Poor three point shooting did in Illini who came up short by a point at Clemson




CLEMSON—Rod Hall had the winning layup with 9.3 seconds left and then his quick thinking saved Clemson from potentially another late game disaster as the Tigers beat Illinois 50-49 in the second round of the NIT.Tracy Abrams airballed a 3-pointer for the Illini with 1.7 seconds left, leaving Clemson (22-12) to inbound the ball under its own basket. The last time something similar happened on March 8, the Tigers turned it over and Pittsburgh tied the game on the way to an overtime win that may have done in Clemson’s NCAA tournament chances.This time the Tigers threw the ball long. It looked as if it was going to go over the endline without anyone touching it when Hall noted Landry Nnoko couldn’t get there.

”Dude had Nnoko on a headlock down there. I had to get to it,” said Hall, who sprinted, leaped and saved the ball, letting the clock run out.

”To recognize that and tip it back and save it, that was a phenomenal play,” Clemson coach Brad Brownell said.

The Tigers will host Belmont on Tuesday and the winner will go to New York. Clemson is trying to make it to the NIT semifinals for second time in seven years.The Illini (20-15) led just once on Jon Ekey’s 3-pointer that gave them a 49-48 lead with 2:06 left. But coach John Groce said the team’s ability to come back again on the road showed the type of resiliency that also helped them make the postseason for the first time in three seasons by overcoming an eight-game losing streak in the heart of the Big Ten season.

”We were able to weather that and play our best at the end,” Groce said.

Rayvonte Rice led Illinois with 15 points, 13 of them coming in the second half. Ekey added 11 points, including hitting the only three 3-pointers Illinois made Sunday. The Illini shot 14 percent (3-of-21) on 3s, and Groce said that was the difference.

”I thought a lot of them were open. That’s what they were giving us,” Groce said. ”But It happens.”

Clemson turned the ball over 15 times to keep Illinois in it. But the Tigers also had 16 assists on their 20 baskets including several nifty plays as Illinois kept trying to get back in it.After Illinois tied it for only the second time in the game at 35 with 10:38 to go, Damarcus Harrison got a backdoor dunk off a nifty no-look pass from Nnoko, then Harrison threw an alley-oop pass from 10 feet behind the backcourt line to K.J. McDaniel whose thunderous dunk nearly took the roof off of Littlejohn Coliseum and gave Clemson a 39-35 lead with nine minutes left.Back-to-back buckets by the Illini again cut the deficit to one, and Clemson answered with another highlight reel play, this time with Rod Hall throwing another alley-oop to McDaniel to put the Tigers up 46-43 with 5:29 left.It was Clemson’s 13th game this season decided by five points or less, and the Tigers have won seven of them.McDaniels led Clemson with 12 points, while Landry Nnoko had 11 points and eight rebounds.A solid run in the NIT is a nice reward for a team little was expected from. Clemson was picked to finish 14th in the 15-team Atlantic Coast Conference, and might have made the NCAA tournament if it closed out the game against Pittsburgh or what ended up a one-point ACC quarterfinal loss to Duke.Clemson fans also had a surprise of their own. They jammed Littlejohn for a rare 11 a.m. Sunday tip, filling almost every seat and leaving some people standing around the concourses all game.

”It was really special to come to Littlejohn and see 10,000 people,” Brownell said. ”I appreciate them going to church early.”

Bulls hand Sixers loss #24 in a row

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Henry Sims can see the growth and he’s not referring to the stack of losses.The Philadelphia 76ers skid continued and so did their march toward the wrong kind of record.They have dropped 24 straight after losing 91-81 to the Bulls on Saturday. But Sims can at least see some positives.

“We’re learning to play better with each other,” he said. “We’re learning to make better decisions down the stretch. We’re growing right now, and that’s the main focus right now. The games we have left, we want to keep growing.”

They wouldn’t mind stopping the losing streak, either, but the Bulls weren’t about to let that happen.Joakim Noah finished with 20 points, Jimmy Butler scored 17, and the Bulls handed the 76ers yet another loss to put them within two of the NBA record.The Sixers moved ahead of the Vancouver Grizzlies (1995-96), Denver Nuggets (1997-98) and Charlotte Bobcats (2011-12) for the second-longest, single-season losing streak.The Cleveland Cavaliers dropped 26 during the 2010-11 season, and Philadelphia would have to pull off an upset to avoid tying that.The next two games are at San Antonio and Houston. Drop them, and the Sixers could set the record at home against Detroit on March 29, particularly if they continue to shoot like this from the outside.They missed their first 18 3-pointers and were threatening a league record before Byron Mullens made one early in the fourth. They wound up going 1 for 20. The mark for most 3-point attempts in a game without a conversion is 15.

“We were 1 for 20 — what do you say?” coach Brett Brown asked. “It’s going to be hard. I thought our defense was really quite good. It’s always going to be hard if you can’t make perimeter shots. This group has struggled doing that, and so, finding wins and finding ways to stay in games is always going to be a challenge.”

Despite that, they hung in until Taj Gibson buried a jumper and D.J. Augustin nailed a 3 with 2:30 remaining. That made it 91-79 and sealed the win for the Bulls, who moved into a tie for third in the Eastern Conference with Toronto.Noah and Butler each had eight rebounds, with Butler dishing out six assists. Gibson came on strong in the fourth quarter to finish with 16 points and 10 rebounds.Augustin added 16 points and six assists, and the Bulls came away with the win after losing at Indiana the previous night.

“It’s tough,” he said. “(The 76ers) come out and they have nothing to lose. Basically, they just come out shooting whenever they feel and some of those shots go in. It’s hard for anybody to play against a team that’s losing, but they’re still a good team at the same time.”

Thaddeus Young scored 28 for Philadelphia despite missing seven 3-pointers. Sims added 18 points and 15 rebounds, but the Sixers remained winless since Jan. 29.It didn’t help that they were missing Tony Wroten, one of their few bright spots in this lost season. He sprained his right ankle in Friday’s one-point loss at home to the New York Knicks and did not travel with the team.

“There’s a win in this group,” Brown said. “We will continue to fight and continue to stay together. I’m just thrilled, I’m proud of their ability, their character, to stay together in what’s clearly difficult times.”

NOTES—Brown said Wroten will miss all three games on the trip. … Brown had high praise for Noah before the game, saying he hopes Nerlens Noel develops like him. “Every time I see Joakim, I hope I see what we’re going to get in Nerlens,” Brown said. “He’s one of the prime examples I point to as we try and groom a young player.” Noel was taken with the sixth pick in the draft last spring despite a torn ACL in his left knee. He has not played this season. … Houston (at Orlando, March 30, 1991), Golden State (against Indiana, Dec. 6, 1996) and Milwaukee (against Phoenix, Jan. 22, 2002) share the record for 3s attempted without a conversion in a game.

Hawks edge Canes 3-2 in first game without Kane

Jonathan Toews’ short-handed breakaway goal early in the third period snapped a tie, and the Blackhawks beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 on Friday night.Patrick Sharp scored his team-leading 30th goal and Kris Versteeg ended an eight-game drought to help the Blackhawks win without leading scorer Patrick Kane, who was placed on long-term injured reserve after sustaining a knee injury in a victory over St. Louis on Wednesday.Corey Crawford made 26 saves.Alexander Semin scored his 20th and 21st goals as the Hurricanes fought back from a two-goal deficit, but lost to Hawks for the second time this season. The Blackhawks beat the Hurricanes in a road shootout on Oct. 15 in their only other meeting this season.Anton Khudobin stopped 22 shots after a career-best 46 saves in Carolina’s win at Columbus on Tuesday.Sharp has scored at least 30 goals four times in his career. He has reached the mark in the past three full NHL seasons.The Blackhawks were also without injured forwards Brandon Saad and Bryan Bickell, and defenseman Michal Rozsival.Kane, who could miss the rest of the regular season, was injured in a collision with St. Louis’ Brenden Morrow. He left the ice under his own power, favoring his left leg.Earlier Friday, the Blackhawks recalled top prospect Teuvo Teravainen and forward Jeremy Morin from Rockford of the AHL.The 19-year-old Teravainen, the Hawks first-round selection in the 2012 draft, didn’t play against Carolina.The Blackhawks came out flying in the scoreless first and outshot Carolina 11-4.The Hurricanes didn’t record their first shot until Nathan Gerbe forced Crawford to make a glove save 11:21 in.Sharp opened the scoring on a breakaway at 3:09 of the second. He took a stretch pass up the middle from Andrew Shaw and accelerated past defensemen Justin Faulk and Ron Hainsey. He beat Khudobin with a high backhander on the stick side.Versteeg made it 2-0 with 3:34 left in the second during 4-on-4 play. Defenseman Nick Leddy carried the puck down to the left corner, then centered a pass to Versteeg, who beat Khudobin on the glove side.Semin cut it to 2-1 with 37.7 seconds left in the period. He was open in the right circle, took Eric Staal’s pass from the left boards and fired a quick shot past Crawford’s glove.Semin tied it off a faceoff during a 5-on-3 power play at 2:58 of the third. Staal won the draw and fed Semin, who fired in a screened shot from the top of the left circle.Toews’ third short-handed goal just 31 seconds later put the Hawks ahead for good.A shot by Staal rimmed all the way around the boards in the Hawk zone and came out to center ice. Toews got the puck, skated in alone, and beat Khudobin with a high backhander.

NOTES—Kane must sit out a minimum of 10 games and 24 days. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said there is ”no reason to think he won’t” be ready for the playoffs. … Morin has one goal and four assists in 15 games with the Hawks this season. … D David Rundblad played in his second game with the Blackhawks since being acquired from Phoenix. … Carolina D John-Michael Liles returned after missing six games with a concussion, C Jiri Tlusty came back after sitting out two with an injury, and C Elias Lindholm and D Justin Faulk played after missing the previous game because of illnesses.

Bulls fade in third quarter, fall to Pacers by 20

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INDIANAPOLIS—Even in the midst of their worst month of the season, the Indiana Pacers are finding ways to win big games.On Friday night, the Pacers beat the Bulls 91-71 to take a 13-game lead on the Bulls in the Central Division. The Pacers have won five of their last six games after losing four straight earlier this month — the team’s worst skid of the year.The win couldn’t come at a better time.

“In the NBA, a week looks like an eternity, so it feels like we haven’t been playing great in a while,” Luis Scola said. “We needed it. We needed the confidence and we also needed the win.”

Scola had 19 points off the bench and Lance Stephenson finished with 15 for the Pacers (51-18), who went on a 19-0 run in the third quarter.Carlos Boozer was called for a Flagrant 1 foul with 7:31 left in the third, Roy Hibbert made two free throws and Stephenson made a basket to give the Pacers a 63-45 lead.DJ Augustin and Jimmy Butler each scored 17 points for the Bulls (38-31), who have lost two of their last three.The win also gave Indiana a 2-1 series lead over the Bulls. The Pacers will visit Memphis on Saturday and then the United Center on Monday before they host Miami on Wednesday.Paul George, who finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, also made a basket and dunked, David West scored twice and Stephenson made a basket, a dunk and converted a three-point play to help the Pacers pull away in the big run in the third quarter.

“I’m very proud of the team approach and the willingness to share the basketball and move the basketball,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “I think we did remind ourselves of who we are tonight.”

Vogel’s main point of emphasis heading into the game was sharing the ball. Indiana finished with 27 assists.The Bulls went on a 7-0 run early in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t enough.Joakim Noah scored a basket, Augustin made two free throws, Butler made another and Mike Dunleavy scored to make it 77-69 with 9:30 remaining. Scola scored to end the run and give Indiana a 79-69 lead.Augustin made a layup, but Scola scored again and later made a layup and a free throw to give the Pacers an 84-71 lead with 4:27 remaining.Not much went right for the Bulls, who shot just 36.4 percent and was outrebounded 51-36.Taj Gibson felt wronged, too.He fouled out with 7:07 left in the fourth when he knocked Scola to the ground on a rebound. He was called for his fifth foul on the offensive end of the floor 30 seconds before fouling out.

“I thought there was a lot of flopping going on out there,” Gibson said. “Anytime you see that, it makes you think that you don’t want to get a ticky-tack foul. It was a dog fight, a slug fest, and I thought a couple of calls didn’t go our way and took some of our momentum away.”

This was a potential upcoming playoff preview.Scola broke away in the second quarter with 12 points. He made back-to-back baskets, Evan Turner scored, and Scola made another jumper in an 8-0 run at the start of the second quarter to give the Pacers a 27-23 lead.Scola scored to give the Pacers a 42-35 lead with 3:54 left in the first half before the Bulls went on a 6-0 run.Noah scored a pair of free throws, Gibson scored and Augustin made a layup to make it 42-41 with 1:48 left in the half. George Hill scored for Indiana and Augustin scored to make it 44-43 at halftime.

NOTES—Indiana announced about an hour before tipoff that Andrew Bynum was out indefinitely with soreness and swelling in his right knee and said he would “continue to undergo treatment.” Bynum, who signed with Indiana on Feb. 1 after being suspended in December by the Cleveland Cavaliers, made his debut with the Pacers against the Boston Celtics last week and played in just two games. … The Bulls handed Indiana its first loss of the season back on Nov. 16 after the Pacers got off to their best start in franchise history. Derrick Rose and Luol Deng combined for 43 points in that game. This time, the Bulls didn’t have either. Deng has since been traded and Rose hasn’t played since Nov. 22.

ISU beats Morehead State in CBI first round. Home game with Texas A &M next

NORMAL — An eight-point halftime lead was down to one Wednesday night three and a half minutes into the second half. Illinois State’s basketball team was in need of a lift in its first-round College Basketball Invitational game against Morehead State.Junior guard Daishon Knight obliged, sinking a 3-pointer and adding two free throws moments later to kick-start a 19-9 surge, giving the Redbirds a 57-46 lead on the way to a 77-67 victory at Redbird Arena.A crowd of 2,080 watched Knight score a team-high 18 points as ISU (17-15) advanced to a quarterfinal home game on Monday night against Texas A&M. The Aggies (18-15), who downed Wyoming on Wednesday night, will be the first Southeastern Conference team to play at Redbird Arena. The start time will be announced later.

Hawks at last beat Blues–4-0 behind Crawford. Kane sprains MCL, likely out at least three weeks.

Corey Crawford stopped 23 shots for his second shutout this season to backstop the Blackhawks to a physical 4-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night that gave coach Joel Quenneville his 700th NHL win.Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith scored as the Hawks ended the league-leading Blues’ nine-game point streak (8-0-1) and dealt St. Louis its first regulation loss against a Central Division opponent this season. The Blues entered 20-0-2 against division foes and hadn’t lost in regulation since a 1-0 defeat at Anaheim on Feb. 28.Quenneville, who previously guided St. Louis and Colorado, has the most wins of any active NHL coach and ranks third all-time behind Al Arbour and Scotty Bowman, now the Blackhawks’ senior adviser of hockey operations. The win was costly as Patrick Kane suffered what is thought to be an MCL sprain that could keep him out of the Hawks lineup for at least three weeks. The inury happened when Kane took a big hit from the Blues’ David Backes that took Kane out in the second period.

Bulls avoid embarressment–escape with 102-94 win over Sixers(who lose 22nd straight)

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PHILLADELPHIA—D.J Augustin scored 20 points and Taj Gibson had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Bulls to a 102-94 win over Philadelphia on Wednesday night, handing the 76ers their 22nd straight loss.The Sixers are four losses shy of matching the NBA record for the longest single-season losing streak. The Cleveland Cavaliers set the record of 26 consecutive losses in the 2010-11 season. The Vancouver Grizzlies (1995-96), Denver Nuggets (1997-98) and Charlotte Bobcats (2011-12) each lost 23 straight.The Sixers also lost their 17th straight home game since beating Charlotte on Jan. 15. They were 8-11 at home at that point and had already defeated Miami, the Bulls, and Houston in Philadelphia.After the Sixers were 3-0 following a Nov. 2 win over the Bulls, fans held signs that said, ”3-0. That’s No Bull.” That seems like another season at times after the Sixers traded Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen at the deadline for draft picks, a necessary step for a rebuilding franchise.Unlike most of the first 21 losses in the streak, the Sixers were competitive until the final possessions, never letting the Bulls lead by more than 11.Sixers center Byron Mullens, who hadn’t attempted a shot all game, hit consecutive 3s to pull the Sixers to 83-80. He made a nifty save on a ball headed out of bounds, leading to Henry Sims’ bucket and a foul. With a chance to tie the game, Sims missed the free throw with 8:19 left.Thaddeus Young bailed him out a possession later with a 3-pointer that made it 85-all.Joakim Noah buried a go-ahead 3 from the top of the arc and Augustin followed with one from the sideline to put the Bulls up 91-85.Tony Wroten’s 3 made it 93-90 but it was just more false hope. Carlos Boozer’s emphatic dunk stretched the lead to six and the Bulls did enough to hang on and move to .500 on the road (17-17).The Sixers would make it 23 straight with a loss Friday to New York. Then three straight on the road at the United Center, San Antonio and Houston. If the Sixers lose all of those games, the potential record 27th loss would come March 29 vs. Detroit.Young scored 24 points for the Sixers and Wroten had 17.Boozer had 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Bulls and Noah added 14 points and 10 boards.The Sixers stayed tight and chipped away in the third, making it 64-61 on Young’s 3-pointer. Sims was 0 for 7 from the floor until his first basket cut it to 64-63.The Sixers just couldn’t make the clutch basket or two to finally take the lead. They’d get as close again as two points in the third and trailed only 75-69 at the end of the quarter.The Bulls played without Derrick Rose, the former MVP point guard who tore the meniscus in his right knee at Portland in November and was ruled out for the remainder of the season.Coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose could could be ready to return if he gets the call to play this summer for Team USA at the world championships.

”I know he’d like to do it,” Thibodeau said. ”I know how USA basketball feels about him. If he’s cleared to do it, I’d love to see him do it.”

NOTES—The Sixers are 3-32 since a four-game winning streak ended Jan. 4. … The Bulls have won seven of eight against the Sixers.

Illini rally past BU 66-62 in NIT opener, Road trip to Clemson next

BOSTON—Rayvonte Rice scored seven straight points late in the game and finished with 28, rallying Illinois past Boston University 66-62 on Wednesday night in the first round of the NIT.The second-seeded Illini fought back from a 30-13 first-half deficit. Rice made the key play with 2:07 left when his steal and three-point play trimmed it to 61-60. He added two free throws and a driving layup to give Illinois a 64-61 lead.Dom Morris missed a contested layup on an inbounds play with 11 seconds left that would have tied it for BU, the regular-season champion in the Patriot League. Nnanna Egwu added two free throws to ice it for Illinois (20-14), which advanced to play No. 3 seed Clemson in the second round. Malcolm Hill had 10 points for the Illini.It was the first meeting between Illinois and BU (24-11), which was seeking its first win in the NIT after five losses. D.J. Irving had 17 points for the seventh-seeded Terriers and point guard Maurice Watkins had seven points and 12 assists. Morris scored 10.

Hawks lose to Flyers 3-2 with 4.2 seconds remaining in OT

PHILADELPHIA—Flyers coach Craig Berube was already getting ready for a shootout.

“I honestly was ready to pull out my lineup card,” he said.

Claude Giroux made sure it wasn’t needed.He scored 4.2 seconds left in overtime to give the Flyers a 3-2 victory against the Blackhawks on Tuesday.It was a very bad goal given up by Antti Raanta.Giroux received a pass from defenseman Mark Streit and carried the puck over the blue line before letting a shot go from just above the right faceoff circle, beating Raanta high to the blocker side.

“I went on the ice with maybe 15 seconds, 20 seconds, so I knew there wasn’t a lot of time,” Giroux said. “I was just trying to shoot as hard as I could to net. I didn’t really aim, to be honest. I just shot it on net.”

Giroux had previously assisted on a Scott Hartnell goal in the first period for a two-point night.Since the Blackhawks and Philadelphia last met on Dec. 11, in a 7-2 rout of the Flyers, no one in the league has been hotter than Giroux. He has led the league with 51 points in 39 games.The Flyers needed that kind of leadership after a poor start.The Hawks opened an offense-filled first period with two goals only 3:51 into the game.The first came when Andrew Shaw chipped a loose puck near the crease over goalie Ray Emery (23 saves) — the result of a Brayden Schenn turnover at the other end.Less than 90 seconds later, Duncan Keith, the wide-open recipient of a pass from Jonathan Toews, overpowered Emery with a slap shot from the top of the slot.But the Flyers rebounded thanks to two goals from Hartnell, one set up by Giroux and the other by the Blackhawks.Parked behind the net, Hartnell attempted a pass that caromed off Blackhawks center Marcus Kruger and found its way into the net off the left pad of Raanta at 5:48.Then at 16:27, Giroux walked out from behind the Blackhawks’ net and found Hartnell for a one-timer to tie it at 2. The goals were Hartnell’s 17th and 18th of the season.Following an exciting opening period, the pace slowed in the second, when neither team scored.Flyers forward Vinny Lecavalier was involved in two chances that nearly broke the tie in the third.His breakaway attempt with 7:40 remaining was turned away by Raanta’s right pad, and Schenn’s almost-goal just over a minute later was waved off when referees ruled Lecavalier touched the puck with a high stick on its way to the net.The Flyers nearly beat Raanta late in regulation, but neither Steve Downie, from a bad angle, nor Schenn, trying to redirect Downie’s shot on the far post, could put a Hartnell rebound into an open net.But after finding the post twice in regulation, Giroux finally beat Raanta in overtime.

“It seems like the endings here have been pretty amazing,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, whose team won the Stanley Cup in Game 6 in OT at Wells Fargo Center in 2010. “Tough ending, but a pretty entertaining game … a pretty intense game.”

A victory would have given Quenneville 700 for his career. His total of 699 is the most among active coaches and the third-most all-time, behind only Al Arbour (782) and Blackhawks senior adviser of hockey operations Scotty Bowman (1,244).But rather than pull out a victory for their coach, the Blackhawks extended a 10-game, regular-season losing streak in Philadelphia, dating back to Nov. 9, 1996.Quenneville will try again for No. 700 on Wednesday when the Hawks return home to play host to the St. Louis Blues, whom they trail for first place in the Central Division by eight points.

“Obviously, it will be a huge game for us,” Quenneville said. “It’ll be exciting for us to get to play these guys. I see our team responding and being excited.Maybe we can chip away and try to catch them [for the division lead], but right now it doesn’t look so hot.”

NOTES—Scratches for the Flyers included defensemen Erik Gustafsson and Hal Gill and forward Jay Rosehill. Scratches for the Blackhawks included defensemen Michal Rozsival and David Rundbland and forward Brandon Saad. … Despite entering the game with two units ranked in the league’s top 10, neither team could take advantage of the man advantage, going a combined 0 for 8 on the power play. … The overtime win was the Flyers’ first at home in nearly a year. They topped the Washington Capitals 5-4 on March 31 of last season.

Durant too much for Bulls. OKC wins 97-85

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The Thunder shook off their worst loss, then stood their ground when the Bulls came charging at them.Durant finished with 35 points and 12 rebounds, and Oklahoma City beat the Bulls 97-85 on Monday night.Russell Westbrook added 17 points after sitting out the previous day to rest his surgically repaired knee, and the Thunder rebounded from their most lopsided loss of the season.They went on a 13-point run after the Bulls scored eight straight early in the fourth to cut the lead to one and pulled this one out after falling by 23 at home to Dallas on Sunday.Durant ran his streak of games with 25 or more points to 32, the longest in the NBA since Michael Jordan did it in 40 in a row during the 1986-87 season. He also chipped in with five assists.

“I just go out there and … play to win,” Durant said. “If all that stuff comes with it, then that’s cool.”

Westbrook had nine rebounds and nine assists, although he did struggle from the field. He was 5 of 14, and the Thunder shot 41.3 percent overall.They had the touch from long range, hitting 13 of 25 3-pointers — three each by Durant, Westbrook and Caron Butler.The Bulls never found their rhythm, shooting 34.5 percent overall, and settled for a six-game split on a tough homestand that included wins over defending champion Miami and Houston.

“I would have liked it better if we won a couple more games, but 3-3 we’ll take it,” Joakim Noah said. “We’ve just got to move forward. I wish we could have this game back.”

Noah, who’s been hearing “MVP!” chants lately, had a rather quiet night, although he just missed his fourth triple-double of the season. He shot just 2 of 8 but finished with nine points, 12 rebounds and nine assists.Taj Gibson had 16 points and seven rebounds. Jimmy Butler scored 13, and Carlos Boozer chipped in with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bulls came up short.The Thunder were leading by nine early in the fourth when the Bulls scored eight straight points, Butler’s fastbreak dunk putting a charge in the crowd and back-to-back baskets by Gibson cutting it to 76-75 with about 10 minutes remaining. After that, things turned in a big way.The Bulls missed their next 11 shots, and the Thunder scored 13 straight over the next 6 minutes.Derek Fisher started the decisive rally with a 3-pointer. A layup by Serge Ibaka, dunk by Durant, three free throws by Caron Butler, a driving bank shot by Westbrook and a free throw by the guard just over a minute later made it 89-75 with 3:45 remaining.Noah hit a free throw for the Bulls 15 seconds later, and after Ibaka nailed a 3, Gibson dunked to end a 7-minute, 4-second drought between baskets for the Bulls.

“We took their hit, and that’s what the game’s all about,” Durant said. “There’s going to be a time when you’ve got things clicking. You’re up nine, we’d have pushed it up to 12, 15, but we didn’t find a way. But everybody stayed poised.”

NOTES—Westbrook insisted Derrick Rose can make a strong return from his latest season-ending knee surgery. The two have trained together in the offseason. “I talked to him numerous times,” Westbrook said. “He’s a tough guy as you guys know. He does a great job of coming out, competing. It’s unfortunate that he had to be hurt and he’ll be out another year, but he’s going to come back the same D-Rose he was before.” … Bulls backup F Tornike Shengelia was out with flu-like symptoms. … The Bulls wore green jerseys in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.