Led by a career-high 38 points from newly acquired John Salmons, the Bulls came back from a 13-point third quarter deficit to defeat the defending-champion Celtics 127-121 in Chicago last night.
The Bulls survived a great night from Paul Pierce, who stepped up in the absence of Kevin Garnett to contribute 37 points and 7 rebounds, as well as Rajon Rondo who scored 26 points and had 10 assists.
While new acquisitions Salmons and Brad Miller (21 points, 14 rebounds) may have lit up the box score, I firmly believe it was Vinny del Negro finally learning when to play and when to sit Derrick Rose that was a big factor in the victory.
Earlier this month, it was reported that Bulls GM John Paxson had to tell del Negro to make sure that Rose was on the floor in the fourth quarter of games. Last night, Del Negro pulled Rose with 5:58 left in the third quarter, and let him rest for the remainder of the period.
Rose re-entered the game with 11:10 left to play in the fourth, and with eight minutes left to play scored lay-ups on two consecutive possessions to put the Bulls up three. Two minutes later, Rose had assists on consecutive possessions followed by a three point play, which kept the Bulls in the game.
In addition to playing Rose at the right time, del Negro left his rotation at just eight players, the second straight time doing so after being throttled by the Orlando Magic last week with an 11-man rotation.
I've been very quick to knock del Negro in the past (and rightly so in my opinion), but I feel that he might finally be starting to get the hang of things. Let's hope that's actually the case.
The Bulls currently hold the slimmest of advantages over Milwaukee (half game) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East with 14 games left to play.
The Bulls' next two games will be their final ones against Western Conference foes, leaving their playoff destiny in their own hands during the home stretch.
Of their final 12 games, four come against current playoff teams (Miami, Philadelphia and Detroit twice), while eight come against the bottom of the conference (Washington, Indiana twice, New Jersey, New York, Charlotte and Toronto twice).
If the Bulls can take care of the teams they are supposed to beat, a playoff berth is in their future.