Blackhawks

Unlikely trio step up to close Bulls' victory over Orlando

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Unlikely trio step up to close Bulls' victory over Orlando

In a game tighter than the presidential race, the Bulls avoided a letdown similar to Saturdays loss to New Orleans by cooling down the Magic, 99-93.

While it was the defense that stifled Orlando into 37 percent shooting in the fourth quarter, an unlikely lineup contributed to the 31 points scored in the final frame in a game that featured 14 lead changes.

Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson played almost all of the fourth (Tom Thibodeau substituted Kirk Hinrich for Robinson in the final 39 seconds to help switch on screens Orlando was running to free their shooters), with each hitting timely buckets, which was a stark contrast to Saturday, when the Bulls couldnt find any offense late in the game.

They gave us a big spark, said Thibodeau. I thought in the second half we played a lot harder.

It would be hard to disagree with him as the Bulls allowed the Magic to shoot 46 percent in the first half compared to just 37 in the second half.

Deng scored eight of his 23 points in the fourth quarter.

Hes huge for us every night, said Noah of Deng. Hes so versatile. His rebounding and just how he affects the game in so many ways. Lu is huge for us.

Not to be outdone, the trio of Robinson (11 points, six assists), Noah and Gibson (12 points) scored seven points each in the final period.

Noah finished with 20 points to go along with nine rebounds and five blocked shots in 40 minutes of play.

Its similar the way he started the season two years ago, said Thibodeau. Hes playing with a lot of confidence. Hes doing it a lot of different ways. Hes running the floor, offensive rebounding, posting, hes got a lot of confidence in that 17-foot shot. But its his all-around play.

This is the second straight game that Thibodeau has sat Richard Hamilton, Hinrich and Carlos Boozer in the fourth quarter.

While its still early, it could happen some more as Thibodeau tries to find the right balance of scoring and defense to close games.

For now, the Bulls will just take the win and try and build upon that.

We lost our last game and we needed to win, said Deng. You dont want to lose two and now you have Oklahoma coming in on Thursday. The fourth quarter was really good for the team. Hopefully we pick it up from there."

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USA TODAY

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USA TODAY

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