Bulls 96, Bobcats 88
As it was all slipping away, Luol Deng said he could only think about how the Chicago Bulls would get it back.
And no, his mind wasn't on the playoffs. It was simply on the lead that had just disappeared.
``You've got to think of a way to come back,'' Deng said.
The Bulls did just that, beating the Charlotte Bobcats 96-88 on Saturday night and boosting their playoff hopes behind 26 points from Derrick Rose and 24 from Kirk Hinrich.
Trailing by six midway through the fourth after building a 13-point lead in the first half, the Bulls went on a 16-3 run and pulled out their sixth win in eight games.
They remained 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference and pulled within three of Charlotte thanks to a late surge that came just when it appeared the Bobcats were ready to put the game away.
``We understand what is at stake, we got to keep fighting, stay focus and hopefully Toronto loses a couple of games and take that eighth spot,'' Chicago's Joakim Noah said.
Boris Diaw scored 18 points and former Bulls player Larry Hughes and Gerald Wallace added 14 apiece, but Charlotte couldn't protect a six-point lead it built in the fourth after trailing the entire game.
``Momentum was definitely in our favor,'' the Bobcats' Tyson Chandler said. ``Then, we just didn't get good shots, and they made big plays down the stretch.''
A 3-pointer by D.J. Augustin with 6:15 left made it 82-76. Then, in a flash, the Bulls were on their way.
Rose, who scored six points in the decisive run, started it with two free throws and Noah delighted the crowd by dunking on Tyrus Thomas, who had 10 points in his first appearance against the Bulls since the deadline trade to Charlotte.
After a layup by Diaw, Rose drove for one of his own before Hinrich put the Bulls ahead for good with a 3 that made it 85-84 with 3:19 remaining. Rose added a driving reverse layup and Deng made it a five-point game on a layup with 1:15 left, pumping his fist as the ball went in.
Noah, who scored all 11 of his points in the second half, added another dunk after a free throw by Hughes, and Hinrich capped the run with a foul shot to make it 92-85 with 35.6 seconds left.
The late drama aside, the Bulls were in control for much of the night thanks to Rose and Hinrich, not to mention a dominant effort on the glass.
Noah, making his second straight start after being limited by plantar fasciitis in his left foot the past few months, had 16 rebounds as Chicago outrebounded Charlotte 56-34. Gibson had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
``We couldn't get to the line and we had a hard time on the boards,'' said Bobcats coach Larry Brown, whose team made 12 of 16 free throws. ``The first half we got killed and until about the last 5 minutes we rebounded a little bit better. But you can't go on the road and not get to the free throw line.''
Hinrich, meanwhile, hit 9 of 12 shots even though he's been bothered lately by a sprained left ankle. And Rose was 10 of 19 from the field.
``They made their run, but I thought we responded well,'' said Deng, who made his first start and played in his second game after missing 11 with a strained right calf.
The Bulls still need help to get to the playoffs, particularly with Toronto holding the head-to-head tiebreaker. Chicago can take the season series with the Bobcats by beating them on April 14, but coach Vinny Del Negro didn't want to discuss playoff scenarios.
``I feel like I just want to enjoy Easter and get ready for Monday's practice,'' he said. ``I can't control what the other teams do. We're going to prepare like we always have.''
NOTES: Charlotte's Stephen Jackson shot 3 for 12 with eight points while playing through hamstring, left ankle, left elbow and left hand problems. ``It was one of those nights where I couldn't move, I couldn't break a sweat,'' he said. ... Chicago held out F James Johnson because of soreness stemming from a partially tore the plantar fascia in his right foot that he suffered late last month.