Milwaukee Bucks forward John Henson, left, blocks the shot of Chicago Bulls point guard Marquis Teague (25) as Ersan Ilyasova (7) also defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Updated: December 10, 2013 10:24PM
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is fond of saying, “We have more than enough,’’ when discussing his undermanned team over the past few seasons.
Not in Tuesday’s 78-74 loss at the United Center they didn’t.
And even more bothersome, not against a team that come June is a likely candidate to hear: “With the first pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select … ‘’
Down four-of-the five starters that were on the floor Opening Night in Miami [Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng and Derrick Rose], the Bulls lost their eighth game over their last 10, falling to a 5-16 Milwaukee team, which has spent a majority of the season in the Eastern Conference basement.
No easy task considering the Bulls at 8-11 were still a playoff team in the East.
“I thought we were OK in the first half,’’ Thibodeau said of the latest loss. “The second half we struggled. There’s a way to win every game. You have four starters out, but if you defend and rebound, and take care of the ball, it doesn’t matter. You got to do better.’’
As far as the blame-game, pick a spot.
The offense was anemic, watching a 42-35 halftime lead all but disappear in the third thanks to eight turnovers in the quarter and just 15 points. And the defense was spotty, especially in the final 12 minutes when they allowed the Bucks to outscore them 23-17.
More than enough? Just words with nine functioning bodies for Thibodeau to work with. Especially when some of those bodies looked confused when the Bucks went into a zone throughout most of the second half, and the Bulls couldn’t answer.
“Yeah, I thought it caused us some problems,’’ Mike Dunleavy, who scored a team-high 24 points, said of the second-half zone look they saw. “We became a little hesitant with it. We couldn’t really break it, couldn’t really make them uncomfortable in it and get them out of it. A lot of times you do that by knocking shots down or getting offensive rebounds, getting them confused, and we just couldn’t do it. They stuck with it for a long time.’’
With the Bulls struggling through most of it.
“We didn’t have the shooting to change that,’’ Thibodeau said. “We’ve got to straighten it out.’’
And it wasn’t like they didn’t have their chances.
After a Brandon Knight miss with 53 seconds left, rookie Tony Snell missed a lay-up, followed by a miss on the put-back by Carlos Boozer. That would have pulled the Bulls to within a point, but instead they trailed 75-72 with 29.7 seconds left.
Milwaukee called a timeout, and all they could get out of the possession was an air-ball from Ekpe Udoh. That gave the Bulls the ball back with 13.1 seconds left and still down three. The Bulls responded with a turnover by Boozer after John Henson poked a pass away from the forward, giving the Bucks the ball back with 6.2 seconds left.
Ersan Ilyasova put the game on ice by making both free throws.
“We needed this one,’’ Bucks coach Larry Drew said.
As for the Bulls, they need healthy bodies first and foremost.
“There’s some guys getting bigger opportunities and we should all take advantage of that,’’ Dunleavy said. “As far as performance, skill and all that, the main thing is we have to play hard, compete and grind it out. You can do that whether Joakim Noah, Luol Deng or Derrick Rose is in the lineup or not. That’s a mindset thing, that’s not a skill thing.’’