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Article updated: 2/13/2013 11:21 PM

Bulls look better, but still limp into break

By Mike McGraw

The Bulls definitely found their grind Wednesday night in Boston.

The host Celtics managed to score just 19 points in the middle two quarters, and the two defensive-minded teams headed into the fourth with the Bulls nursing a 49-43 lead -- more like a halftime score.

It didn't last, though. Early in the fourth quarter, Boston used a 12-0 run to turn things around and the Bulls lost 71-69 at the TD Garden.

The Bulls (30-22) will limp into the all-star break losing four of their last five games. They did manage to improve the defense after giving up more than 100 points in three of four contests.

"I think it's important to recharge," coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters after the game. "You have to obviously do some conditioning work when you're away, but just getting away for a few days I think will be good.

"There's a long way to go and we have to have the right mindset when we come back. Re-establish who we are, put the proper amount of work in so we can expect to have good results."

Thibodeau refused to be impressed by the Bulls checking into the break eight games above .500, despite playing without Derrick Rose all season. More recently they've missed guard Kirk Hinrich (elbow) for the past seven games.

Bulls vice president John Paxson said on ESPN Radio he expects Rose to do some 5-on-5 scrimmaging after the break.

"We really haven't done anything," Thibodeau said. "Our road is not going to get easier. It's going to get a lot tougher. Our mindset has to be, we have to come with a greater fight to scratch out wins.

"We're short-handed. We've been down multiple starters for a good part of the season. If we exhale, relax, we're in trouble."

Center Joakim Noah played 43 minutes on his sore right foot, finishing with 16 rebounds and 10 points. He will have to decide whether to play in his first All-Star Game on Sunday in Houston or give his foot some rest.

Marco Belinelli was the Bulls' top scorer with 12 points, while Carlos Boozer and Jimmy Butler had 11 each. The Bulls did well on the boards (49-39 rebounding edge) but were again mistake-prone, piling up 20 turnovers.

A 3-pointer by Paul Pierce rolled around the rim and went in with three minutes left to put the Celtics up 65-60. After a bank shot in the lane by Kevin Garnett made it 67-62, the Bulls got some defensive stops.

Luol Deng hit a short jumper in the lane and, after the Bulls forced a five-second inbound violation, Belinelli finished a driving lay-in to bring the Bulls within 67-66 with 44 seconds left.

Boston used all the shot clock before Garnett drained a baseline jumper. Boozer tipped in a Nate Robinson 3-point miss, Pierce hit a pair of free throws, then the Celtics fouled Robinson intentionally with six seconds on the clock.

With the Bulls trailing by 3, Robinson made the first shot and missed the second intentionally. The ball was batted around, Belinelli had a 2-point attempt blocked by Pierce and the ball bounced to Taj Gibson, who had an open look at a long 3-pointer, but it missed the rim.

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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