(Reuters) - The Chicago Bulls recovered from a sluggish start to race past the Philadelphia 76ers for an 89-80 victory at the United Center on Saturday.
Playing without reigning MVP Derrick Rose, missing a third game with a groin strain, the Bulls leaked 11 points before scoring their first basket after five minutes and fell behind by as many as 14 in the second quarter before storming back.
“I didn’t think I reached them in the first quarter,‘’ Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters. ”You know what? They were great today, and I knew they would be.
“The things that I liked, we were struggling, obviously, in the first quarter. Everyone hung together and just worked our way out of it.”
Chicago trimmed the deficit to six points at 44-38 at halftime.
The Bulls asserted their will on the offensive boards and in the third quarter allowing them to complete the comeback and build a five point advantage heading into the final period.
”One of the things we struggle with is our halfcourt offense,“ said 76ers coach Doug Collins. ”They’re a very, very good defensive team.
“They got us ground down to a halfcourt game. And then I thought in the second half their size and rebounding became such a factor.”
C.J. Watson replaced Rose in the Bulls starting lineup and led Chicago with 20 points, including a three-pointer with three minutes left in the third quarter that gave the Bulls the lead for good at 57-55.
Joakim Noah added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the league-leading Bulls (37-10).
“Our offense is a point-guard offense. If the point guard isn’t aggressive, the offense doesn’t do anything,” said Watson. “I‘m trying to be aggressive and trying to take shots and find other people.”
Philadelphia (25-20) were led by Jrue Holiday’s 30 points, and Spencer Hawes was the only other starter to score in double digits with 10 as the 76ers fell to a third straight loss.
Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by Alastair Himmer