Bucks 79, Bulls 74

John Salmons and the Milwaukee Bucks can breath a sigh of
relief. They’re in the NBA playoffs.

Salmons scored 26 points against his former team and Milwaukee
clinched a postseason spot Tuesday night with a 79-74 victory over
the Chicago Bulls.

Playing for the first time since center Andrew Bogut was
injured, the Bucks rebounded from a sluggish start and wrapped up
their first playoff berth in four years. They are tied with Miami
for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

“We got that out of the way. We’re in there. It feels good to
clinch a spot,” Salmons said. “We didn’t score a lot of points
tonight, but we got the job done.”

The Bulls, who matched a season low for points, remained a game
behind Toronto for the eighth and final playoff spot in the
East.

“They’re a good defensive team, but I think it was more than
just the shots. We kind of had them going early in the game, we
were relaxed and then they kind of outworked us in the second
quarter and that kind of changed the momentum of the game,”
Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich said. “I think it’s more mental. I
think we have a tendency to relax. We relaxed and they cranked it
up and they got more aggressive defensively and we never really had
an answer for them.”

Ersan Ilyasova scored 17 points off the bench for Milwaukee and
Luke Ridnour added 13.

“We kind of eased our way into the game defensively and then we
got it going,” Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. “We created some
turnovers and that got us going in the first half.”

After the Bucks squandered a 12-point third-quarter lead,
Salmons tied the game at 65 on a pair of free throws. Ilyasova
followed with a dunk and Salmons made a jumper to put Milwaukee up
69-65.

Salmons, shipped from Chicago to Milwaukee before the trade
deadline for Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander, increased the lead to
76-70 with 1:02 left. But the Bulls cut it to 76-74 on jumpers by
Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.

Chicago put Salmons on the line with 13.2 seconds left, and he
made one of two. But the Bulls were unable to capitalize as Brad
Miller was called for traveling in the lane with 7 seconds
left.

Carlos Delfino then hit a pair of free throws to seal it.

Luol Deng scored 16 points for Chicago and Rose added 12, but
with six turnovers.

With the Bulls trailing 60-48 late in the third quarter after 23
minutes of ugly basketball, Miller started Chicago’s comeback
attempt with a three-point play. He made a jumper to start the
fourth and later went around Ilyasova for a dunk.

Rose made an acrobatic pass underneath the basket to Flip
Murray, who finished with a layup to get Chicago within 62-59. Rose
tied the game on a driving layup and Hinrich gave the Bulls the
lead with a jumper to make it 65-63 with 6:13 left.

Milwaukee played its first game without Bogut since he was
injured during Saturday’s win against Phoenix.

Bogut had surgery to repair his broken right hand Monday. He
also has a sprained wrist and dislocated elbow after crashing hard
to the court in a fall.

Team officials said Bogut is expected to need six weeks to
recover before he can begin full rehabilitation.

Bogut was having a breakout season before the injury, averaging
15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He averaged
21.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 4.3 blocks in three games against
the Bulls this season.

“We had to get used to not having him to dump it in to,”
Salmons said. “We still have to grow. We still have to learn.
Today was a good start.”

Skiles started a small lineup with 6-foot-9 Kurt Thomas at
center. The Bucks didn’t get off to a good start, trailing by 13 at
the end of the first quarter. But they took the lead late in the
second.

Ilyasova gave the Bucks a lift with nine points off the bench in
the second quarter. He scored six consecutive points for the Bucks
and got them within 36-35 on a pair of free throws. Salmons gave
the Bucks a 38-36 lead on a 3-pointer, then made two free throws to
give Milwaukee a 42-36 lead at halftime.

Milwaukee closed the half on an 11-0 run and outscored the Bulls
28-9 in the second quarter.

After scoring 27 points in the first, Chicago totaled 24 points
in the second and third, including a season-low nine points in the
second quarter. The Bulls trailed 60-51 at the end of three.

“We weren’t passing the ball enough, me making poor decisions,
everyone just couldn’t get in a groove today,” Rose said. “Nobody
could get in the right groove to pull this team along. That’s why
we struggled. We haven’t played this way in a while.”

Rose tried to attack the basket with the absence of Bogut, but
didn’t get many open looks.

“Yes, they made it real clear to drive to the rim, but it was
hard. They had great defense, stopping people from getting to the
hole,” Rose said.

NOTES: Bulls F James Johnson played after missing Saturday’s
game against Charlotte because of soreness stemming from a
partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot. … Salmons played
his first game in Chicago since being traded at the deadline. …
The Bulls had a video tribute for Scottie Pippen in the first
quarter. Pippen, who won six NBA championships with Chicago, was
elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday.