The Bulls had lost five straight games against teams with winning records, and played their fourth game in a row Thursday without guard Derrick Rose, who is still out with back spasms.
They seemed to be on the ropes a couple of times against Boston, but the Bulls eventually used some unconventional methods to secure an 89-80 victory at the United Center.
When Luol Deng dished out a career-high 11 assists Tuesday against Sacramento, he claimed it was merely luck. He made the same passes he always makes, but this time his teammates happened to knock down more shots.
The first time may have been a fluke, but Deng's playmaking is a trend now. He collected 10 assists to go with 23 points against the Celtics. Carlos Boozer was the beneficiary of many of those passes as he hit 11 of 15 shots for 23 points and added 15 rebounds.
"He's a much better pick-and-roll player than you realize," coach Tom Thibodeau said of Deng. "He's got good size. He's got vision. He can score. He can drive. He can pull up. I like having the ball in his hands."
Deng also set a career-high by hitting 6 of 9 shots from 3-point range. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, when the Bulls used a game-turning 12-0 run to break a 69-69 tie.
But when it comes to making plays and zipping passes, Deng is still playing the role of reluctant point forward.
"Guys are hitting shots," he shrugged. "We're moving the ball; guys are hitting shots. You've got to ask those guys how come, all of the sudden, they're making shots."
The other unconventional tactic was using Mike James, signed from the Development League two days ago, at point guard down the stretch. James collected 8 points and 4 assists in 17 minutes before fouling out.
"Coach, he understands one thing about me is I'm pretty strong in pick-and-rolls," said James, who spent 17 days with the Bulls earlier in the season. "I've always been a pick-and-roll player."
Less than two weeks ago, James was playing for the D-League's Erie Bayhawks and expecting to get a call-up from the New York Knicks. Then the Knicks decided to give seldom-used point guard Jeremy Lin a start and an international phenomenon ensued.
Fortunately for James, 36, the Bulls (25-7) had an opening for point-guard help, so he returned to Chicago after playing just four games in his second stint in Erie this season.
On Thursday, he also helped keep Boston guard Rajon Rondo under control. Rondo piled up 32 points and 15 assists in a win over the Bulls on Sunday. In the rematch, Rondo had 17 points and 8 assists.
"I've always taken pride in my defense," James said. "It's what I've always done my whole career. I know how to take away angles. I understand how to be able to take away a person's strong points in a game.
"So I'm just grateful I was out there and was just able to keep him at bay."
Earlier in the day, Thibodeau listed Rose's status as a game-time decision, but there never seemed to be much doubt that he would not play. The Bulls are 7-2 this season without their all-star point guard.
Rose put up some shots at the morning shootaround but probably is still a few days away from returning to game action.
"He went through his workout, didn't have any problems," Thibodeau said. "Feeling a lot better. But we're just going to wait. We want him to be pain free, and he's very close. We're just going to take it day by day."
Center Joakim Noah also had a strong game with 15 points and 16 rebounds. Kevin Garnett, who sat out Wednesday's loss to Detroit with a hip flexor, led the Celtics with 18 points.