CHICAGO — In the building where their owner created many of the best moments in franchise history, the Charlotte Bobcats handed Chicago a forgettable loss on Monday. The Bobcats snapped an 18-game losing streak by beating the Bulls 91-81 at the United Center.
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan was not in attendance, but he surely appreciated the strong effort from his team. Kemba Walker led the Bobcats with 18 points. Gerald Henderson scored 16, while Ramon Sessions and ex-Bull Ben Gordon each had 15 points off the bench.
“When you go through an entire month without a win, it really eats at you,” Charlotte coach Mike Dunlap said. “It is especially hard for our young guys who need to build confidence.”
The Bobcats started 7-5 this season, equaling last season’s win total. But they hadn’t recorded a victory since beating Washington in overtime on Nov. 24.
“We’re a desperate team right now,” Henderson said. “This losing streak has been very tough on us. We’ve been scoring well, but our defense has been hurting us. Our defense played solid all the way through the game.”
With the score tied heading into the fourth quarter, Charlotte took control with a 10-0 run. The Bulls struggled to keep up with the Bobcats’ quick guards and didn’t score in the fourth quarter until forward Jimmy Butler hit two free throws with 7:33 remaining.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau resorted to fouling intentionally to try to lengthen the game. First, the Bulls picked on Bobcats center Bismack Biyombo, and when he was pulled from the court, they tried fouling Jeff Adrien and Hakim Warrick. Charlotte made 21-of-38 free throws on the day.
The Bulls struggled to make up ground, though. They failed to convert on three possessions while trailing 77-69. After they got within 82-75 on a Carlos Boozer putback, Warrick skied for a one-hand dunk and completed a three-point play with 2:18 remaining.
“In the fourth quarter, I put the playbook in the freezer and just let our guys go at them,” Dunlap said. “We ran well off pick-and-rolls and our ball movement was good.”
Chicago shot 35.1 percent from the field overall and hit just 6 of 26 shots in the fourth quarter. Luol Deng led the Bulls with 20 points, while Boozer had 19 and Richard Hamilton 11.
Ever since winning at New York on Dec. 21, the Bulls have been in a slump. They suffered blowout losses against Atlanta and Houston, then had to work hard to beat Washington at home on Saturday.
“We’ve got to get ourselves out of this funk,” Chicago forward Taj Gibson said. “We’ve been up and down all season. We have to push ourselves through it.”
The Bulls were missing their best perimeter defender, Kirk Hinrich, with a knee injury, and coach Tom Thibodeau said center Joakim Noah was feeling under the weather. Noah recorded two points and four rebounds in 30 minutes.
The underdog Bobcats had the Bulls on their heels throughout. The visitors controlled the boards early and jumped to a 28-18 lead. Chicago became the first Charlotte opponent all season not to reach 20 points in the opening 12 minutes.
“We put ourselves in a hole right off the bat,” Thibodeau said. “Every team in the league is talented. You have to give them credit. They played very well.”
The Bulls closed within 47-42 by halftime, but Charlotte went ahead by as many as 12 points after a pair of Walker free throws with 9:05 left in the third.
Chicago finally showed signs of life, using a 16-6 run to tie the score at 65-65 by the end of the third quarter.
NOTES: Coach Tom Thibodeau described Hinrich’s status as day-to-day with a knee injury. … Charlotte rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist missed the first game of his NBA career because of a scratched cornea. … Bobcats center Byron Mullens missed his fourth game with a sprained left ankle. … On Sunday, Thibodeau said injured guard Derrick Rose is participating in the non-contact portions of practice, but is “not anywhere close to playing.” The best-case scenario for Rose to play again figures to be Jan. 28, which would be the nine-month anniversary of tearing the ACL in his left knee.