MILWAUKEE (AP) — Nikola Mirotic tied a season high with 28 points, Jimmy Butler had 20 points and a career-high 14 assists, and the Chicago Bulls pulled away in the second half for a 109-94 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday.
Butler broke his previous career best for assists (12) by the end of a pivotal third quarter, when Chicago stretched a one-point lead at the half to 91-79 going into the fourth.
Butler punctuated the second-half runaway with a backcourt steal off a telegraphed pass by Greg Monroe before strolling the other way for an easy dunk and 17-point lead with 8:55 left.
Mirotic hit three 3-pointers in the third quarter, while Rajon Rondo scored 14 of his 18 points in that period.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Bucks.
Milwaukee failed to secure sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race after being tied with Atlanta going into Sunday. The Hawks lost earlier in the day to the Brooklyn Nets.
Chicago kept pace in the East after being tied with Detroit coming into the day, 1 1/2 games behind Miami for the final playoff spot. The Bulls also finished the season series against Milwaukee at 1-3 this season, avoiding a sweep to their Central Division rival.
Coach Fred Hoiberg’s squad pulled away in impressive fashion in the third quarter after having trouble with long, athletic teams like the Bucks for much of the season.
But Butler and his teammates set the tone on Sunday in the third quarter with good ball movement and solid defense, while capitalizing on the Bucks’ offensive struggles in the second half (35 percent shooting).
Bulls: Chicago had a 23-10 run over the final 8:29 of the second quarter to take a 56-55 lead at halftime. Playing crisp offense, the Bulls shot 59 percent and assisted on 20 of 25 buckets in the first half. … All five starters finished the game scoring in double figures.
Bucks: C John Henson (sprained left thumb) could be out another week after getting hurt on Tuesday in Portland. … F Khris Middleton, who went just 1 of 13 from the field in Friday’s win over Atlanta, was 6 of 17 against Chicago and finished with 14 points.
Bulls: Try to sweep the season series against Cleveland when they host the Cavaliers on Thursday.
Bucks: Begin a two-game road trip by visiting the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.
(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2017. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)