SALT LAKE CITY — Injuries have made it tough for Chicago to realize its full potential this season. The Bulls can dominate any team for a quarter or a half, and let that team back into the game before the final horn.
This maddening inconsistency was put on full display in Chicago's 97-95 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night. Chicago imposed its will defensively and built up a double-digit lead. Then the Bulls lost that lead early in the fourth quarter and barely survived a Utah rally.
Chicago needed a basket from Mike Dunleavy and a free throw from Pau Gasol in the final seconds to avoid an embarrassing loss.
"It's just a learning experience," Bulls point guard Derrick Rose said. "When we get a team down like that, we got to learn how to keep them down. Know the strategy and know the plays where we're going to get a good shot. But, if anything, our defense always has to be there. That's something we got to learn too."
Rose scored 18 points in his return to the Bulls' lineup after missing four games because of a hamstring injury.
Jimmy Butler scored a game-high 25 points and Gasol added 23 points and nine rebounds for Chicago, who beat the Jazz for ninth time in the last 12 games between the two teams.
After trailing by 21 points in the second quarter, Utah took its first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter when Trevor Booker made a layup to put the Jazz up 80-78.
Chicago took an 87-84 lead when Aaron Brooks hit a 3-pointer. Utah answered by scoring seven unanswered points, going up 91-87 on a running jumper from Favors with 3:30 left.
The Bulls regained the lead 96-95 on Dunleavy's put back with 22.5 seconds remaining. Gasol then hit 1-of-2 free throws after winning possession on a jump ball with 3.2 seconds remaining. Utah had a final shot, but Hayward's game winner fell short at the buzzer.
Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said injuries haven't given the starting five enough time together to work out all the kinks.
"There is a lot of rust," Thibodeau said. "You can't build chemistry unless they are out there playing, practicing, working together. If you include the preseason, it hasn't happened a lot, so we got to get that straightened out."
Derrick Favors scored 21 points and pulled down a season-high 15 rebounds for Utah. Enes Kanter had 19 points and eight rebounds while Trey Burke had 18 and 10 assists.
"If we would have come out with more energy in the first half, we would have had this game," Favors said. "But we dug ourselves a deep hole in the first half and it kind of hurt us."
Bulls: Chicago started 6-0 on the road and improved to 7-2 away from home. Chicago has posted a winning road record in each of the last four seasons.
Jazz: Utah has not shot below 42 percent from the field in a game this season. The Jazz shot 48.8 percent (42-of-86) against the Bulls. . Gordon Hayward is just the ninth Jazz player to make more than 300 3-pointers in his time with the franchise. Hayward has made 301 career 3-pointers for Utah.
Utah plays at Oklahoma City on Wednesday
Chicago plays at Denver on Tuesday
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