Boozer, Deng lead Bulls over Celtics 89-80

Posted Feb. 16, 2012, at 11:37 p.m.

CHICAGO — Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng each scored 23 points, and the Chicago Bulls 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 continued to pile up the wins even though reigning MVP Derrick Rose missed his fourth straight game because of lower back pain.

They struggled early before going on a big run that gave them a 16-point lead early in 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.

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 60-59 and they would have taken the lead into the fourth had Garnett not blown a dunk in the final minute.

No problem.

Rondo fed Wilcox for an alley-oop dunk in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter to give Boston a short-lived a 61-60 lead. The Bulls ultimately prevailed even though they looked at times like a team missing its MVP.

Rose took some free throws at the morning shootaround, but wasn’t able to run. Coach Tom Thibodeau said he is “feeling a lot better” but remains day to day.

He’s 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.

“We’re just going to wait and see how it goes,” Thibodeau said.

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.

 

Pacers 93, Nets 88

INDIANAPOLIS — Danny Granger was definitely playing Thursday night — gimpy ankle and all.

The way he saw it, there was no choice.

The Pacers’ leading scorer ignored a painful sprained left ankle and scored 32 points to lead Indiana past the struggling New Jersey Nets 93-88, a win Granger and his teammates desperately needed to right themselves.

“It’s been a lot of icing, a lot of pain medication,” Granger said after producing his second-highest points total of the season. “I knew I had to play tonight. We had lost five in a row, we had to get off it tonight.”

Granger made sure the Pacers (18-12) put an end to this dubious, season-long losing streak once and for all.

Yes, there were questions about how long Granger could play and how effective he would be after missing seven straight quarters since landing awkwardly on his foot Tuesday against Miami. When the Pacers forward arrived at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, he was still listed as day-to-day.

But Granger knew better, and it didn’t take him long to prove he could overcome the pain.

He made 10 of 20 shots, eight of nine from the free-throw line and grabbed five rebounds, igniting an early run that wiped out New Jersey’s 11-point lead. He also made the key shots during a late 9-2 run that finally gave the Pacers control of the game.

Indiana needed every ounce of energy Granger could provide.

“He was close last night, but he was going to be limited with what he could do in terms of pushing off,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “Twenty-four hours makes a huge difference. The one thing about it is that he had fresher legs than anyone else out on the court.”

New Jersey (8-23) sure didn’t want to see Granger playing this way.

Deron Williams scored 29 points and Kris Humphries had 24 points and 10 rebounds, not quite enough to snap their losing streak which is now at eight. The last time they lost eight in a row was Nov. 30-Dec. 14, 2010.

And in a metropolitan area that already has a Super Bowl champion (the Giants), the biggest mouth in football (Rex Ryan), a Stanley Cup contender (the Rangers) and the NBA’s hottest new attraction (Jeremy Lin), the last thing the Nets needed in this latest public relations battle was another loss.

“So much pressure, I don’t know how we’re going to deal with it,” Williams said sarcastically.

The difference Thursday was Granger.

New Jersey sure didn’t make it easy.

Humphries controlled the inside early, making his first six shots and scoring 12 points in the first quarter as the Nets built a 29-18 lead.

But when Humphries went to the bench after drawing his second foul with 47.4 seconds left in the quarter, Granger asserted himself and the Nets collapsed.

The Pacers forward hit a 3-pointer to start a 15-0 run. Paul George ended it with another 3 to give Indiana a 33-29 lead.

From that point, the teams were locked in a virtual stalemate and Granger was just trying to hang on.

“A lot of times, when you get into a game and the adrenaline starts slowing, you’re not in as much pain as you would normally be in,” he said. “But I felt it.”

Things didn’t change much in the second half. Neither team led by more than four points in the third quarter, and it wasn’t until George made a 21-foot jumper with 8:15 to go that the Pacers finally took the lead for good.

Then, Granger re-emerged. He followed George’s basket with two free throws and made two more after George forced a turnover and tossed the ball down the court. Suddenly, Indiana had a 75-69 lead with 7:05 left, and after extending the margin to 88-79, all the Pacers had to do was fend off one more Nets’ charge.

Granger made sure of it by making the final four free throws of the game.

“We definitely missed him,” George said after finishing with 11 points, five rebounds and five assists. “Danny brings a lot. He’s our best scorer. He defends so well, with Danny out, that definitely hurt us.”

Notes: The biggest surprise of the night came when the lights went out with 8:08 left in the first half. The officials sent both teams to their benches briefly before the lights came back on. … Indiana has only six fast-break points in its past two games. … The Pacers have played five games in seven days and wrapped up their first back-to-back-to-back of the season Thursday. … Indiana played its 11th straight game without George Hill, who has a chip fracture in his left ankle. … New Jersey was missing Shawne Williams, who is out indefinitely because of a sprained left shoulder, sore left foot and knee.

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