CHICAGO - Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles pulled slumping forward Ersan Ilyasova from the starting lineup on Monday, hoping that coming off the bench would give him a boost.
As it turned out, Ilyasova seemed to jump-start the entire team. He led a remarkable finish as the Bucks rallied from 27 points down late in the third quarter to pull off a stunning 93-92 victory over Chicago at the United Center.
The comeback snapped a three-game losing streak for Milwaukee, which had lost nine straight to the Bulls. Ilyasova led the visitors with 18 points.
"The difference was we played great defense in the second half," Ilyasova said. "The key for us was those five guys in the second half played well together.
Ilyasova joined Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, Ekpe Udoh and rookie Doron Lamb on the floor in the fourth quarter. Udoh, Udrih and John Henson added 11 points each for the Bucks.
"You have to be blind not to see a noticeable uptick in our effort and energy when that group was on the floor," Skiles said. "We started ball pressuring. We weren't giving up the offensive rebounds anymore. We were making them take difficult shots. That led to us getting out on the break, getting some easy baskets and that's when we play our best."
The Bucks' winning basket came on a bank shot by Udoh with 57.5 seconds remaining. On Chicago's next trip, Richard Hamilton's shot was blocked by Udoh. Teammate Joakim Noah grabbed the rebound, but had the ball stripped away.
On the other end, Milwaukee rebounded a missed Udrih 3-point shot and an errant Udrih free throw to keep possession. But Kirk Hinrich deflected an inbounds pass, giving the ball to the Bulls, still trailing by one with 7.5 seconds left. This time, Hamilton forced his way into the lane, but his 10-footer was off target and the rebound was batted away as time expired.
Hamilton led Chicago with 30 points, while Carlos Boozer scored 19.
"Obviously, to build a lead like that you do a lot of good things," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "But you never have a game won until the final horn goes off. In this league, if you're not a 48-minute team, you're asking for trouble."
This game appeared to be a runaway late in the third quarter when the Bulls opened up a 78-51 advantage with 2:47 left on a Hinrich 3-pointer. Milwaukee scored the final six points of the quarter, but still trailed 80-63 after three.
Things turned around remarkably fast, though, as the Bucks started the fourth quarter with a 19-2 run and tied the score at 82-82 on a 3-pointer by Dunleavy with 6:57 remaining in the fourth. The 27-point comeback took less than eight minutes.
The teams traded three baskets before Milwaukee took the lead on a driving layin and 3-point play by Ilyasova with 1:37 remaining.
"What really let us down was defense," Hinrich said. "We were on cruise control. We were jogging back. Everybody was kind of standing up straight. We weren't communicating. They took advantage of that."
The Bulls endured a similar experience on Dec. 21, 2009, when they blew a 35-point lead in the second half against Sacramento and lost 102-98 at the United Center.
Skiles' decision to start Henson paid off early. The 6-foot-11 power forward from North Carolina scored five points in the opening five minutes and the Bucks jumped out to a 13-8 lead. The Bulls closed the quarter on an 18-6 run to take a seven-point lead at the end of one.
The Bulls pulled out to a 10-point lead late in the second quarter and finished the first half with a 50-40 advantage after Hamilton's jumper was goaltended by Henson.
NOTES: Milwaukee forward Drew Gooden, who has yet to play in a game this season, announced via Twitter that he'd give away his tickets to Monday's game to the first person to send him a twitpic of a Bulls jersey in a toilet. The winning photo featured a jersey of Hinrich, Gooden's college teammate at Kansas. Gooden played for the Bulls from 2008-09. ... Skiles shuffled his starting lineup on Monday, using Henson and veteran center Sam Dalembert. Slumping Ilyasova came off the bench. Seldom-used Joel Przybilla started at center on Saturday against the Bulls. ... Milwaukee point guard Brandon Jennings sprained his left ankle in the final minute of Saturday's loss to Chicago, but was in the starting lineup Monday.