CHICAGO — Even without the league's reigning MVP for a major part of the season, the Chicago Bulls have kept up their winning ways.
Luol Deng scored 18 of his 26 points in the second half and Joakim Noah added 17 points and nine rebounds to rally the Chicago Bulls to a 93-86 win over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
The Bulls again played without Derrick Rose, out due to a strained groin for the 12th consecutive game. Chicago, which has been without Rose for 22 games this season, improved to 15-7 in his absence – including 8-4 during the latest stretch.
"I think the big thing is you look at what you have. Our team has shown all year that we have great fight and we believe we can win with whoever we have out there and they have shown that all year," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Noah will be glad have Rose back, but does not want the Bulls to get complacent when Rose returns to the lineup.
"We definitely want Derrick back out there, he helps, but even when Derrick comes back it's not going to be easy," Noah said. "We have a long road ahead, a lot of games, a lot of battles. With Derrick back we have to play hungry. When we play hungry, we're tough to beat."
The Bulls rallied from 13 points down in the first half and pulled away in the fourth quarter to end their first two-game losing streak of the season. Trailing by 11 at halftime, Chicago outscored Boston 55-37 after the break – which had Celtics coach Doc Rivers steaming after the game.
"I had to use two timeouts ... to remind us that we are actually having an NBA game tonight," said Rivers. "I thought this was the worst loss for us this year the way we approached the game."
Paul Pierce scored 22 points for Boston, who has lost two in a row after a winning a season-high five straight. Pierce had only one point in the fourth quarter.
"That was an unacceptable effort for us. I don't say that very often. I don't think I've ever said that before," said Rivers.
Besides Deng's offense, he was also a factor in Pierce's struggles in the fourth quarter.
"He made a lot of big plays for us. We needed the scoring and that's what he provided. He had a tough matchup with Pierce, he's going to make you work," Thibodeau said.
Rose, who last played March 12 in a win against New York, was a game-time decision. He practiced on Wednesday, taking contact for the first time since the injury, and said afterwards he was optimistic he will be able to play against the Knicks on Sunday.
"Obviously we are excited to get Derrick back as soon as possible, but we just need him back right," said Noah.
Leading 74-73 in the fourth, Taj Gibson and Deng had back-to-back baskets, and after Avery Bradley's steal and layup for Boston, Kyle Korver made a 3 to give Chicago a 81-75 lead with about 7 minutes remaining.
Later in the quarter, Deng had eight points during a 10-4 run that was capped by Carlos Boozer's dunk to put the Bulls up 91-81 with 1:42 left.
The Celtics gave the Bulls a little scare in the final two minutes. Rajon Rondo had a breakaway layup and Ray Allen's 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after a replay, pulling Boston to 91-86 with 42.3 left. Rondo missed a 3 with 10 seconds left that would've cut the Celtics' deficit to three points.
"We had a good lead. They didn't have their star (Rose) in the game. But they've won a lot of games without him. So you can't take them for granted," said Pierce.
C.J. Watson finished with 15 points and Boozer had 12 points and 14 rebounds for Chicago.
Trailing 56-47 with 8:10 left in the third quarter, the Bulls scored eight straight points to cut Boston's lead to one. After Brandon Bass' putback dunk, Watson made back-to-back 3s to give Chicago a 61-58 lead with 3:42 to go in the period.
Leading 38-33, the Celtics went on a 11-3 run late in the second quarter, capped by Rondo's runner that gave the Celtics a 13-point lead. Watson made two free throws to cut the Celtics lead to 49-38 at halftime.
Rondo had 10 points and 12 assists for Boston after an 87-86 loss to the Spurs at home on Wednesday night.
NOTES: Allen came off the bench for the fifth time in his career. He scored 14 points. Before playing on Wednesday, Allen missed six games with a sore right ankle.