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MILWAUKEE – Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau favors wins over style points.
Given that two starters were getting over illness or injury and a third was lumbering through the second half with a new leg injury, Chicago's 81-72 win over the Bucks on Friday suits him just fine.
Carlos Boozer had 19 points and 13 rebounds in his first game back from a right knee injury and Mike Dunleavy Jr. added 18 points for the Bulls, who won their fourth straight. Joakim Noah had eight points, 10 boards and seven assists after missing practice while feeling under the weather.
"You guys are into the aesthetics. I'm into the wins," Thibodeau said when asked about the scratch-and-claw victory after the Bulls nearly squandered a 15-point lead.
Jimmy Butler finished with 10 points and said he was fine afterward after getting hit in the thigh.
The Bucks opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run to get to within three. A long jumper from Ersan Ilyasova (14 points) got the Bucks to 71-70 with 5:42 left.
But the Bulls hung on, even after Boozer missed two foul shots with 3:42 left with his team up by three. The Bucks missed their final 11 shots, failing to hit after Brandon Knight's bucket with 5:09 left.
The Bulls haven't allowed an opponent to score more than 87 in the four-game streak.
"Tried to contest shots, trying to rebound, making them shoot over our hands and it worked out," Boozer said in relaying the reasons for the late defensive stand. He didn't look bothered by the sore right knee that kept him out two games.
The Bucks missed two opportunities to tie it after Knight (12 points) and O.J. Mayo (16 points) misfired on open 3s on back-to-back possessions with under 3:30 left.
Dunleavy answered with an off-balance layup to get the lead back to 77-72, then hit two foul shots to get to a seven-point lead with about 1 minute left.
"We had some good looks but they just didn't fall for us," coach Larry Drew said. "We forced a couple down the stretch that probably weren't the best selection but going down the stretch, if you make plays you'll win if you don't, you won't win."
After a slow start, Chicago gained traction in the third behind the bullish Boozer. With both knees heavily wrapped in ice after the game, Boozer said he felt great and made it a point to thanks the trainers.
Boozer grabbed eight rebounds alone in the quarter. Larry Sanders finished with one point and nine boards before fouling out with 1:16 left in the game. He was in foul trouble most of the night in large part due to the active Boozer.
Boozer rebounded a missed 3 and saved the possession just before landing out of bounds. Chicago whipped the ball around the perimeter and Jimmy Butler (10 points) hit a 3 from the wing to make it 59-47 with about 6:50 left in the third.
The energy and offensive rhythm that Milwaukee had in building a seven-point lead after the first quarter disappeared in the third before re-emerging to start the fourth.
But once again, the NBA-worst Bucks (7-28) fell short trying to rebound from a second-half deficit.
"Everybody might be a little down as far as the season has gone for us. We've lost a lot of close games and it is building up on us right now but you can't think about that," forward Epke Udoh said. "We just have to be ourselves and be better the next game."
Foul shooting and the long-range touch of former Dunleavy, who went 3 for 3 from 3-point territory in the second quarter, helped the Bulls turn a 27-20 deficit in the first quarter into a 47-45 halftime lead. Boozer had 15 first-half points and went 7 of 8 from the foul line.
NOTES: Asked if he had spoken to injured guard Derrick Rose since the trade this week of Luol Deng, coach Tom Thibodeau said the two talked about the team in general all the time. "Derrick's good. Derrick's good. He's locked into his rehab, dealing with things as he should be." Rose is out for the year with a right knee injury. ... Bucks C John Henson, who missed his sixth straight game with a sprained left ankle, is expected to join the team on a two-game road trip to Oklahoma City and Toronto. Henson leads the team in rebounding (8.0 per game) and blocks (2.3).
Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP