The Bulls headed north to face the Milwaukee Bucks Friday night in a Central Division matchup of two teams trending in different directions.
Chicago ran out 81-72 winners, despite a 12-point fourth quarter. In a game the Bulls led for the majority. Carlos Boozer led in scoring with 19 points to go with 13 rebounds but it was Mike Dunleavy’s 18 points, including six straight in the final two minutes, that gave the Bulls their seventh win in nine contests and ensured Chicago stayed unbeaten in Milwaukee since 2009.
Both teams shot horrendously from the floor, the Bulls winning despite shooting 38 percent while Milwaukee was held to a paltry 31 percent.
Chicago also enjoyed success at the free-throw line, shooting a staggering 39 free throw attempts, three shy of their season high against Memphis. In comparison, the Bucks went to the line just 12 times all night.
The Bucks opened the game quickly on a 10-1 run, hitting four of their first seven shots while Chicago’s offense was a stagnant, predictable affair with Kirk Hinrich running the show.
The introduction of D.J. Augustin late in the first quarter gave the Bulls offense some penetration, forcing Milwaukee’s defense to collapse and leaving plenty of space for Mike Dunleavy to splash three first-half triples on his way to 11 points at the interval.
Carlos Boozer was the hot hand early, scoring or assisting on 11 of Chicago’s first 16 points as he poured in 15 points and grabbed 5 rebounds as the Bucks’ frontcourt struggled through foul trouble in a first half dominated by tight refereeing, particularly on Milwaukee’s defensive possessions.
Chicago went to the line 28 times in the opening 24 minutes, compared to just 27 field goal attempts. The Bucks attempted just six shots from the charity stripe in the first half. The Bulls converted 21 of their 28 free-throws, leading 47-45 at the half.
The Bulls opened the third quarter on a 6-0 run as Milwaukee’s porous defense allowed Chicago great inside penetration with Boozer finishing the period with 19 points.
The Bucks scored just 14 points in the third as Chicago’s defense finally looked to exert some influence on the game.
The Bulls carried a 69-59 lead into the final frame but allowed Milwaukee to score the first seven points of the fourth quarter, including a wide-open Luke Ridnour three off another Bucks’ offensive rebound.
The Bulls continued their free throw dominance in the second half, with Gibson shooting the Bulls’ 34th and 35th free throws midway through the fourth to keep the Bulls noses ahead 73-71 before Dunleavy hit a jumper coming off a series of screens.
The Bulls offense began to stagnate again as the fourth quarter wore on as they took just one of their first 11 shot attempts in the final period inside the paint while Milwaukee went on a quick 7-0 spurt to close with three points before briefly tying the score at 71 with a little under four minutes to play.
Mike Dunleavy became the Bulls go-to scorer as Boozer went scoreless in the final quarter, scoring six consecutive points in the final two minutes from the field and free-throw line. His two free-throws en route to 18 points giving Chicago a 79-72 lead with just 1:16 to play before Kirk Hinrich sealed the victory with a mid-range pull-up with 20 seconds to play for the final margin.
Again criticism will come the way of the Bulls training staff as first Taj Gibson then Jimmy Butler returned to the game after being helped off, the latter noticeably laboring his way through a huge portion of the fourth quarter.