DALLAS — The Chicago Bulls keep leaning on their vaunted defense to win games. They did it again on Friday night, shutting down the Dallas Mavericks’ high-powered offense after the first quarter and clawing back from a 16-point deficit to win 100-91 at American Airlines Center.
The Bulls (32-26) won for the eighth time in nine games and snapped Dallas’ four-game win streak just as the Mavs prepare to start a brutal stretch on Sunday at San Antonio.
Dallas (36-24) raced to a 15-point lead in the first quarter, scoring 32 points and shooting 54.5 percent from the field. From there, though, Chicago buckled down, allowing 22 points in the second quarter, 22 in the third and just nine through the first 10:56 of the fourth quarter before forward Dirk Nowitzki scored on a putback.
Everything from there was inconsequential as the Bulls seized a 94-87 lead.
“Some nights teams miss shots and you have to hang in with grit, guts, defense and rebounding,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “Weird thing about it was we were in front most of the first half and we them them climb back into it with grit, guts and rebounding.”
The Bulls were led by forward Taj Gibson’s 20 points and 15 rebounds. Guard Jimmy Butler had 19 points and seven rebounds.
Bulls center Joakim Noah, quiet most of the night, iced it with 42.6 seconds left for a 96-87 lead. His best work, however, came in the fourth quarter defending Nowitzki, who finished with 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting from the field. Noah stripped him on consecutive possessions with the second turnover leading to a 3-pointer from guard Kirk Hinrich for an 84-78 Bulls lead.
“We’ve got Joakim all over the place,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Nowitzki put a lot of pressure on us. … Joakim did a good job, but it’s what Joakim does. You’re going to get more than one effort from Joakim. You’re also going to get the loose balls, the rebounding and getting the ball up the floor from Joakim as well.”
Dallas reclaimed the lead at 85-84, but a 3-pointer from Bulls guard Mike Dunleavy and then a Noah-to-Gibson pass for a second-chance basket made it 89-85 with 3:49 left. Butler scored on a post-up against Bucks guard Monta Ellis with 3:09 left for a 91-85 lead.
The Mavs never could find a rhythm and finished the fourth quarter 6 of 25 from the field and 2 of 12 from beyond the arc as the Bulls swarmed Dallas on nearly every possession to create momentum-changing plays going the other way.
“Plays like that ignite us as a team,” Butler said. “Our defense dictates our offense and makes it a lot easier when you see a big play like that you rush the ball downcourt and get in an easy basket.”
Dallas led by 15 points in the first quarter and 16 in the second, running at will against the Bulls for a 16-2 advantage in fast-break points in the first half. Dallas had just two fast-break points in the second half.
“They were able to make it more of a half-court game and got more physical,” said Mavs forward Shawn Marion, who had 11 points. “We just weren’t able to hit open shots in the second half. Everything went in for us in the first half and in the second we started missing some shots and they started hitting some shots. They were able to get a little space and gap and came away with the W.”
The Bulls started their push in the second quarter, clipping a 16-point deficit to three, 54-51, at halftime.
Dallas was paced by Ellis, who finished with 20 points on 7-of-19 shooting from the field. Guard Vince Carter had 15 points and was 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. However, Carter went 4-for-5 from 3-point territory for 14 points in the first half.
NOTES: Dallas’ strong February against a light schedule turns more difficult in March with five of its next seven games against teams currently in position for the playoff, including San Antonio (Sunday), Golden State, Indiana, Portland and Oklahoma City. … Bulls C Joakim Noah is averaging 4.6 assists per game, which ranks him 27th in the NBA. At his current clip, Noah’s assists would be the most by a center in years (Brad Miller, 4.7 in 2005-06). … The Bulls were seeking revenge for a 105-83 beatdown by the Mavs in Chicago on Dec. 29. … Chicago F Taj Gibson, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, was joined on the floor by Dallas’ own Sixth Man candidate, 37-year-old Vince Carter, who entered the game having made a league-high 92 3-pointers off the bench this season.
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