Bulls save best for last

If this Bulls season ends where they believe it will, these are the battles they'll remember. These are the victories that resonate.

Trailing by 12 in the fourth quarter and by six with under two minutes to go in overtime, the Bulls gutted out a 106-104 victory over Atlanta on Saturday night at Philips Arena.

Playing their first road game since Dec. 1 and first extra-session game this season, the Bulls won for their 11th time in 12 games and did so with the kind of grit that has defined their last two seasons.

"You have to be able to win games like this," Kirk Hinrich said. "We talked about the difference between being a 50- or 40-win team are games like this. You're down, you come back and somehow make a great effort at the end to win games that maybe you shouldn't."

Andres Nocioni, who can berate himself in two languages and had been muttering all game, provided the winning points by sinking two free throws with 13.4 seconds left and the Bulls trailing by one.

"Hey, Ben Wallace made them, so I had to," Nocioni said with a grin.

Indeed, Wallace sent the game into overtime by surprisingly swishing two free throws with 35.1 seconds left in regulation. Wallace entered the game shooting 45 percent from the line and had made 2 of 6 to that point.

After Nocioni's overtime free throws, Hinrich then played solid, one-on-one defense against Hawks leading scorer Joe Johnson, who missed a 17-footer with 3.9 seconds remaining.

Hinrich rebounded and was fouled with 1.9 seconds remaining. He missed the second free throw, but Wallace, who is slipping or something with "only" 15 rebounds, snared the errant shot and ran out the clock.

"You need to win close games to measure yourself as a team," said Wallace, who had a team-high eight assists. "I think our defense was big for us. We got stops when we needed them."

Nocioni and Hinrich each scored 24 to lead the Bulls.

Johnson, just back from a calf injury, matched Marvin Williams' 23 points to lead the Hawks.

Atlanta opened the fourth quarter with a 14-0 run to take an 87-75 lead as the Bulls missed their first five shots and committed four turnovers. The Bulls went scoreless until Luol Deng sank a leaning jumper in the lane with 7:38 remaining in regulation.

During this run, Skiles called a timeout and asked the officiating crew to make a live band refrain from playing music while the Bulls had the ball.

The Bulls then started making their own music, moving the ball with precision and crafting a late 14-3 run to tie the game 93-93. Ben Gordon scored seven of his 23 points in this game-tying run, capped by Wallace's clutch free throws.

Both teams traded misses on their final possessions of regulation. Hinrich and Wallace teamed to play solid positional defense on Johnson, who kicked to Williams for a three-pointer that Nocioni rotated out to contest.

After a Deng rebound and a timeout, the Bulls called a final play for Gordon, whose 20-footer went long.

Gordon came off the bench even though Chris Duhon sat with a bruised left thigh, suffered when he tumbled into the tony seats during Friday's home win. Skiles said he started Adrian Griffin to keep Gordon in his reserve rhythm and to avoid having Hinrich and Gordon incur foul trouble simultaneously.

"It was a gutsy win," said Skiles, whose team did not arrive at its Atlanta hotel until 3 a.m. "We had several opportunities where we could have given up, but we didn't."