MILWAUKEE -- The Chicago Bulls weren't about to squander another second half lead against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Twice this season, the Bucks have rallied in the second half to beat the Bulls, including storming back from a 27-point deficit late in the third quarter at Chicago in November.
"The fact that we lost a couple of leads against these guys before, we didn't want to let our guard down," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They are a very good team and they keep coming at you. You have to stay ready. We had a lot of guys step up."
One of those guys was Nate Robinson, who scored 16 of his 24 points in the second quarter, leading the Bulls to a 104-88 victory Wednesday night.
"Nate played with great energy, which was a huge plus," Thibodeau said.
Another key for Chicago was Jimmy Butler, a second-year pro from Marquette, who added 18 points, one shy his career high set in the Bulls' previous game, and five rebounds in a return to the arena where he played college basketball.
Thibodeau credited Butler with being valuable whether starting or coming off the bench.
"He's a big lift," Thibodeau said. "He can guard, he can score and play multiple positions and make hustle plays. He's doing a lot for us. He's a big part of this team."
Chicago broke open the game midway through the second quarter, using a 20-4 run to take a 49-30 lead. The run included a long 3-point shot by Robinson, who capped the rally with a driving layup. He was fouled on the play by Brandon Jennings, and converted the free throw.
Robinson, who also had a breakaway dunk during the run, shot 7 for 9 from the floor during the quarter to help Chicago take a 55-37 lead at the half.
"My teammates have been teasing me all season, talking about how I'm a three-time slam-dunk champion and I didn't get no dunks," Robinson said. "My fans have been asking me when I'm going to dunk again so hopefully they'll get off my back now."
The Bulls shot 51 per cent from the field in the first half, while the Bucks made just 39 per cent of their attempts. Jennings and Monta Ellis, the Bucks' top scorers, combined for just 11 points in the half on 4-for-14 shooting. Jennings finished the game with 15 points, while Ellis had 12.
The Bucks stormed back in the third quarter, using a 25-14 run at the start of the period to pull within seven points. Jennings, who was ejected late in the game after being called for a technical foul keyed the comeback, scoring 11 points in the quarter.
The Bulls used a 10-6 run to close the period to take a 79-68 lead.
Chicago scored 10 of the first 14 points in the fourth quarter to extend the lead, highlighted by a breakaway dunk by Butler.
"They started to make a run, but we slowed them down, stopped them in transition and contested their shots and they started missing and we went down and capitalized," Butler said.
Chicago's big second quarter forced Milwaukee to play "uphill" for the remainder of the game, Bucks coach Jim Boylan said.
"We just didn't have enough in the tank. It was their typical game; they're a good, physical team and they play a physical brand of basketball and it took its toll on us tonight," he said.
Ilyasova admitted that the Bucks weren't effective on offence throughout much of the game.
"Offensively, we looked a little tired. We couldn't make some open shots," he said.
The Bulls scored a season-high 66 points in the paint.
"We needed to stop the guy with the ball in the paint," Ilyasova said. "We have to play a little more aggressive next time defensively."
The Bulls took a 23-19 lead at the end of the first quarter, paced by Taj Gibson's six points and four rebounds. The Bucks were led by Dalembert's seven points and five rebounds in the period.
Boylan said he didn't think Jennings, who wasn't available for comment after the game, was forced off his game because of his heated head-to-head battle with Robinson.
"Even though he and Brandon are going at it, I don't think it's taking away from Brandon's game," Boylan said.
Butler viewed it differently.
"They were going at it. Brandon Jennings is a big-time player but you get frustrated, a lot of different things can happen and he definitely got frustrated," Butler said.
NOTES: Bucks forward Larry Sanders sat out Wednesday's night game due to illness. Milwaukee coach Jim Boylan said Sanders was ill during Tuesday's game in Detroit against the Pistons, where he was limited to 16 minutes and scored three points. Samuel Dalembert started a hamstring injury suffered in Tuesday night's game against Charlotte. Gibson replaced him. ... Boylan said he thought Jennings should have been named to replace injured Celtics guard Rajon Rando on the All-Star team. "I thought Brandon deserved to be selected the way he's been playing recently," Boylan said. Brooklyn's Brook Lopez was chosen over Jennings. ... Due to an engine issue with the team plane, the Bucks returned to Milwaukee around 11 a.m. Wednesday. The team had expected to fly out of Detroit on Tuesday night. ... Chicago has won six consecutive games at the Bradley Center. The Bulls' last loss in Milwaukee was 96-93 on Jan. 8, 2010.