The Bulls insist they’re not watching the scoreboard. But it sure looked like they were Friday night.
Mired in a sloppy effort at both ends of the floor and trailing the Detroit Pistons by 18 in the third quarter, the Bulls started a rally that coincided with the news that the Raptors had lost to the Knicks at home and roared back for a 106-98 victory before a sellout crowd of 22,219 at the United Center.
D.J. Augustin (24 points, six assists) and Taj Gibson (17 points, two blocks) ignited a 15-0 run in the fourth quarter that turned an 83-75 deficit into a 90-83 lead, and the Bulls (47-32) held on to take a one-game lead over the Raptors (46-33) for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
‘‘I didn’t look [at the scoreboard] at all; I was told after the game they lost,’’ said Augustin, who had 12 points and three assists in the fourth quarter, when the Bulls outscored the Pistons 36-18. ‘‘It’s big. But at the same time, we’re just taking it one game at a time. We’re focusing on beating New York on Sunday.’’
The Bulls finish with games against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, the Magic at the United Center on Monday and at Charlotte on Wednesday. The Raptors finish with the Pistons on the road, the Bucks at home and the Knicks in New York. The Raptors have the tiebreaker, but if the Bulls win out, they would be the No. 3 seed.
‘‘It feels good,’’ said Joakim Noah, who had a tough time with Pistons center Andre Drummond (26 points, 26 rebounds) but made a difference with six points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. ‘‘It means that the game in the Garden is going to be poppin’. It’s going to be an exciting game.’’
Mike Dunleavy scored all 14 of his points in the second half, and Carlos Boozer added 18 points and seven rebounds.
The Bulls have won seven consecutive games and nine out of 10. Jimmy Butler had 13 points and two blocks, and Kirk Hinrich added 10 points and five assists.
As they’ve done throughout this streak, the Bulls rallied from an early deficit as Drummond outrebounded them 19-17 by himself, and Detroit took a 56-38 halftime lead. It looked like they had dug themselves too big of a hole, but the Bulls have come to expect the rally to come.
‘‘Derrick [Rose] was sitting next to me [in the third quarter], and he was like, ‘Watch — in, like, four minutes it’s going to change,’ ’’ Gibson said. ‘‘He was dead-on. It reminded me of how we used to play when we had Derrick the year we went to the Eastern Conference finals. No matter how much we got down, we knew we had a chance to win.’’
‘‘I was concerned right from the start,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. ‘‘Drummond was dominant, and I thought we were real low energy in the first half — badly outrebounded [31-17], not making effort plays, not back in transition. That’s not us. We’re not a low-energy team.’’
The Bulls were still down 82-72 early in the fourth when Gibson blocked two shots and Augustin made back-to-back pull-up jumpers and two free throws for an 83-83 tie. Augustin fed Butler for a dunk to give the Bulls the lead, and Gibson converted a three-point play off a fast break and hit two free throws for a 90-83 lead with 6:12 left.
‘‘You’re not going to knock people out in the first round,’’ Thibodeau said. ‘‘You have to have the ability to take a punch in this league, and we did. The most important thing is we found a way to win.’’