The Bulls endured the worst sort of flashback on Monday night against Milwaukee.
Their worst regular-season moment since Derrick Rose joined the team has to be the 35-point blown lead against Sacramento on Dec. 21, 2009.
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This one wasn't quite as bad, but it was close. Kirk Hinrich's 3-pointer with 2:50 left in the third quarter gave the Bulls a commanding 78-51 advantage.
The game was a good as over. The only real questions were whether the fans would get Big Macs and when would Vladimir Radmanovic step on the floor.
But Milwaukee coach Scott Skiles changed his lineup and found a spark, which quickly grew into a raging inferno. The Bucks erased the 27-point deficit in just eight minutes and went on to shock the Bulls 93-92 at the United Center.
"I'm stunned, just on the simple fact that when you have a 25-point lead and the way that we defend, you never expect a team to make a run like that," said Richard Hamilton, who scored 30 points, his best since joining the Bulls. "Once they got rolling, we couldn't stop them."
Former Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro took plenty of heat for that Sacramento debacle. Well, this game proved that blown leads can happen to the best of them. There have certainly been few complaints about coach Tom Thibodeau during his three seasons on the job.
"Obviously, to build a lead like that you do a lot of good things," 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. As soon as you start feeling good about yourself, you're going to get knocked on your butt. That's what happened."
Thibodeau figures to take some blame for a lack of substitutions in the second half. He didn't use Marco Belinelli or Nazr Mohammed at all. Three subs -- Nate Robinson, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson -- combined to play just 10 minutes in the second half.
Then again, the Bulls starters played very well while building the lead. Milwaukee used an all-reserve lineup down the stretch, but Skiles didn't change his lineup during the final 15½ minutes, either, going with Ersan Ilyasova, Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, Ekpe Udoh and rookie Doron Lamb. Lamb helped slow down Hamilton, who had a field day shooting over the smaller Monta Ellis.
"You have to 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. Epke kind of patrolled around the rim, protected the rim for us. We weren't giving up the offensive rebounds anymore. We were making them take difficult shots."
The Bucks' winning basket came on a bank shot by Udoh with 57.5 seconds remaining. On the Bulls' next trip, Hamilton's shot was blocked by Udoh, Joakim Noah grabbed the rebound and he had the ball stripped away.
On the other end, Milwaukee chased down a long rebound after a missed 3-point shot. Udrih missed a pair of free throws with 10.7 seconds left, but Ilyasova climbed Carlos Boozer's back to grab the offensive board.
Hinrich deflected an inbounds pass, though, giving the Bulls possession, still trailing by 1 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.
"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."