CHICAGO ( exclusive) --  It would take a degree in sports psychology, or a magic 8-ball, to make sense of Tuesday's game between the Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.

Or you could be one of the coaches involved in the game. It's their job to explain these things, after all.

The Bulls came back from a well-deserved 18-point deficit to beat the Bucks 83-81 Tuesday at the United Center. It was the Bulls' second home-court win in as many tries, and it was Milwaukee's second road loss in as many games.

But the way the first half went, one would be hard-pressed to figure out how the Bulls would come away with a victory.

"It's a fortunate win, to be honest with you,'' Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We gutted it out. They were outworking us in the first half, but our guys stepped up and accepted the challenge. Sometimes there are no easy answers except go to work and do your job."

The Bulls shot 27 percent in the first half and trailed 43-29 at the break. They had 11 turnovers and Luol Deng was the only player contributing, with 11 points and eight rebounds. Deng finished the game with 24 points and a career-high 20 rebounds, showing again why Bulls fans have had high expectations for the former Duke star.

"We got physically dominated by Deng,'' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "We didn't have anybody who could do anything with him. He shoved us under the basket and we didn't have much response to that."

Oddly, the complaint against Deng the last couple of years is his apparent unwillingness to play physical basketball. But his effort Tuesday belied that.

"At halftime, I felt like I was still fresh,'' Deng said. "I wanted to come out with some energy."

"He was very active on the glass,'' Del Negro said. "He was dominant."

After that horrible shooting first half, the Bulls shot 51 percent in the second half and made 5 of 8 3-pointers.

"I thought we defended fairly well all night, we just couldn't control Deng,'' Skiles said.

The Bucks had an 18-point lead with 5:39 left in the third quarter but the Bulls scored 12 consecutive points soon after veteran guard Jannero Pargo made his first appearance in the game. Pargo, reacquired to help the Bulls live without Ben Gordon, was not expected to play due to a bad back, but he gave the Bulls the energy they needed to get back into the game.

When Deng made a 3-pointer at the third quarter buzzer, the Bucks' lead had slipped to four points, 60-56.

The Bucks did little well in the fourth quarter, but the Bulls didn't exactly run away with the game. They might have done so if either Brad Miller or Joakim Noah were able to make free throws (they combined to miss five), but it was still a game in the final minute when Milwaukee's rookie guard Brandon Jennings had his shot from the top of the key blocked by Derrick Rose and Ersan Ilyasova took an ill-advised final 3-pointer that never reached the rim in the final seconds.

The Bucks were without starting guard Michael Redd (strained patella tendon). The Bulls were without starting power forward Tyrus Thomas (flu-like symptoms).

Unintentionally, the game became a referendum on the future of Thomas, who was sent home from shootaround Tuesday morning and did not attend Tuesday's game.

Thomas reportedly was disappointed that he has not been included in the team's fourth-quarter play in the first three games. He played just 92 seconds in the final quarter of the first three contests.

With Thomas out of action, the Bulls turned to rookie Taj Gibson, the first-round pick out of Southern California who averaged 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 55 minutes of action the first three games off the bench. Thomas averaged 9.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in a total of 71 minutes in those games.

Gibson scored only five points with six rebounds in 21 minutes Tuesday against Milwaukee, making Thomas look good in his absence.

In Redd's absence, Skiles, the former Bulls' coach, started veteran Charlie Bell. But Jennings was the star of the first half.

At one point in the first quarter, Jennings had a 9-6 lead over the Bulls by himself. He finished with 25 points on 10-of-23 shooting and four assists against only two turnovers in 38 minutes of play.

"He is still learning how to play hard for long stretches,'' Skiles said. "It was a good, positive game for him."

Del Negro limited himself to a seven-man rotation until finally deciding to use Pargo.

Skiles, on the other hand, used 11 of his available 12 players, but his bench only offered 10 points. Among the Bucks' starters, Andrew Bogut had 16 points and 13 rebounds, Hakim Warrick had 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Bell had 11 points.