MILWAUKEE -- After losing guard Derrick Rose for the year and then trading Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers for center Andrew Bynum earlier in the week, it appeared to some as a sign the Chicago Bulls were content on letting the chips fall where they may this season and look to the future.
Don't look now, but the Bulls are on a roll.
Chicago (16-18), behind 19 points from forward Carlos Boozer, won its fourth in a row after holding off the bottom-feeding Bucks 81-72 on Friday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, where the announced crowd of 15,148 was heavily partisan for the visitors.
"We do feel a little bit more comfortable and the support we get here," said Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy, who finished with 18 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field.
Like Boozer, who scored 15 in the first half, Dunleavy also got off to a good start, hitting three 3-pointers before halftime.
Forward Taj Gibson added 12 points and forward Jimmy Butler scored 10 for the Bulls, who shot 39 percent from the field but made up ground from beyond the arc, where they went 6 of 16, and with a 27-of-39 performance at the free throw line.
"We got down by a lot early ... then we just picked up our intensity," Boozer said. "We started playing more inside-out, we got to the line a lot, they fouled us a lot. We hit our free throws early.
"Just keep attacking, sometimes that's the way the game is being called. They were calling it tight early and we just tried to take advantage of it."
While free throws were a life-saver for Chicago, they were a point of contention for Milwaukee (7-27), which went to the line just 12 times and made nine.
The Bucks' foul troubles came early. Forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ersan Ilyasova and reserve forward Khris Middleton each picked up two fouls in the first quarter.
Bucks center Larry Sanders collected three in the second quarter, and after seeing a nine-point lead disappear, Milwaukee went into the break down two despite having eight players with at least two fouls.
"We went through a bad stretch, but we kind of got into a little rhythm and it was a two-point game at halftime," Bucks coach Larry Drew said. "The good thing was it was a two-point game at halftime, but the bad thing was guys getting three fouls. Sometimes you have to take those kind of chances."
Those fouls sent the Bulls to the line 28 times in the half.
"Clearly, when you look at the stat sheet, the difference in free throws was the difference in the game," Drew said. "You put a team on the free throw line that many times, you can't expect good results."
The Bulls opened the second half with a 12-2 run to take a 59-47 lead. They went ahead by as many as 15 before Milwaukee answered with a 12-0 run, pulling within three points on guard O.J. Mayo's running layup with 10:09 left to make it 69-66.
Mayo had eight of the Bucks' points during that stretch, which included seven Chicago misses.
After the Bulls were charged with a shot-clock violation, Ilyasova hot a long two-pointer, making it 71-70 with 5:41 left. Milwaukee again cut the lead to one point on point guard Brandon Knight's layup, but the Bucks missed their last 11 shots from the field.
"They had some decent looks that they could make, but our guys made a good effort," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Our rebounding was poor and I thought that hurt us, but the initial part of our defense was very good."
The cold finish led to another tough loss for Milwaukee, which has dropped four in a row and seven of its last eight.
"We forced a couple down the stretch that probably weren't the best selection, but going down the stretch, if you make plays you'll win if you don't, you won't win," Drew said.
NOTES: Bucks F John Henson has returned to practice but was not available on Friday. He was averaging 12.4 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 52.7 percent from the field before being diagnosed with a sprained ankle on Dec. 27. ... Chicago signed F/C Cartier Martin to a 10-day contract on Friday, filling the roster slot opened when Luol Deng was traded to Cleveland for C Andrew Bynum and an assortment of draft choices. Martin averaged 6.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 25 games before being waived Tuesday by the Hawks.