzer and the Bulls simply couldn’t convert on multiple offensive trips—a Snell missed layup and two Boozer tip-in attempts that were off the mark was the most disappointing opportunity—including a final time, with 13.1 seconds left.
Following a full timeout, the Bulls promptly committed and after a pair of Ersan Ilyasova free throws, another agonizing defeat went into the books.