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Mike James gives Bulls a spark from unlikely source

Bulls center Joakim Noah drives basket while defended by Bostforward Paul Pierce first quarter an NBA game pitting BostCeltics vs.

Bulls center Joakim Noah drives to the basket while defended by Boston forward Paul Pierce in the first quarter of an NBA game pitting the Boston Celtics vs. the Chicago Bulls Thursday February 16, 2012 at the United Center. | TOM CRUZE~Sun-Times

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Updated: March 18, 2012 8:22AM

The Bulls miss Derrick Rose more on some nights than they do on others.

Several times against lesser teams, Rose’s absence because of toe and back injuries has been easily overlooked. Other times, like in the second quarter and second half Thursday against the Celtics at the United Center, it is glaring.

Then Mike James checked into the game.

The third-string point guard, who was playing in the D-League at this time last week, twice rescued the Bulls during their 89-80 victory against the Celtics.

James wasn’t the only hero — just the most unlikely.

“[James] brought toughness to our team,” Luol Deng said.

The Bulls were struggling mightily when C.J. Watson picked up his third foul with 6:20 left in the second quarter. Backup point guard John Lucas III came running off the bench, assuming he would be subbing for Watson, only to be told by coach Tom Thibodeau to sit back down. He summoned James instead. The veteran immediately scored with a runner, and the momentum began to turn. With James on the floor, the Bulls ended the first half on a 20-4 run that turned a seven-point deficit into a nine-point lead.

“I was shocked when Coach called my name,” James said. “He said it maybe four or five times. I had to make him say it one more time just to be sure. But it’s about being ready, about being prepared. When your number is called, you have to contribute however you possibly can.”

It wasn’t only his offense, either. Rajon Rondo had 32 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists in Boston on Sunday. Rondo had posted up ­Watson and Lucas but abandoned that strategy against the 6-2 James and finished with 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

“I’m not going to let no one smaller than me post me up,” James said. “I take pride in my defense. I’m not the biggest guard, but I have some size on me. I’m not going to let him do whatever.”

Carlos Boozer had 23 points and 15 rebounds. Deng scored only 10 points in Sunday’s loss to the Celtics but turned in a terrific all-around performance for the second consecutive game with 23 points — including 6-for-9 from three-point range — and 10 assists. Joakim Noah had 15 points and 16 rebounds while helping his team dominate the offensive glass. James finished with eight points, four assists and numerous plays that don’t show up in the box score.

The Bulls led by 16 in the third quarter before the Celtics came back to tie the score early in the fourth. With Watson and Lucas on the bench, James fired a no-look pass to Boozer for an easy bucket to give the Bulls a 10-point lead with 5:13 left.

It’s ironic that James gave the Bulls the kind of lift that Jeremy Lin has been providing for the Knicks on a regular basis. James likely would’ve been signed by the Knicks if they had waived Lin. Instead, they kept him, Linsanity gripped New York and James was available for a second stint with the Bulls.

“Thibs went searching and pulled out Mike James, and Mike James made some shots,” ­Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “It was great for them.”

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