Although they needed to hang on late, the Chicago Bulls still earned another victory with Derrick Rose out of the lineup.
Rose’s status is unclear for Saturday night’s visit from the Boston Celtics, but the Bulls swept last season’s series with their star point guard out. The Celtics, meanwhile, will have to overcome an absence of their own with rookie Marcus Smart appearing to have suffered a serious ankle injury in their latest game.
Rose has sat out three times during the Bulls’ four-game win streak after spraining both ankles in an overtime loss to Cleveland on Oct. 31. He’s played just 13 games since undergoing the first of his two knee surgeries after the 2012 playoffs but started in a 95-86 win over Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Perhaps from experience, Chicago (5-1) managed without him again in a 118-115 victory at winless Philadelphia on Friday. The Bulls, though, needed Kirk Hinrich’s two late free throws to help prevent the 76ers from rallying from a nine-point deficit in the final 36 seconds.
Mike Dunleavy had 12 of his season-high 27 points in a 35-19 third quarter for Chicago, and Jimmy Butler contributed 23 points. Joakim Noah had five points and nine rebounds in 30-plus minutes after a two-game absence due to an illness.
“We found a way to win,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And at the end of the day that’s what you have to do, keep finding a way to scratch out wins.”
Rose also rested in the first half of a back-to-back set Tuesday against Orlando before playing 31-plus minutes against Milwaukee the next night, and there’s a possibility he could do the same with this back-to-back set.
The Bulls seem ready for any scenario. Chicago forward Mike Dunleavy pointed to a deeper roster this season as to why the team could manage if Rose remains out.
Chicago had its best scoring performance of the season Friday while shooting 51.3 percent.
“We have some weapons for sure. It’s all part of the depth we’ve added this year,” Dunleavy said. “We put up (118 points) without Derrick so that’s not an issue right now.”
Rose missed all three of Chicago’s wins against Boston and the Bulls got those victories in part due to a collective effort. Six players who appeared in all three games averaged in double figures against the Celtics, led by Noah’s 16.3 points.
Boston (2-3) heads into Chicago after ending a three-game losing streak with a 101-98 victory over visiting Indiana on Friday but Smart was taken off on a stretcher in the fourth quarter with an injured left ankle.
Coach Brad Stevens said he was waiting on X-rays to see whether Smart sprained his ankle or broke it. The No. 6 overall draft pick was averaging 6.8 points and shooting 30.6 percent in his first five pro contests.
After Smart left, Jeff Green helped Boston win by grabbing a key offensive rebound with six seconds to go and making two ensuing free throws.
“It was very difficult. You hate to see a teammate go down, especially when he’s playing well,” Green said. “That game was for him. We had to win it for him.”
The Bulls, who started 7-1 in 2011-12, have won 10 of 13 over Boston with Rose last playing in the series on Jan. 13, 2012. They’ve claimed eight of the last nine meetings at the United Center.