CHICAGO – Marco Belinelli took a deep breath and exhaled as a grateful Carlos Boozer gave him a big hug.
This was one big shot for the Bulls.
Belinelli made a 3-pointer with 5.9 seconds left to lift the Bulls to an important 89-88 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday night.
“We didn’t play well in the last quarter, we had some turnovers and made some mistakes on defense, but we found a way to win the game,” Belinelli said. “Just keep moving right now.”
The Italian guard missed a potential tying jumper but got a second chance when Joakim Noah grabbed the rebound. Jimmy Butler then came away with a loose ball and swung it back out to the corner, and Belinelli hit the fallaway 3 to put the Bulls in front to stay.
“The first two shots I took in the last couple of minutes, I missed the shots,” said Belinelli, who has scored the winning basket in the final 10 seconds of three games this season. “I’m not scared about that situation. I can take that shot.”
“I didn’t think much in the last shot from the corner,” he continued. “I was just ready to shoot the ball.”
Gordon Hayward missed a jumper on the other end, and Butler secured the rebound as the horn sounded.
Al Jefferson scored 23 points in his return to the lineup for Utah, which has dropped six of seven. Marvin Williams had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and fellow reserve Derrick Favors added 11 points and 10 rebounds.
“It’s frustrating, it’s difficult, but the positive thing is we were in a position to win the game,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “Guys are playing hard. They did a good job of giving us a chance to win. We fought back again tonight, took the lead. We didn’t capitalize on it again. We have to continue to work.”
The Jazz have dropped the first three games of a four-game road trip by a total of five points. They face the New York Knicks tonight.
“If a couple things in all three games would have went differently we would have been 3-0 on this trip, but it didn’t work out,” Jefferson said.
“But we can’t let it get us down. We’ve just got to continue to play hard.”
Belinelli and Boozer had 22 points apiece for the Bulls, who had 21 offensive rebounds. Nate Robinson finished with 14 points and seven assists, and Boozer also had 10 rebounds.
The Bulls had dropped two in a row and four of six. They open a difficult three-game California trip at the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, making Belinelli’s clutch shot all the more important.
“We’re grinding out games right now,” Boozer said. “I’m super proud of my guys, they played great.”
Utah trailed by nine at halftime, but Jefferson and Williams combined for 19 points in the third quarter to get the Jazz back in the game. Favors then scored six points in a 10-0 run that gave Utah an 81-76 lead with 7:22 to go.
But the short-handed Bulls managed to rally for a sorely needed victory.
The Bulls played without Taj Gibson, Kirk Hinrich and Richard Hamilton while they await a resolution to the soap opera surrounding injured All-Star Derrick Rose. Gibson is rehabbing a sprained left knee, Hinrich is out with a sore right foot and Hamilton is having a lower back issue.
The Jazz got Jefferson back after he missed three games because of a sprained left ankle, and the 6-foot-10 center had an immediate impact.
Jefferson got the ball on Utah’s first possession and spun away from Noah for a dunk as the Jazz made their first five shots of the game. He had another big jam in the second quarter, driving in and throwing it down over Nazr Mohammed to give Utah a 37-35 lead.
Belinelli responded with a four-point play on the other end, helping the Bulls pull away to a 55-46 halftime lead.
NOTES: The Bulls beat the Jazz 93-89 on Feb. 8 in their only other scheduled meeting this season. ... Thibodeau doesn’t think Hamilton will travel with the team to California. ... Utah G Mo Williams was 1 for 7 from the field for two points in his second game after being sidelined for 32 due to a thumb injury. “The team has been progressing, getting used to playing without him, now we’re trying to integrate him back in and get him used to the guys and the guys used to him again,” Corbin said before the game. “It’s exciting to have him back.”
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap