SALT LAKE CITY (AP)—Coach Scott Skiles changed the way the Bulls started the game, and Ben Gordon changed the way they finished.
Gordon scored a career-high 22 points, including four free throws in the final minute, to lead Chicago past the Utah Jazz 101-99 Wednesday night and avoid an 0-10 start that would have been the worst in franchise history.
“It’s really exciting, especially for the rookies, because it’s our first win. We’re going to celebrate a little bit. Everybody’s happy just to get the monkey off our back,” said Gordon, who also drew a charging foul on Matt Harpring in the closing moments to help the Bulls become the final NBA team to win its first game of the season.
In an effort to shake things up, Skiles inserted Antonio Davis, Luol Deng and Chris Duhon into the starting lineup, but it was the play of reserves Gordon and Eddy Curry that changed Chicago’s fortunes.
“They always say it’s not who starts the game but who finishes. Coach Skiles put a lot of responsibility on me,” said Curry, who scored 21 points before fouling out.
“I didn’t want to go back to Chicago without a win,” Curry said.
But it almost didn’t happen when he drew his sixth foul by running into Mehmet Okur as he was attempting a 3-point shot with 24 seconds to play.
Okur made all three of free throws, but the Bulls went 7 of-8 on foul shots in the final 23 seconds for a victory that was celebrated on the court with hugs and high fives from the coaches and players.
“This is good for their psyche. They’ve been working hard, but they haven’t been able to reap the rewards. They played with a lot more confidence,” Skiles said.
“It seems like that swagger we had at the beginning of the season, maybe teams were a little bit intimidated by us. They definitely aren’t anymore,” said Raja Bell, who had 12 points.
On Monday, the Jazz allowed New Orleans to get its first win of the season, 76 75, when Kirilenko missed two free throws with 4.4 seconds remaining.
“There are no easy games at all,” Kirilenko said.
Trailing 86-83, Hinrich, who finished with 17 points and eight assists, scored four points to spark a 11-2 run that put Chicago in front 94-88 with 1:46 remaining.
“It’s a relief,” Hinrich said. “Now we can just go and play and not worry about people asking how long we’re going to go without winning a game.”
The Jazz outrebounded Chicago 44-30 but could not overcome 20 turnovers and 35-of-40 free throw shooting by the Bulls, who played the sixth game of a seven game road trip.
“They got the ball where they wanted to go with it and do the things they needed to win the ballgame. We did a terrible job trying to defend them,” Utah coach Jerry Sloan said.
The Bulls tied a franchise record for consecutive losses (nine) to start a season on Monday with a 100-82 loss to Phoenix but out red-hot making 61 percent of their shots in the first half to take a 52-45 lead.
The Jazz stormed back to take their first lead of the game on Kirilenko’s three point play with 4:50 left in the third quarter, but he was shut out in the final 6:46 of the game as the Jazz wilted.
“We just stuck in there. We kept our intensity up the entire game and our guys made the tough plays,” Gordon said.
Harpring played with a bruised left knee after missing the last three games. His first shot was an airball and he finished with seven points. … With 2:31 left in the third quarter, Gordan Giricek collided with teammate Jarron Collins, fell hard to the ground and left the game with a bloody nose. … Chicago beat Utah in the Delta Center last season to snap a 26-game road losing streak against Western Conference opponents.