CHICAGO – Jon McGlocklin, Milwaukee Bucks guard-turned-broadcaster, got stopped courtside the last time his team played at Madison Square Garden. It was Spike Lee, the hardcore Knicks fan and occasional movie director, tugging on McGlocklin’s arm.
“He said ‘Jon, I want to talk to you about that game!’ ” McGlocklin recalled Monday night in the bowels of United Center. “I didn’t even know he knew who I was. I told him, ‘Aaargh, I don’t want to talk about that.’ “
The game in question: New York’s comeback from an 86-68 deficit deep into the fourth quarter, convulsed into an 87-86 victory when the Knicks scored the final 19 points on the night of Nov. 18, 1972. Pulled off against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the rest, it generally is considered the most famous regular-season NBA game in Knicks history, ranking right behind the two championship clinchers for lifelong fans like Lee.
McGlocklin recalled it anew Monday, after the Bucks wound up on the other side of something equally improbable: A comeback from 27 points down deep in the third quarter, 78-51, engineered by an all-bench crew that outscored the Bulls 42-14 over the final 14:29. On the road. With McGlocklin there to flash back.
“You’re flailing around like in a dream,” he said of his Bucks way back when and the Bulls just moments — nightmarish moments — earlier. “You can’t quite reach the ball. You try to take a step, and it’s like an out-of-body experience.”
That was the Chicago side of things Monday, as the Bulls starters saw what had been a cushy lead cut to 17 points by the start of the third quarter. Then — whoosh! — to 10, 80-70, just 96 seconds into the fourth on Beno Udrih‘s 3-pointer. Another Bulls turnover, a run-out dunk by Ekpe Udoh and it was 80-74.
A jumper by little-used rookie Doron Lamb, whose defense on Rip Hamilton was equally important; A 3-pointer by Ersan Ilyasova, moved to the bench after 11 starts as coach Scott Skiles searched to spark him; And another one from the arc, this one by Mike Dunleavy, after Chicago let a defensive rebound bounce and wind up back in the Bucks’ hands.
That made it 82-82 with seven minutes left. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau already knew what was coming.
“In an NBA game, you can lose 10 points in a minute,” Thibodeau said, his sideline growling over for the night. “Everyone says that doesn’t happen, but I see it all the time. If you don’t play tough with the lead, this is what happens.”
Said Dunleavy: “When it was 27, it was like, ‘This is almost physically impossible.’ But when we got it to  at the end of the third, we felt, ‘This has happened before.’ “
Chicago had gone through something like this three years ago, when Sacramento came from 35 points back to win at the UC. Even though Udrih was a part of that epic comeback, few of the Bucks could recall being involved in something similar — and so satisfying.
“I was in a game once with Phoenix where we came back from 27 down, I believe it was to start the fourth,” Skiles said. “It was at Miami and [Dan] Majerle hit a 3 for Miami with like 50 seconds left. We came all the way back but got beat. … You know, this doesn’t happen that much. It’s hard to do. You’ve got to play perfectly, and then you need some help from the other team. Kind of both things happened for us tonight.”
Several things, frankly, happened for the Bucks Monday. They put behind them the sour memories of their loss Saturday to Chicago, a game in which they got pounded on the boards while Skiles played bigs Samuel Dalembert, John Henson and Drew Gooden a total of 1:18.
They got a performance for the ages from the bench crew, outscoring their Chicago counterparts 56-10. They shook off the rust or whatever it was hindering Ilyasova’s game since his return from free agency. His fourth quarter — 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting, four boards, an assist, a steal and a block — seemed better than his first 47 quarters this season combined.
“There’s a little bit better flow with that unit,” Dunleavy said. “That probably enabled him to relax a little bit — make his shots, make his plays. It didn’t feel like he was having to find his way as much.”
In other words — ahem — that dynamic offensive backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, which does tend to dominate the basketball, was nowhere to be found over the final 15:26 as Skiles swapped subs for starters. Ilyasova found some rhythm, while Lamb was more active than any of the other Milwaukee defenders against Hamilton, who had his best night as a Bulls player but missed a 10-footer in the lane as time expired.
“[Ilyasova] is new to it, but that group plays together every day in practice and we more than hold our own,” Dunleavy said. “We know how to play. We share the ball. Whoever’s open takes the shot. That’s how you beat a good defensive team like this.”
After four consecutive defeats that Milwaukee felt it could have, maybe even should have, won — tight ones to Boston and at Charlotte, an overtime loss at Miami and the first Bulls clash, a one-possession until the final half-minute — it tucked one away Monday that it had no business winning.
No business, but more than a little fun.