There have been precious few occasions this season when the Bulls have resembled the playoff team from last season.
Sunday, however, was one of them, and it could serve as a springboard into a second consecutive postseason appearance.
The Bulls rallied for a 101-97 victory over the Boston Celtics that, coupled with Philadelphia's loss in Indiana, moved the Bulls to within 1½ games of the Sixers for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Ben Gordon, who struggled for 31/2 quarters, scored 11 of their last 15 points as the Bulls rallied from a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit.
Luol Deng led the Bulls with 20 points. Gordon and Chris Duhon each had 17 and Kirk Hinrich added 16. Tyson Chandler had 10 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shotsthree coming in the fourth quarter.
"The last two games have been very similar to the way we won last year, where we're not playing our best but keep battling and make plays at the end," Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "We did all those things tonight."
Paul Pierce led all scorers with 24 points but had just two in the fourth quarter on 1-for-10 shooting. He missed his last nine shots, three of which were rejected by Chandler.
Despite an apparent mismatch size-wise, Skiles had the 6-foot-1-inch, 195-pound Duhon guard the 6-6, 230-pound Pierce for much of the fourth.
"I didn't want to get any cheap fouls or [allow Pierce] quick moves to the basket where help couldn't get there," Duhon said.
The Bulls trailed the entire game and after being tied at 18-18, weren't able to pull even with the Celtics until Gordon's driving three-point play with 3 minutes 7 seconds remaining made it 89-89.
Gordon had a chance to tie the game a couple of possessions earlier but missed an open 17-footer. After that, he drove to the basket the next three times he touched the ball, getting the three-point play, two free throws and a layup.
"In the first half I was letting them off the hook by shooting too many jump shots," said Gordon, who was just 2-for-8 from the floor in the first half. "I just tried to be more aggressive and get to the basket."
Gordon's two free throws with 2:13 left gave the Bulls their first lead at 93-91. Two jumpers by Boston's Wally Szczerbiak tied the game at 95-95 before Gordon drained a 19-footer to give the Bulls the lead for good with 23.2 seconds left.
On the ensuing possession, Pierce drove hard to the basket but had his dunk attempt emphatically rejected by Chandler.
"We just feel fortunate to win," Hinrich said. "In the fourth quarter we started playing and making stops and making plays."
For just the 18th time this season, the Bulls shot more free throws than an opponent. The Bulls hit 23 of 27 free throws, compared with 21 of 22 for Boston. In the fourth quarter, the Bulls were 12 of 14 while Boston was 6 of 6. Malik Allen missed his second straight game with lower-back spasms.