The Bulls appeared headed for an easy win after stretching their lead to 27 late in the third, but the Bucks' bench inspired a furious comeback as Ersan Ilyasova (yes, him!), Beno Udrih and Ekpe Udoh keyed a 31-4 run to tie the game.
Now that's how you snap a losing streak, eh?
Down 78-51 late in the third quarter, the Bucks looked, well, dead. Lifeless on offense, their energy was similarly lacking on the offensive end as Scott Skiles could only watch Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer shred the Bucks' defense for the second time in three nights.
Enter Beno Udrih, Doron Lamb, Mike Dunleavy, Ersan Ilyasova and Ekpe Udoh, who provided an immediate injection of life that quietly helped trim the Chicago lead to 17 at the end of three. There was nothing terribly complicated about it--just energetic close-outs, active hands, pick-and-roll with Udrih, and of course a bit of luck.
And they kept going.
Lamb drove for a layup, splashed a jumper and then buried a teardrop from the right baseline to highlight a 13-0 run that cut Chicago's lead to 80-76, and suddenly the United Center seemed rather nervous. Hamilton finally stopped the bleeding with a long two, but Ilyasova and Dunleavy answered with back-to-back threes to cap a 31-4 run that tied it at 82 with 7:00 remaining in the fourth. From down 78-51 to tied 82-82? For real?
Even with the comeback lineup starting to fatigue, Skiles (justifiably) continued to ride them rather than bring in reinforcements as the two teams battle back and forth down the stretch. And sure enough the Bucks finally took a 91-90 lead on Ilyasova's three-point play with 1:37 remaining--their first lead since 19-18. Hamilton would answer to give the Bulls a 92-91 lead, but Lamb would find Udoh for a nice finish over Noah on the very next possession. And that was it as far as scoring--neither team would score another point in the final 57 seconds.
Both teams squandered chances in the final minute, including the Bucks nearly giving the game away in the final 10 seconds. Udrih uncharacteristically missed two free throws after Udoh's offensive board forced a Chicago foul, but Ilyasova rebounded Udrih's missed free throw to give the Bucks another chance to put it away. The play capped a huge night for the beleaguered Ilyasova, who came off the bench for the first time all season and responded with a huge second half on his way to a season-high 18 points (8/14 fg). Ilyasova finally stroked a few jumpers but also was active around the basket, and it paid off with his first real contribution all season.
Unfortunately the Bucks just couldn't put the game away. Dunleavy forced a tough pass that Udoh couldn't come up with on the ensuing inbounds play, and the Bulls had a chance to win it when Hamilton drove into the lane on Lamb in the final seconds. But the rookie held his ground and Udoh provided excellent help defense to force Hamilton into a tougher-than-expected fadeaway in the lane. It bounced off the iron and neither team could control the rebound as time expired, giving the Bucks a shocking win and at least another couple days atop the Central Division standings.
The Bucks got off to a quick start in large part thanks to John Henson, whose activity around the hoop helped him score seven quick points. But Jennings never looked like himself, Ellis couldn't get much of anything going and the Bucks slowly began to bleed points to a Bulls attack once again keyed by Boozer and Hamilton. But as much as the starters did their best to lose the game for the Bucks, the bench would not be denied.