- Nick Friedell, Chicago Bulls beat reporter
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The good news first:
After stalling down the stretch in their previous three games, the Bulls finally appeared to show life in the waning moments of the game. Leading by just three with 9:04 left in regulation, the offense went on the type of run it has been searching for the past week. Led by Carlos Boozer, the Bulls rattled off a 19-9 run to shut the Bucks and close out the game. More importantly, the Bulls shut down the Bucks' offense for almost four minutes and didn't give them a chance to crawl back into the game, as they had in road games against the Wizards, Pistons and Knicks recently.
What was the difference late offensively?
"We did a lot of pick and roll from the elbow," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "Where [Milwaukee's] big men, they have to decide whether to step up against me, or I'll give it to Carlos and he was hitting the shot tonight."
While Boozer was definitely a driving force during the game's closing minutes, it was actually Luol Deng who set the tone early. After disappearing throughout stretches this past week, Deng stepped up and scored 24 points. It was a performance the Bulls needed to have, because they simply can't rely on Boozer and Rose to carry them every night.
"It's great," Deng said of his performance. "I always said I'm not really worried about my shooting. We've been playing great. We just got to keep winning. Every night it's going to be someone else and [we] just got to something every night to the team."
What the Bulls definitely brought as a group on Tuesday night was solid defense. They held the Bucks to an abysmal 32 percent field goal percentage and repeatedly shut them down late.
"We don't feel like we're there yet," Deng said of the Bulls' defense. "We're going to keep on holding ourselves to that [standard] because we want to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. Every night, every game is a challenge to get there and that's a good mindset [to have]."
Onto the bad news: The Bulls raced out to a 12 point lead after the first quarter. Then, yet again, they went through lapses where they looked lethargic. They played with little energy throughout most of the second and third quarters and seemed to take their feet of the gas when it came to closing out the Bucks early. It's a problem that Rose knows his team must fix.
"We've just got to play hard throughout the whole game," Rose said. "Where we can't go periods of time where we're not scoring the ball. And our defense should stay the same throughout the whole game. And offensively, if we're not doing stuff we're supposed to do, we got to have some go-to plays."
But why the continued lack of energy during long stretches?
"I really don't know," Rose said. "I guess it's not identifying the right plays to call during certain situations. Or people not being aggressive attacking the hole."
Speaking of aggression, the Bulls looked passive at times on the glass. Milwaukee outrebounded Tom Thibodeau's bunch 51-40 and had 18 second-chance points compared to the Bulls' 2. A serious problem for the first-year head coach.
"I am concerned," Thibodeau said. "I always worry about that. Rebounding is so important to your defense. That was a big part of why we could not get out in the open. [The Bucks] are quick to the ball and go after it hard."
Isn't that, along with the ability to maintain a lead against an undermanned opponent, an issue though? The players didn't seem to be overly concerned.
"Basketball is a game of runs," Boozer said, explaining why his team continues to go through stretches where they can't get much going. "Very few times in the NBA are you going to blow teams out. Most games are close games. I think we know that. You got to give them credit, they play hard too. They're a team that plays hard, you give them credit. But the big thing is, we did a good enough job down the stretch."
In the end, as Boozer pointed out, you can't take away the fact that the Bulls continue to win. But their recent performance has to make you wonder if the good times will continue to roll once they start facing better teams later in the year.
Ouch, Kurt: Kurt Thomas pulled down seven rebounds in 30 minutes and he also received eight stitches in his chin after a collision in the second half.
The last word: Boozer, on his team's ability to find ways to win, especially during this stretch of games at home.
"It's big, there's not going to be any gimmies. We're trying to grind out wins and find different ways to win which is the mark of a good team. As long as we keep winning, we're going to be happy. But they're not going to come easy."
The Bulls went cold in stretches during Tuesday's win.