CHICAGO(AP) No one cringed as shot after shot banged off the rim. The Chicago Bulls figured Ben Gordon would find his rhythm, and that's exactly what he did.
Just in time, too.
Gordon scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter, John Salmons added 17 and the Bulls beat the New Jersey Nets 103-94 on Saturday for their eighth win in 11 games.
Gordon missed his first 10 shots and was just 3-for-14 overall, but he hit a key 3-pointer and two free throws during a game-ending 10-0 run.
"The thing with BG is there are not a lot of shots that he takes that you can say, 'Oh that's a terrible shot,' because you know he's capable of making it,'' said Joakim Noah, who contributed 12 points and 10 rebounds. "He's really been huge for this ballclub all year, hitting big shots down the stretch. He's been doing that since he's been here.''
The seventh-place Bulls now lead Detroit, which lost to Philadelphia, by a half game in the Eastern Conference and are 2 1/2 ahead of Charlotte after a win that was probably more dramatic than it should have been. Chicago led by as many as 16 in the second quarter and never trailed until Brook Lopez hit a short jump hook to make it 94-93 with 2:50 left in the game. But the Nets missed their final eight shots and took their sixth loss in seven games.
Brad Miller put Chicago (37-40) ahead for good, 95-94, with two free throws. After a steal by Derrick Rose, John Salmons hit 1 of 2 free throws following a flagrant foul by Devin Harris with just over a minute left. Gordon immediately buried a 3-pointer to make it 99-94 and added two free throws with 25 seconds left as the Bulls pulled it out.
The flagrant foul call surprised Harris, who said, "I've seen worse.''
"I didn't think it was that hard of a foul,'' he added. "Obviously, they know I'm going to try and grab him at that point. But, what can you do?''
Stopping Gordon late in the game would have helped. Instead, he sent the crowd home happy with a win and the free Big Macs they get when the Bulls score 100 or more.
"I planned that tonight,'' Gordon joked. "I wanted to make it exciting. I wanted to get the Big Mac for the fans. It was a little part of my master plan.''
Lopez led the fading Nets (31-45) with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Ryan Anderson scored 17 and grabbed 10 boards, but Vince Carter struggled with a sore left Achilles tendon after tweaking it in practice the previous day. He wound up with just four points on 2-for-10 shooting, but was planning to play Sunday against Philadelphia.
"I want to do whatever I can do,'' he said.
The Nets can now forget about leapfrogging the Bulls, who took three of four from them and own the head-to-head tiebreaker, but they still have a faint shot at the playoffs.
Chicago, however, is in good shape.
Salmons was a bit shaky after missing a game with a strained left groin, hitting 7 of 16 shots, but the Bulls got solid contributions from Rose and the reserves.
The star rookie finished with 15 points, while Miller and Tim Thomas added 13 and 12, respectively, off the bench.
Even so, the Bulls had trouble putting this one away.
Jarvis Hayes and Chris Douglas-Roberts kept the Nets in it by combining for New Jersey's first 15 points in the fourth quarter. The Nets forged their first tie - 88-88 - since the opening minutes on a dunk by Lopez and reverse layup by Anderson with 4:35 left. Lopez made things really interesting when he converted a three-point play and the hook shot to give the Nets their first lead, but they went cold after that.
And Gordon buried them.
"I'm never worried about him shooting the ball,'' Salmons said. "He can get it going like that.''
Notes: Harris finished with 14 for New Jersey after scoring 42 in a win over Chicago in February. ... Hayes scored 14, hitting 4 of 7 3-pointers, and Douglas-Roberts added nine points. ... Four of Chicago's remaining five games are at home, and only one opponent - Philadelphia - has a winning record.