Minus top scorers, Bulls have fun again, beat Bucks in OT

The Bulls wore their "city edition" uniforms Thursday, with the scoreboard paying homage to the font used at the old Chicago Stadium.

Let's face it, though, this was Addition by Subtraction Night for the Bulls. Math flash cards would have been an appropriate giveaway item.

Missing top scorers Zach LaVine (right foot soreness) and DeMar DeRozan (left ankle sprain), a spirited group of Bulls leftovers stood up to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bulls led by 12 in the fourth quarter, forced overtime with an Alex Caruso 3-pointer at the buzzer and pulled off the upset 120-113 at the United Center to snap a five-game losing streak.

If nothing else, the short-handed Bulls brought fun back to Madison Street. This game was the complete opposite of some recent dismal performances. The Bulls controlled the boards, while setting season highs in both assists (32) and turnovers (21).

"The force we played with and how we were communicating on defense, I thought was really good," coach Billy Donovan said. "We did a lot of really positive things."

This team has struggled all season but seemed particularly consumed by negative energy during the past few weeks, ever since a report surfaced on Nov. 14 suggesting LaVine was open to a trade.

DeRozan turned his ankle Tuesday during a blowout loss in Boston. LaVine finished that game with 2 points on 1-of-9 shooting. On nights like that, it's difficult to tell if LaVine is struggling to play through the foot injury or trying to expedite a an exit from the Bulls.

LaVine's low energy and bad body language seemed to spread through most of the team. Then again, that's been the case since opening night, when the Bulls suffered a lackluster loss to Oklahoma City, then held an impromptu team meeting.

Thursday's performance reinforced the idea of scrapping the "Big Three" concept, whether LaVine sticks around or not. The Bulls are better when they're moving the ball, while Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu and others feel the freedom to create offense.

Center Nikola Vucevic led eight players in double figures with 29 points, while White added 23. Giannis Antetokounmpo led Milwaukee with 26 points.

White and Dosunmu started in the backcourt with Caruso, Vucevic and Patrick Williams. Rookie Julian Phillips got a long run in both halves.

With the score tied at the end of three quarters, the Bulls opened the fourth with a 10-0 run, then stretched the lead to 12 with 7:43 left. The Bucks came back, but the Bulls tried to answer. A pullup jumper from Williams and step-back 3 by White gave the Bulls a 103-96 lead with 1:26 left.

Milwaukee countered with an Antetokounmpo dunk, then back-to-back 3s by Malik Beasley and Brook Lopez to take the lead with 20.5 seconds left. Giannis then blocked a running hook shot by Williams and hit two free throws to make it a 3-point game, setting the stage for Caruso's clutch 3.

Overtime featured a number of big plays from the Bulls. White hit another 3, Dosunmu had a steal and was goaltended on the break by Giannis, then Williams capped off the win with a pair of monster dunks,

Before this game, Donovan was asked if the freedom is there to not play one of the so-called Big Three in the starting or finishing lineup.

"I don't have a problem doing whatever's best for the team, but I would just sit there and say if those guys are not playing at elite levels, it's probably not the best thing for our team," he said. "So helping those guys play at an elite level and whatever they need to play at an elite level would help our group."

During this dry spell, the Bulls haven gotten off to horrendous starts in the first quarter. The one exception was in Brooklyn on Sunday, when they couldn't miss from 3-point range, but quickly squandered their double-digit advantage.

"I wouldn't place all that on those three guys and wouldn't say just taking one of those guys out of the lineup and putting someone else in is going to necessarily solve that," Donovan said. "We need those guys to be who they have been throughout their career. That's why they're here."

Twitter: @McGrawDHSports

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