When Ekpe Udoh beat the third-quarter buzzer with a jumper to cut the Bucks’ deficit to 17, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau almost separated his shoulder in disgust on the sideline.
At the time, it looked like one of those moments of Thibodeau being Thibodeau, intensely demanding perfection at all times.
Instead, maybe he knew.
Thibodeau has been harping on the Bulls’ fourth-quarter failures since preseason, and his team offered another doozy of an example Monday night at the United Center.
Blowing a 27-point lead, the Bulls dropped to 3-4 at home with a stunning 93-92 loss to the Bucks that also snapped the Bulls’ nine-game winning streak in the series. The loss evoked memories of the blown 35-point lead to the Kings at home in December 2009.
“As soon as you start feeling good about yourself in this league, you get knocked on your ass,” Thibodeau said.
Richard Hamilton, who set his Bulls career-high with 30 points, missed a jumper near the buzzer over strong defense from rookie Doron Lamb, who had energized the Bucks’ comeback.
Lamb, who finished with eight points and two assists in 15 minutes, also had assisted on the go-ahead basket, a power move by Udoh with 57.5 seconds left.
Udoh then blocked Hamilton’s shot at the other end and Beno Udrih stripped Joakim Noah on the follow attempt. The Bulls got new life when Udrih missed both free throws with 10.7 seconds left. But Carlos Boozer, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds, couldn’t secure the defensive rebound or save the ball from going out of bounds.
Kirk Hinrich, who reached double figures for the second straight game with 17 points, defended the ensuing inbounds pass to knock the ball off Udoh, giving Hamilton his final chance.
“You have to play 48 minutes in this league,” Thibodeau said. “We were very loose with the lead at the end of the third. That game changed in four to five minutes — the last two of the third and first two of the fourth. And we couldn’t stop it. We couldn’t get stops. We couldn’t get to the free-throw line. We had 15 in the first half and four in the second. They had 12 blocked shots.”
The Bulls led 78-51 on Hinrich’s 3-pointer with 2:50 left in the third before the Bucks’ astounding 25-2 run began. The comeback occurred with leading scorers Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis benched.
No starter played less than 36 minutes. The Bucks’ bench outscored the Bulls’ 56-10. Ersan Ilyasova led the Bucks with 18 points. Udrih and Udoh also reached double figures off the bench with 11 apiece.
Reserves played a grand total of 10:23 in the second half. Asked if there was a reason for this, Thibodeau said: “No.”
“This won’t happen another time this year coming back from over 20 points down, especially on the road,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said.
Once was enough.