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Bulls shut down Celtics in fourth, tied with Raptors for No. 3 seed

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Updated: March 31, 2014 11:10PM

For a second consecutive night, the Boston Celtics didn’t make life easy for the Bulls.

But for a second consecutive night, will trumped feistiness — as it usually does this time of year.

‘‘I could only imagine that if we weren’t in a dead heat with these other teams for playoff positioning, or we kind of already knew where we were going to be, that’s when it’s tough to play these games,’’ veteran forward Mike Dunleavy said after the Bulls’ 94-80 win Monday at the United Center on the second night of a home-and-home. ‘‘It’s tough when you don’t have anything to play for. But we’re still fighting and battling, and that really drives us. There’s a lot to play for still.’’

The Celtics got a good dose of that in the fourth quarter as the Bulls held them to just 10 points.

‘‘That’s winning time,’’ forward Taj Gibson said afterward. ‘‘It’s not always going to be pretty for us. I just think at times we get a little fatigued because we play real hard, we go at it real hard, and sometimes things don’t go the right way. But come fourth quarter, it’s winning time.

‘‘We understand that, everyone understands that, and we just chop away. If we got the lead, we’re looking to keep it. If we’re down one, we believe that we have that step to get the job done in the fourth no matter what.’’

They needed the victory Monday, especially with the Toronto Raptors losing in Miami earlier in the evening. The Bulls know they can’t catch the top-seeded Heat and the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference, but the No. 3 seed is there for the taking. With the Raptors’ loss, both teams were at 42-32.

Outscoring the Celtics 23-10 in the fourth quarter doesn’t promise to be some sort of jump-start for the final eight games of the regular season, but it doesn’t hurt.

‘‘We certainly played our best basketball when it mattered tonight in that fourth,’’ Dunleavy said. ‘‘It’s just hard to say will that spark us heading into the playoffs, over the next eight games? I don’t know. I would hope so — that would be great — but it’s hard to keep the momentum going as the season gets this late. We just have to keep telling ourselves what we need to do in order to improve, and what makes us our best.’’

Coach Tom Thibodeau believes what makes them their best is suffocating defense when it matters most. The Bulls, nursing a 71-70 lead heading into the fourth quarter, held the Celtics to just 4-for-20 (20 percent) shooting, including 2-for-12 from beyond the three-point line, in the quarter.

‘‘The fourth quarter was obviously our best quarter,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘We struggled throughout most of the game, and then we were fortunate to do enough good things in the end to get the win.’’

Joakim Noah led the Bulls, scoring 10 of his 19 points in the fourth and grabbing three of his 11 rebounds.

‘‘Over the past few months, there’s just that time in the game when we know it’s time to go after it,’’ Gibson said. ‘‘That’s just what good teams do. That’s what we have to keep doing. It doesn’t stop.’’


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