Nobody said victories would be pretty anymore.
Pretty first left the building when Derrick Rose lay in a crumpled heap April 28, his left ACL snapped. Throw in injuries to rotation regulars Kirk Hinrich, Richard Hamilton and Taj Gibson and the need for grittiness intensifies.
The Bulls delivered Friday night at the United Center, overcoming a dismal offensive showing in the second half to post an 89-88 victory over the Jazz on Marco Belinelli’s game-winning 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left.
Gordon Hayward’s open look at the buzzer rimmed out, helping the Bulls avoid their second three-game losing streak of the season.
Belinelli, who tied Carlos Boozer for team-high honors with 22 points, had missed two wild runners after Al Jefferson pushed the Jazz ahead with a jumper over Joakim Noah with 51.6 seconds left. But Jimmy Butler came out of a scramble with Belinelli’s second miss and fed him in the corner, directly in front of the Bulls’ bench.
“I scored, but Jimmy made the play,” Belinelli after he notched 20 or more points for a third straight game for the first time ever. “Unbelievable. That’s why we won.”
It’s Belinelli’s third game-winning shot of the season, following an off-balance fallaway to win in overtime at Boston on Jan. 18 and a three-point play to beat the Pistons on Jan. 23. Like Butler’s hustle, Joakim Noah’s loose-ball scramble set up that Pistons’ game-winner.
The Bulls played again without Rose, Hinrich, Hamilton and Gibson. Beyond the injuries, foul trouble limited Noah to 32 minutes and forced Nazr Mohammed to log a season-high 20. He responded with a season-high nine points and seven rebounds.
“Nazr was terrific,” coach Tom Thibodeau said.
After a sizzling 51.3 percent shooting performance in the first half, the Bulls sank just 10 of 42 shots after halftime for 23.8 percent. The Jazz used a 10-0 run to go up 81-76 early in the fourth as the Bulls went scoreless for 3:43.
“We hung tough in a choppy game,” Thibodeau said.
Thibodeau said it’s unlikely Hamilton will accompany the Bulls on their three-game trip beginning Sunday at Los Angeles. Hinrich and Gibson will join the team when it departs Saturday after practice, but both are unlikely to play Sunday against the Lakers.