OT thriller a delight for fans

BasketballSportsChicago BullsContractsNBAEddie RobinsonLeBron James

Say this for the Chicago basketball fan.

He or she is either a glutton for punishment, starved for a consistently good product or really, really bored some nights.

For reasons that even NBA Commissioner David Stern might have trouble explaining, a sellout crowd of 21,931 packed into the United Center on Saturday to see two teams that have combined for fewer victories than Minnesota.

Joe O'Neil, the Bulls' senior director of ticket operations, and Steve Schanwald, executive vice president of business operations, might be having better seasons than anyone on the team. The Bulls are averaging 19,551 fans, third in the league, and have 10 sellouts in 31 home games.

"It's amazing," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "I know it's appreciated by some of us. I hope it's appreciated by all of us. . . . Unfortunately, we've just too many times yanked the rug out from underneath them."

On Saturday, the rug slipped but stayed put.

A raucous crowd watched the Bulls race to a 12-point, third-quarter lead, blow it and then rally in overtime to defeat a Golden State team that was playing its fourth road game in five nights.

Dominant games by Eddy Curry, Jamal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich helped the Bulls snap a four-game skid with an 87-81 triumph.

Curry had 26 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high six blocks. Crawford scored a game-high 27 points, five in overtime.

And Hinrich beat LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony to the distinction of the first triple-double by an NBA rookie this season, finishing with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. The performance more than made up for his air ball on a wide-open 18-footer at the regulation buzzer.

Erick Dampier had forced overtime on a dunk with 2.4 seconds left after the Bulls went 5:18 without a field goal late in the fourth.

In overtime, Curry's free throw with 1:15 remaining and jump hook with 38.5 seconds left created an 84-81 cushion. Crawford then rebounded Nick Van Exel's miss and hit one free throw with 28.3 seconds left.

"This is what we're after, to get in some close games where guys have success and grow," Skiles said.

Jason Richardson's 25 points led Golden State.

One game after being benched for failing to wear his shorts properly, Tyson Chandler saw his playing time fall victim to officials' whistles. He picked up three fouls in 4:15 after entering at the 1:47 mark of the first quarter and played only 12 minutes in all.

But Eddie Robinson replaced Chandler in the doghouse Skiles says he doesn't have, not playing by coach's decision for the first time since Jan. 19. Robinson played 24 minutes in the previous game and 40 minutes two games before that.

"I never know the answer," an incredulous Robinson said. "You have to ask [Skiles]. I'm surprised."

Said Skiles: "I liked [Ronald] Dupree's activity and defense. He brought energy."

Was there a shorts problem?

"No shorts," Skiles said.

Bits: One game after being benched for failing to wear his shorts properly, Tyson Chandler had his playing time done in by officials' whistles. The hyper forward picked up three fouls in 4 minutes 15 seconds after entering at the 1:47 mark of the first quarter and played just 12 minutes overall. . . . Is Eddie Robinson the latest to learn a lesson from Skiles? One game removed from playing 24 minutes and three games removed from playing 40, Robinson didn't play because of a coach's decision for the first time since Jan. 19. . . . Golden State played without Calbert Cheaney and with a hobbled Van Exel, who said he likely needs surgery on his left knee shortly. The Warriors shot below 30 percent most of the game and still hung tough.

The Bulls signed Linton Johnson to a 10-day contract after the former Bull averaged 15.6 points and 8.5 rebounds in 21 games with the Rockford Lightning of the CBA. Ten days might be it for Johnson. Toronto waived Lonny Baxter, another former Bull, on Saturday, and the Bulls are interested. General manager John Paxson could sign Baxter as soon as he returns from a scouting trip in Europe. "Lonny was not included in [December's six-player] deal [with Toronto] because the Chicago Bulls wanted to include him," Skiles said. "It was just necessary in order to do it." . . . The Bulls were thin at forward, playing without Corie Blount and Jerome Williams. Blount went on the injured list after spraining his left knee on a freak play in a three-on-three game after Friday's practice. Williams sat with a strained left knee tendon but said he will play Monday against Cleveland. . . . Tickets still remain for LeBron James' final appearance on Monday. Call the Bulls or 1-800-4NBA-TIX for information.

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