The excitement was gone in the United Center, replaced by nervous energy and waning emotion.
The bodies kept falling and the young Milwaukee Bucks kept charging throughout the fourth quarter, coming back from a 13-point deficit and giving the Bulls more of a scare than they would’ve liked to admit.
But with no choice to do anything but, the Bulls used duct tape and know-how to pull out a 100-90 win, in what could be described as a must-win considering they’re facing a road-home combo of San Antonio and Miami later in the week.
With Jimmy Butler being a scratch due to knee soreness following his first game back, the Bulls also lost Aaron Brooks and Bobby Portis to injury, leaving Fred Hoiberg with very few options to turn to, and his team didn’t look to have the necessary effectiveness throughout as the athletic Bucks stalked them for the better part of three quarters.
Pau Gasol’s block of a Greg Monroe hook shot with a little over two minutes left prevented the Bucks from cutting the Bulls’ lead to three, and displayed what he was able to do all night, as he finished with his second triple-double with 12 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists. His scoring was the last thing to come aboard.
He only hit four of 14 shots, but the Bulls shot 50 percent from the field — it just didn’t look like it as they turned it over 18 times for 23 points.
“We made some key plays down the stretch, hit some big shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “I thought we came in with the right mentality. This is the second game where we jumped out to a big early lead.”
Whenever the Bucks seemed ready to take things over, the Bulls would apply a little duct tape to the boat that seemed ready to capsize, keeping it afloat just a little while longer.
A Nikola Mirotic triple when the Bucks pulled to within two at 6:57.
A Taj Gibson block and saved rebound from out of bounds, which led to an E’Twaun Moore triple to give the Bulls an 88-83 lead with 3:34 left.
“It’s just about having the will to win,” Gibson said. “It’s tough, games like this we have to push through. I understand guys are down, but these are the games you look forward to, to build confidence.”
Three times the Bucks came within a basket in the fourth and every time, the Bulls pulled something from their behinds to give themselves breathing room.
“Nobody wants to be in this position, right at the end of the cliff,” Gibson said. “But like coach said, you have to get up and take a couple punches to the face and keep swinging.”
The jabs came fast and furious, if not outright wild from a Bucks team still believing they can play a part in the playoff picture.
Jabari Parker continued his torrid stretch following the All-Star break, and versatile do-everything forward Giannis Antetokounmpo played nearly every position on the floor, including point guard to give the Bulls fits.
Parker blew by Nikola Mirotic and Doug McDermott for dunks and slashing drives on the way to 16 points and 10 boards. Jerryd Bayliss continued being a nuisance to the Bulls with five triples off the bench on the way to 20 points.
“We were pretty thin with Jimmy out, and we lost Aaron and Bobby got poked in the eye, so we had to get some big minutes from some of our guys,” Hoiberg said.
After getting hit in the eye on a screen and looking every bit of dazed and confused, Rose hit the Bucks right back where it hurts most — the scoreboard.
He hit a triple, a pull-up jumper and a step-back jumper, giving the Bulls a temporary reprieve from their ineffectiveness.
Rose finished with a game-high 22 points and seven assists, as he was the only point guard on the floor for either team, and played 38 minutes.
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Too many times, the Bucks disrupted the Bulls offense with aggressiveness, overplaying the strong side of the defense and forcing cross-court passes, many of which weren’t caught cleanly if at all.
It was nearly a replay of the Rockets’ strategy from Saturday night, only they didn’t have Butler on the floor as a productive player, scorer or safety valve.
But without their best player, they relied on some old-fashioned guile to pull out a crucial win.