BOSTON — Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau wasn’t thrilled with the way his team played defense Sunday night.
He didn’t think his players rebounded well, either, but they managed to beat the Boston Celtics 107-102.
They emerged victorious, a trademark of a team that is about to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year without star guard Derrick Rose.
“We always find a way to win — (Thibodeau) always writes it on the board before the game, ‘Find a way,'” guard D.J. Augustin said after his career-high 33 points, including nine straight for his team in the final 1:19, led the way. “Even though we didn’t play great defense tonight, we pulled it out. We know what we have to fix tomorrow night to get another win.”
Sunday’s win, Chicago’s third in four games, came in the first half of a home-and-home against the Celtics, who will play Monday night without Rajon Rondo. The star guard sits out the back ends of back-to-backs after knee surgery.
The Bulls (41-32) know all about playing without a star guard, and they again are postseason-bound — even after also trading away forward Luol Deng. They won for the 18th time in 26 games, and they sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, keeping pace with the two teams around them Sunday.
The Toronto Raptors, a game ahead of the Bulls in third place, won beat the Magic in Orlando, and the Brooklyn Nets, 1 1/2 games behind Chicago in fifth, won at home against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Bulls evened their road record at 18-18 with the tight win over the Celtics, losers of four straight and nine of 10.
“That is how we have to win,” Thibodeau said. “Our margin for error is not great. We’ve got to play with great intensity each and every night to give ourself a chance to win.
“We know we’re short-handed every night, so whatever way we can get them, that’s what we have to do. We just have to find different ways to win, and I thought we did that tonight.”
Augustin, who did his damage in 31 minutes off the bench, snapped a 96-96 tie with a 3-pointer with 1:19 left. He then went 6-for-6 from the foul line to hold off Boston, which stayed alive on two consecutive 3-pointers by forward Jared Sullinger.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive,” said Augustin, whose previous high was 31 when he was a Charlotte Bobcat. He said his teammates informed him of his new high after the game.
Boston forward Jeff Green hit back-to-back 3-pointers to tie the game at 96-96.
Chicago center Joakim Noah scored 13 points, dished out 13 assists and had eight rebounds. Swingman Jimmy Butler scored 15 points, and forward Carlos Boozer 14.
Rondo led six Celtics in double figures with 17 points, and he also handed out 11 assists. Sullinger finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds, and Green had 16 points. Forward Kris Humphries had 14 points and eight boards for Boston (23-50).
Asked for the umpteenth time this season if he takes any solace in losing close, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “Nope. Zero.
“I just talked about it in the locker room — we can sugarcoat it, we can talk about it, we can say, ‘It’s nice to be close,’ and we have all year; and at the end of the day, it is what it is from a record standpoint.”
There were 19 ties, 16 lead changes and neither team led by more than seven points.
In the first quarter, Boozer was called for a clear-path foul as Humphries broke away after a steal. Boozer also gave Humphries an extra push at the end of the play to earn a technical foul. Chicago forward Mike Dunleavy was called for a clear-path foul in the third quarter, but the call was overturned upon review.
Later in the third, Humphries was called for a foul on a rebound and hit with a technical.
NOTES: Celtics PG Rajon Rondo will do television work for the first half of Monday’s rematch with the Bulls as he sits out to rest his surgically repaired knee. … Bulls PG Derrick Rose, out for the season with a knee injury, is working out with the team, and coach Tom Thibodeau believes the star contributes without playing. … Celtics coach Brad Stevens on Chicago C Joakim Noah: “How often do you have a guy that’s even mentioned as an MVP candidate that averages what he averages points-wise. I think that tells you what Noah’s meant to this team since Rose has been out and (Luol) Deng got traded. They haven’t skipped a beat.” … The Celtics took the floor for warmups wearing Boston Fire Department T-shirts, honoring the two firefighters killed in last week’s fire not far from TD Garden. The coaches wore BFD patches on their jackets.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.