CHICAGO (AP) - The Chicago Bulls understand they'll be better off once Derrick Rose returns.
No need to rush, though. They keep winning even with their star sidelined.
Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng each scored 23 points, and Chicago escaped with an 89-80 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday night after blowing a 16-point lead.
It was hardly an easy night for the Bulls, but they won again even though Rose, the reigning MVP, missed his fourth straight game because of lower back pain.
``I think we're all confident in our abilities, but we know that we're not getting to where we want to get to without that guy,' Joakim Noah said.
For now, they're getting by. It hasn't been easy the past few games, though.
The Bulls struggled early before going on a big run that gave them a 16-point lead in the opening minutes of the third quarter. Boston came roaring back and was up 61-60 early in the fourth after Chris Wilcox's alley-oop dunk, but a 12-point run broke a 69-69 tie and sent Chicago to its seventh win in eight games.
Taj Gibson's layup four minutes into the quarter started the decisive rally. Deng sandwiched a 3-pointer and layup around a free throw by Kyle Korver, and Boozer capped the rally with a pair of layups that made it 81-69, giving Chicago its league-leading 25th win.
Deng had another big game, finishing with 10 assists after dishing out a career-high 11 and scoring 23 in Tuesday's win over Sacramento.
Boozer hit 11 of 15 shots and grabbed 15 rebounds, and Noah added 15 points and 16 rebounds. The Bulls dominated on the boards 52-37 even though they got outrebounded 15-10 in the first quarter, and they avenged a loss at Boston on Sunday.
``I thought we came out soft in the first quarter,' coach Tom Thibodeau said. ``They got us back on our heels. We were not taking it up strong and they are very good defensively.'
By the end of the game, the Bulls had a 16-6 edge in offensive rebounds and 12-6 advantage in second-chance points.
``You play defense for 22, 23 seconds and you don't get the rebound, it zaps the energy,' Boston's Paul Pierce said.
The Celtics lost for the fourth time in five games even though Kevin Garnett finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds after sitting out the previous night against Detroit with a hip flexor.
Rajon Rondo had 17 points and eight assists, but had his difficulties with Mike James guarding him. Pierce scored 14, and Ray Allen finished with 12 points after a slow start, but the Celtics came up short.
The Bulls appeared to be in good shape leading 51-35 early in the third after Boozer capped a 22-2 run with a dunk, but after blowing nearly all of a 19-point lead against Sacramento on Tuesday, they watched as the Celtics came storming back.
Allen found his stroke, hitting three 3-pointers as Boston pulled within one going into the fourth. And Wilcox's alley-oop from Rondo in the opening seconds of the fourth gave Boston a short-lived a 61-60 lead.
``Fourth quarters have been our quarters,' Allen said. ``We get to the fourth quarter and regardless of what's happened in the game we pull it out. We execute offensively. We know who we're going to scoring wise. But right now it's up in the air.'
This time, the Bulls seized it. They came out on top even though, at times, they looked like they missed their MVP.
Rose took some free throws at the morning shootaround, but wasn't able to run. Thibodeau said he is ``feeling a lot better' but remains day to day.
He has missed nine games this season because of back and toe problems after sitting out a total of six in his first three years, but the Bulls were breathing a little easier this week after a back specialist confirmed there was no structural damage.
``He wants to be out there so bad,' Deng said. ``I can see it. Everyone sees it. I keep telling him, `You've just got to be smart.''
Notes: Thibodeau said G Richard Hamilton is ``making good progress.' The veteran remains sidelined by an injured right thigh. ... This was the start of a five-game trip for Boston.
The Associated Press News Service
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