Bulls avoid late collapse, down NetsMar 19, 2008 - 4:58 AM By Rory Spears PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer
CHICAGO (Ticker) -- The Chicago Bulls just could not lose another fourth-quarter lead.
Luol Deng scored 20 points and Drew Gooden had 19 and 11 rebounds as the Bulls defeated the New Jersey Nets, 112-96, on Tuesday.
Ben Gordon scored 17 points and Larry Hughes added 16 for the Bulls, who ended a two-game skid which saw them give away double-digit, fourth-quarter advantages in losses to Philadelphia and New Orleans.
"Nobody needed to say anything, we all felt this game wasn't going to get away," Gordon said. "We just concentrated on each possession and tried to make a good play."
"We had games where we just gave away leads," Deng said. "You can't let that become a habit; we can't get a reputation for doing that."
With the win, Chicago (27-40) moved back to within two games of idle Atlanta (29-38) for the final playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
"If we would have lost this game tonight, it would be tough to get back in the playoff picture," Bulls interim coach Jim Boylan said. "Not impossible, but very difficult - this win gives our guys hope."
Vince Carter scored 22 points for New Jersey (28-39), which saw its lead in the Eastern Conference playoff chase crumble to just one game over Chicago for ninth place.
"It's very disappointing to have an effort like this," Carter said. "We are a better team than this; we are playing to extend our season, not just to end it."
The Bulls, who ended the period with a 7-0 run to lead 29-26 after one period, started the second quarter the same way they ended the first, using a 29-8 second-quarter advantage to build their lead to 54-38 at the half.
"I liked our chemistry tonight in the second quarter when we held them to eight points," Boylan said. "We played with a purpose."
"We went stagnant in that second quarter," Nets forward Richard Jefferson said. "At that point, we dug ourselves too big of a hole."
Chicago built its lead in the third quarter to 25 points at 59-34, before New Jersey tried to make it interesting, cutting into the deficit and closing to 79-68 after three periods.
"We had come back on them before," Carter said in reference to the Nets overcoming 18-point deficits on January 5 and January 11, 2007. "That was in the back of our minds, so we went out and played our game. It was good for a while in the second half, but it wasn't enough."
The Nets worked the deficit down to nine points, but Gordon scored seven points during a 15-2 run which put the game out of reach at 94-72 midway through the final quarter.
Jefferson scored 21 points and Mo Williams added 16 for the Nets, who saw their two-game winning streak come to an end.
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