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posted: 4/13/2012 12:01 AM

Rose struggles, but Watson rescues Bulls

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  • Bulls guard C.J. Watson (7) celebrates with forward Luol Deng (9) after Watson scored a 3-point basket during the second half Thursday night.

      Bulls guard C.J. Watson (7) celebrates with forward Luol Deng (9) after Watson scored a 3-point basket during the second half Thursday night.
    Associated Press

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Tom Thibodeau made an excruciating decision late in Thursday's game against Miami.

Derrick Rose, after sitting out 13 of the previous 14 games, was beyond rusty. He would have needed a few dozen squirts from an oil can to stop creaking on this night.

So when LeBron James canned a 3-pointer to give Miami an 83-81 lead with 49.3 seconds left, Thibodeau pulled Rose and sent C.J. Watson back onto the floor.

As genius moves go, this one ranks pretty high.

Watson ended up draining a dramatic 3-pointer over Dwyane Wade to tie the score with 2.2 seconds left in regulation. The Bulls then dominated overtime and pulled out a 96-86 victory over the Heat at the United Center.

After the game, Thibodeau revealed that he brought back Rose with 3:30 left only because he thought Watson needed a break.

"Otherwise, C.J. would have finished it out," Thibodeau said. "It was a tough call, but he (Rose) did fine. He wasn't the normal Derrick, and that's to be expected. He'll get up to speed quickly."

Rose was in no mood to mope in the locker room. He celebrated the victory with the rest of his teammates.

"I felt decent," he said. "My rhythm, of course, was off. I've had worse games than this before. We won the game. I can't complain about nothing."

On the Miami side, James finished with 30 points, Wade scored 21 and Chris Bosh had 20. But the Heat's supporting cast contributed very little -- a combined 15 points -- and the Power Trio had nothing left at the end. Miami is 3-8 in its last 11 road contests.

"This is one of the worst feeling I've had in the regular season this year," James told reporters in Miami's locker room.

The Heat scored just 2 points in overtime. Luol Deng opened the extra session with a jumper, then Watson found a cutting Taj Gibson for a monster slam and 3-point play. When Gibson swung on the rim after the dunk, his knees nearly touched the backboard.

A post-up lay in by Gibson and another jumper from Watson made it 93-85 with 1:27 left, and it was all over. Gibson got a standing ovation when he fouled out in the waning seconds.

The Bulls (45-14) had great balance offensively -- Carlos Boozer led with 19 points, Kyle Korver scored 17, Deng and Watson had 16 each and Gibson added 11. They lead Miami by 3 games in the loss column for the Eastern Conference lead and have 7 left to play. These teams meet again in South Florida next Thursday.

Rose finished with 8 assists but scored just 2 points and missed 13 of 14 shots. He scored 29 points Sunday in New York when he returned from 12 games off with a groin injury. Then he sat out Tuesday's rematch with the Knicks because of a sprained right ankle.

When Rose finally scored his first basket, a 20-foot jumper with seven minutes left in the third quarter, he spread his arms, looked to the sky and rolled his eyes, as if to say, "What took so long?"

With Watson in the game, the Bulls finished the third quarter on a 10-2 run to close within 62-60. Korver hit a pair of jumpers to put the home team ahead 78-74 with 3:27 left, and a Ronnie Brewer free throw made it 81-76 with 2:03 on the clock.

Miami answered with a pair of baskets from Wade, then Bosh rebounded a Wade miss and found James open for the go-ahead 3-pointer. James missed a free throw with 11.4 seconds left that would have given Miami a 4-point lead.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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