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Bulls top surging Celtics as Luol Deng feasts in fourth quarter

Richard Hamilt(nine points 20 minutes 4-for-11 shooting) throws down dunk Thursday against Celtics. KevGarnett can only watch. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Richard Hamilton (nine points in 20 minutes on 4-for-11 shooting) throws down a dunk Thursday against the Celtics. Kevin Garnett can only watch. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 7, 2012 8:24AM

With Derrick Rose watching from the bench for what the Bulls hope is the last time this season, the team’s second-best player dominated the fourth quarter and made sure the first two-game losing streak in more than a year wasn’t extended to three.

Luol Deng scored 12 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter as the Bulls rallied from a 13-point, first-half deficit to defeat the surging Boston Celtics 93-86 at the United Center on Thursday night.

Deng scored eight points in a row and assisted on another to help the Bulls pad their lead late in the fourth. It was just what they needed to overcome an offense that has sputtered of late and again in the first half of Thursday night’s game before players picked up their energy level and defensive intensity in the third.

“He was huge,” center Joakim Noah said. “He played great, played with a lot of energy, his defense was good and he hit a lot of big shots for us. He’s one of the most versatile players in the NBA.”

Meanwhile, the Rose injury watch is winding down. Barring a setback, reports about the reigning MVP will relate to his game instead of his groin in coming days. If everything unfolds the way the Bulls hope, the only game-time decision relating Rose will be whether he should attack the rim early or get his teammates involved.

Rose sat out his 12th consecutive game, but reiterated his vow to return Sunday when the Bulls visit the Knicks at Madison Square Garden in what could prove to be a first-round playoff preview. Coach Tom Thibodeau was less certain.

“We’ll see,” Thibodeau said. “We’re optimistic. We’re hopeful. If that’s the case, that’s the case. We just want to make sure.”

The Bulls have gone 15-7 without Rose but they have sorely missed him of late. The offense bogged down in back-to-back losses and again during the first half, when the Bulls shot 34 percent and had eight turnovers after posting a whopping 19 in Monday night’s loss to the Rockets.

The Celtics led by 11 at the half but the Bulls dominated the third and led 67-66 after three.

Noah had 17 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. C.J Watson added 15 points and Carlos Boozer 12 and 14 rebounds.

Paul Pierce had 22 for the Celtics, only five of which came in the second half thanks to Deng’s defense. Brandon Bass had 15 and Ray Allen 14. Kevin Garnett finished with 12 points and 14 rebounds. Rajon Rondo, who had 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds the last time these two teams met, finished with 10 points and 12 assists.

“We needed [Deng’s] scoring,” Thibodeau said. “That’s what he provided. He had a tough matchup with Pierce. He’s going to make you work.”

Thibodeau might prefer Rose make his return when the Knicks come to the United Center on Tuesday because he’s not one to throttle down in an attempt to avoid injury. The upside for Rose is that while his groin might not be 100 percent, toe and back injuries that sidelined him are a distant memory.

“I’m not going to hold back at all the way that I play,” Rose said. “I’m not going to hold back. My game is to be aggressive and try to get people going.”

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