Salmons scored 26 points against his former team and Milwaukee clinched a postseason spot Tuesday night with a 79-74 victory over the Chicago Bulls.
Playing for the first time since center Andrew Bogut was injured, the Bucks rebounded from a sluggish start and wrapped up their first playoff berth in four years. They are tied with Miami for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
"We got that out of the way. We're in there. It feels good to clinch a spot," Salmons said. "We didn't score a lot of points tonight, but we got the job done."
The Bulls, who matched a season low for points, remained a game behind Toronto for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
"They're a good defensive team, but I think it was more than just the shots. We kind of had them going early in the game, we were relaxed and then they kind of outworked us in the second quarter and that kind of changed the momentum of the game," Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich said. "I think it's more mental. I think we have a tendency to relax. We relaxed and they cranked it up and they got more aggressive defensively and we never really had an answer for them."
"We kind of eased our way into the game defensively and then we got it going," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "We created some turnovers and that got us going in the first half."
After the Bucks squandered a 12-point third-quarter lead, Salmons tied the game at 65 on a pair of free throws. Ilyasova followed with a dunk and Salmons made a jumper to put Milwaukee up 69-65.
Salmons, shipped from Chicago to Milwaukee before the trade deadline for Hakim Warrick and Joe Alexander, increased the lead to 76-70 with 1:02 left. But the Bulls cut it to 76-74 on jumpers by Derrick Rose and Taj Gibson.
Chicago put Salmons on the line with 13.2 seconds left, and he made one of two. But the Bulls were unable to capitalize as Brad Miller was called for traveling in the lane with 7 seconds left.
Carlos Delfino then hit a pair of free throws to seal it.
Luol Deng scored 16 points for Chicago and Rose added 12, but with six turnovers.
With the Bulls trailing 60-48 late in the third quarter after 23 minutes of ugly basketball, Miller started Chicago's comeback attempt with a three-point play. He made a jumper to start the fourth and later went around Ilyasova for a dunk.
Rose made an acrobatic pass underneath the basket to Flip Murray, who finished with a layup to get Chicago within 62-59. Rose tied the game on a driving layup and Hinrich gave the Bulls the lead with a jumper to make it 65-63 with 6:13 left.
Milwaukee played its first game without Bogut since he was injured during Saturday's win against Phoenix.
Bogut had surgery to repair his broken right hand Monday. He also has a sprained wrist and dislocated elbow after crashing hard to the court in a fall.
Team officials said Bogut is expected to need six weeks to recover before he can begin full rehabilitation.
Bogut was having a breakout season before the injury, averaging 15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He averaged 21.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 4.3 blocks in three games against the Bulls this season.
"We had to get used to not having him to dump it in to," Salmons said. "We still have to grow. We still have to learn. Today was a good start."
Skiles started a small lineup with 6-foot-9 Kurt Thomas at center. The Bucks didn't get off to a good start, trailing by 13 at the end of the first quarter. But they took the lead late in the second.
Ilyasova gave the Bucks a lift with nine points off the bench in the second quarter. He scored six consecutive points for the Bucks and got them within 36-35 on a pair of free throws. Salmons gave the Bucks a 38-36 lead on a 3-pointer, then made two free throws to give Milwaukee a 42-36 lead at halftime.
Milwaukee closed the half on an 11-0 run and outscored the Bulls 28-9 in the second quarter.
After scoring 27 points in the first, Chicago totaled 24 points in the second and third, including a season-low nine points in the second quarter. The Bulls trailed 60-51 at the end of three.
"We weren't passing the ball enough, me making poor decisions, everyone just couldn't get in a groove today," Rose said. "Nobody could get in the right groove to pull this team along. That's why we struggled. We haven't played this way in a while."
Rose tried to attack the basket with the absence of Bogut, but didn't get many open looks.
"Yes, they made it real clear to drive to the rim, but it was hard. They had great defense, stopping people from getting to the hole," Rose said.
Bulls F James Johnson played after missing Saturday's game against Charlotte because of soreness stemming from a partially torn plantar fascia in his right foot. ... Salmons played his first game in Chicago since being traded at the deadline. ... The Bulls had a video tribute for Scottie Pippen in the first quarter. Pippen, who won six NBA championships with Chicago, was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame on Monday.