Sacramento Kings shooting guard John Salmons (5) blocks a shot from Chicago Bulls small forward Luol Deng (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2012, in Chicago.
Luol Deng came through with 23 points and a career-high 11 assists, and the Chicago Bulls escaped with a 121-115 victory over the Sacramento Kings after watching a 19-point, fourth-quarter lead dwindle to two.
Joakim Noah added 22 points and 11 rebounds. Kyle Korver scored 18, hitting four free throws in the final 17.6 seconds. Carlos Boozer scored 16, Taj Gibson added 15 points, and the Bulls came away with the win -- barely -- even though Derrick Rose missed his third straight game with lower back spasms.
The victory clinched the Eastern Conference coaching spot at the All-Star game for the Bulls' Tom Thibodeau.
DeMarcus Cousins led Sacramento with 28 points and 17 rebounds. Tyreke Evans scored 27, and Marcus Thornton added 23 points for the Kings, who made things extremely interesting down the stretch.
Two free throws by Evans with 19 seconds left made it 115-112. Korver answered with two of his own, but the drama wasn't over.
Thornton nailed a 3 to make it a two-point game with 14 seconds left, but Korver immediately hit two more foul shots to boost the lead to 119-115. Deng then hit two free throws with 8.8 seconds left to seal the win.
The idea that the Bulls would be sweating this one out in end seemed far-fetched early in the fourth.
The Kings were within eight in late in the third when Deng buried a corner 3 with just under a minute left. That started a 12-1 run that bumped Chicago's lead to 97-78, but the Bulls couldn't breathe easily.
They did, however, let out a big sigh of relief in the end.
The dramatic win came on the heels of a 6-3 trip that matched their longest since the 1992-93 season, and they did it without their superstar point guard.
Rose didn't have a target date for his return. Boston visits Thursday, and he wasn't sure if he'd be ready to play against Rajon Rondo and the Celtics. One thing was clear, though. Rose was certainly breathing a little easier.
A specialist confirmed Monday that there was no structural damage, and that was a big relief for him and a team eyeing a championship. This hasn't been an easy season for Rose even though he's averaging 22.0 points and 7.8 assists. Between the bad back and a problem with his left big toe, he's missed eight games this season after sitting out six over his first three years.