Bill Baptist/NBAE

Bulls tough out 103-100 win in Houston

Bulls get badly needed win to pull within a game of the playoffs

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By Sam Smith | 3.31.2016 | 8:45 p.m.

The Bulls Thursday pulled off an unlikely and badly needed victory, coming back from a 14-point third quarter deficit and nine early in the fourth quarter to defeat the Houston Rockets 103-100.

It was a furious finish with the Rockets, facing an eight point deficit, making a barrage of threes with 31 seconds left having a chance to tie on a Trevor Ariza three at the buzzer. It went long.

The Bulls did it with Taj Gibson out with a rib injury and Derrick Rose unable to play in the second half following a scoreless first half. Three Bulls starters combined for a total of three points.

Nikola Mirotic led the Bulls with 28 points and Jimmy Butler added 21. Doug McDermott had 15 and Pau Gasol 12 points and 10 rebounds. James Harden had 24 for Houston.

The Bulls moved to 38-37 and one game behind Indiana for eighth in the East as the Pacers lost to Orlando. The Rockets are 37-39.

The Bulls got more troubling injury news to start with word Gibson wouldn’t be able to play. Bobby Portis got his first start, making it the 15th different Bulls player to start a game this season. Plus, Rose’s hyperextension in this elbow seemed worse and he could barely straighten it as he did go out for the first eight minutes. The Rockets then fired out to a 13-4 lead in the first three minutes. But the Bulls began to pick up the pieces and get back in behind Gasol, who had an amazing behind the head pass to a cutting Mirotic in a 10-4 Bulls run that pulled the Bulls back within 17-14. Then Mirotic drew a pair of three-shot fouls on corner fakes as the teams were tied at 24 after one. Gasol had eight points and five rebounds in the quarter.

The Rockets shot by the Bulls’ reserves to open the second quarter behind their killer Bs? Michael Beasley and Patrick Beverly combined for a 13-5 run to open the quarter and 37-29 Rockets lead. The Bulls fired back on the three-point shooting of Mirotic who despite being hot was almost being ignored by the Rockets. Mirotic made four threes in a little over five minutesand E’Twaun Moore added a fifth in that run to give the Bulls a 48-44 lead with 2:52 left in the half. Jimmy Butler then hammered in a driving dunk and the teams went into the half tied as Mirotic had 21 points, 14 in the second quarter.

The Rockets exploded on the Bulls to start the second half as Rose had to sit out the rest of the game with what the team called an “elbow contusion.” Rose didn’t attempt a shot in 12 first half minutes. Aaron Brooks started for Rose while the Rockets got their three-ball going, Trevor Ariza making three and Patrick Beverley a fourth for a 12-4 start and 71-57 Houston lead midway through the third quarter. Butler tried to rally the Bulls back with Rose out. Butler had 13 points in the third quarter, though Mirotic in about seven minutes didn’t get a shot attempt. Mike Dunleavy’s slump continued and he was taken out after less than four minutes in the third quarter and was zero for one in nine minutes in the game. The Rockets also had four offensive rebounds and five second chance points to none for the Bulls and an 80-71 Houston lead going into the fourth quarter.

Like in Indiana Tuesday, the Bulls got a boost to start the fourth from the aggressive play of Cristiano Felicio. His opening basket got the Bulls going again along with Justin Holiday and Felicio even on a three-on-one break with Holiday and E’Twaun Moore. The Bulls had to improvise. And with McDermott following his own miss and Butler with a slick inside pass for a Holiday score, the Bulls edged ahead 89-87. But the failure again to protect the defensive boards and a dull sequence of two 24-second violations and Gasol offensive foul enabled Houston to take a 91-89 lead with 3:18 left.