By K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune –
MILWAUKEE — The rotation remains in flux. The bench continues to disappoint. Turnovers and defense are still problem areas.
But at least the losing ways stopped for one game.
Carlos Boozer capped his monster night by dunking home Joakim Noah’s miss with 29.8 seconds remaining and the Bulls hung on to snap their first regular-season, three-game skid in Tom Thibodeau’s tenure with a 93-86 victory over the Bucks.
That Boozer, who finished with 22 points and 19 rebounds, was even on the court represented yet another rotational departure for Thibodeau, who rode his starters down the stretch.
Boozer and Richard Hamilton have spent many a fourth quarter on the bench this young season. But Hamilton overcame six turnovers to finish the game, although he scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half by repeatedly posting up the Bucks’ small backcourt. Hamilton’s output matched his highest total as a Bull.
“It was great,” Boozer said. “We want to be out there every fourth quarter. But that’s Thibs’ decision. This is his show. He runs it. He puts out there who he wants out there and we just go with the flow.
“You never know when you’re going to be out there or if you’re going to go back in the fourth quarter. Me and Rip talked about it before the game. Just be aggressive when you’re out there and see what happens. That has kind of been our mentality the last few games.”
No starter played less than Kirk Hinrich’s 7 minutes, 30 seconds in the fourth. Boozer played 7:58. And Hamilton logged 8:13.
“I thought we really understood and time and possession,” Hamilton said. “We got away from the quick shots in the fourth quarter and got the ball in the paint.”
Some might read that as a tweak of Nate Robinson, who played just 4:30 in the fourth. But if there’s any controversy, Thibodeau was having none of it, barely even acknowledging the fourth-quarter lineup despite repeated questioning.
“I thought that group was functioning well,” he said. “If we’re doing the right things, we have a pretty good idea of who we want to finish with.”
Boozer tied a career high with eight offensive rebounds as the Bulls enjoyed ridiculous advantages of 54-40 in rebounding and 25-5 in second-chance points. Twenty of the Bulls’ rebounds were offensive. The Bulls shot 16 more free throws than Bucks and went 25-for-26 from line.
“I thought Carlos was terrific,” Thibodeau said. “He played hard, made great effort on the boards. Rebounding was a huge key. And I thought Rip got in the post and ran the floor hard. He made great effort in defensive transition. He did a really good job.
“I thought we had more effort on the boards and some timely offensive rebounds. Jimmy (Butler) had a big one. Carlos had several. Jo (Noah) kept several possessions alive. And Kirk kept us organized.”
Indeed, Hinrich overcame early foul trouble to score in double figures for just the second time this season, finishing with 10 points. Luol Deng played the entire second half, hitting one huge 3-pointer to change the game’s momentum.
The Bulls took a 72-69 lead into the fourth after closing the third with an 8-2 run sparked by that Deng 3-pointer and Butler’s putback and three-point play.
Then, Thibodeau made his rotational change. Perhaps the change will be a boost to the slumping Hinrich and others moving forward.
“I just need to play on my instincts,” Hinrich said. “I’ve been thinking too much.”
Hinrich entered shooting 30.5 percent and 23.5 percent on 3-pointers, though he only averaged 5.9 overall shots per game.
“We just want him to run the team, play good defense and play to his strengths,” Thibodeau said.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles, for one, thinks the Bulls’ slow start isn’t an accurate representation of what they can be.
“I’ve been around some of those guys,” Skiles said. “Kirk’s a good player. Lu’s a good player. Jo’s a good player. Boozer is good. I don’t mean to leave anybody out. The bench is different. At some point, they’ll probably get that worked out and hit stride.”
The Bulls limited the Bucks to 34.9 percent shooting in the second half.
“I’m hoping we can play better,” Noah said. “We were really hitting the offensive glass hard. But we shot 39 percent. That’s not very good. Besides all the numbers, you have to find a way to win. And we did. We have to play with that grimy, tough mindset every night. That will put us in position to win.”
Asked about the fourth-quarter lineup, Noah said the following with a smile on his face. Finally, it was that kind of night.
“Sometimes I wish I could coach,” Noah said. “I always tell Thibs how I feel. Sometimes he listens to me. Sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he gives me that look like, ‘Are you kidding me? Are you really telling me what to do?’ Thibs is pretty stubborn. Like I’ve said for a long time, it’s a dictatorship out here.”