Bulls come on late, get a hard fought victory over the Bucks

The Chicago Bulls beat the Milwaukee Bucks 90-77 and held the Bucks to a season-low 32.1 field-goal percentage. Meanwhile, the Bulls shot 47% from the field and hit 6 three-pointers.

So they won going away, right? Wrong. The Bucks gave the Bulls all they could handle, and were within striking distance most of the 4th quarter. Despite getting a combined 11/42 shooting from three key players -- John Salmons, Andrew Bogut, and Ersan Ilayasova -- the Bucks gave the Bulls fits all game.

However, for the first time since the Philadelphia 76ers game, the Bulls got great performances from their top three options: Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng.

Rose had a great all around performance: 18 points, 12 assists, and 6 rebounds. Although he shot 7-for-17 from the field, Rose controlled the pace of the game and did an excellent job getting his teammates involved. Rose, who went three games and 11 attempts without making a three-pointer, went 3-for-4 from three-point land. Rose turned it over a combined 13 times the past two games, but tonight he had just 2. For the 4th straight game I didn't think Rose had an MVP-type performance, something he's done for most of the season, but he still had a near triple-double. Yes, he's that good. 

Boozer had another fabulous game, with 24 points and 9 rebounds. I thought him and Rose were very effective in the pick-and-roll. The Bulls also played smart, going to Boozer during a 3rd quarter stretch where they couldn't get much going offensively.

Deng matched Boozer with 24 points, and had 5 rebounds. I presumed Deng would have a breakout game anytime now, especially the way he's been struggling lately. No, he's not having single-digit scoring nights, but he just isn't doing enough. Scoring 10 points won't be enough; definitely not with Joakim Noah out.

Speaking of Noah, they could have certainly used him on a night where they got outrebounded 51 to 42. The Bucks had 19 offensive rebounds, compared to the Bulls' 6, and 18 second-chance points, compared to the Bulls' 2.

The Bucks didn't shoot the ball well at all, but when you have that bad of a shooting night (32.1%), there's going to be lots of offensive rebounds to get.

Backup PG C.J. Watson had a very efficient night, with 7 points and 2 rebounds on 3-of-4 shooting and 1-for-1 from the free-throw line. He did all of this in just 8 minutes. Watson has been criticized a fair amount during his short tenure as a Bull, but we all know he can score. He was certainly efficient tonight and gave the Bulls a spark when Rose went out, a time that usually gets a bit dicey.  

Let's take a closer look at tonight's win over the Bucks:

What led to the Bulls win

"I thought our defense was pretty good." -Coach Tom Thibodeau said after the Bulls' 90-77 win. (Per the Chicago Bulls Twitter feed)

The Bulls played suffocating defense tonight indeed, holding the Bucks to a 32.1 field-goal percentage, and caused 14 Bucks turnovers.

Two of the Bulls best players, Rose and Boozer, aren't good individual defenders, but as a team, the Bulls play great team defense. Kurt Thomas had a fairly quiet night -- with 2 points and 7 rebounds -- but he played 30 minutes and was very active defensively.

Taj Gibson, who Thibodeau praised after the game, had a career-high 5 blocks in 15 minutes. He went 0-for-5 from the field. Ever since Boozer came back, Gibson's role has decreased drastically. I thought he'd continue to provide the Bulls a near double-double on a nightly basis, but things just haven't worked out for the second-year player.

The Bulls aren't winning impressively, but they're getting the job done.

What does it signify

The Bulls can have good individual performances and good stats, both offensively and defensively, yet still struggle to win.

They struggle, at least they have recently, to play a complete 48-minute game. The late Norm Van Lier preached 48-minutes of intensity; well, the Bulls lately have failed to do that. They continuously have spurts, sometimes quarters, where they play down to competition.

I was surprised when the Bulls let the Bucks come back from 12 down in the 1st quarter to eventually take a one-point halftime lead (45-44). The Bulls need to get a killer instinct: finish the other team when they're down. Don't be complacent or drag it out; just cut their throats, per say.

Key performance
 
After averaging just 13 PPG the past three games, Deng had a breakout game tonight with 24 points. He really kept the Bulls in it when they were playing sluggish and hit some very key shots.

Deng has always been the X-factor for the Bulls, but I think it's more necessary for him to produce offensively with this group, especially with Noah out.

He's always been best suited as the third-option on a contending team, and he's getting that chance. Tonight, Deng finally stepped up and gave the Bulls' supporting cast a relief.

Final thoughts

I didn't think it would be this hard for the Bulls -- with the Bucks playing without lead-guard Brandon Jennings -- but I was pleased with the way they battled on defense and relied on it to lead them to a win.

As all Scott Skiles' teams play, the Bucks played very hard tonight. Honestly, I never got the feeling that the Bulls would lose tonight, but as I've said for some time now, it's dangerous to play with such complacency in spurts of the game. Great teams would typically make the Bulls pay for their lack of urgency.

What's next

11/31: New Jersey Nets (9-22) @ Bulls (20-10). 2:00pm C.S.T. WGN/WGN America/ESPN 1000

It's going to be a New Years Eve matinee at the United Center on Friday. The Bulls' four-game home stand started tonight -- they will play the Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Toronto Raptors at home the next three games.

This will be another winnable game, obviously, as the Nets are 13 games under .500. But they have a good 1-2 punch in Devin Harris and Brook Lopez.

Lopez, though, has had a bit of a down season. He's increased his PPG from 18.8 to 19.3, but his RPG has decreased by 2.5 -- from nearly 9 RPG to 6.

Harris, who was an All-Star two seasons ago, has been solid this season. It's going to be fun watching the Harris-Rose matchup. Two seasons ago, it would have been debatable as to who's better between the two, but now it's clearly Rose.

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