NEW YORK — Carlos Boozer had 29 points and 18 rebounds, Nate Robinson made the go-ahead basket with 22 seconds left, and the Chicago Bulls overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Brooklyn Nets 92-90 on Thursday night.
Jimmy Butler had 16 points and 10 rebounds, Luol Deng scored 18 points, and Robinson finished with 12 as the Bulls shook off the absences of five key players to keep Indiana from clinching the Central Division title they’ve won the past two years.
Deron Williams had 30 points and 10 assists for the Nets, who had a disappointing return home from an eight-game road trip. Brook Lopez finished with 28 points, but he had a turnover and two misses in the final minute, including a corner jumper that went in and out that would have forced overtime.
Chicago pulled back into a tie for fifth place with Atlanta and climbed within 1 1/2 games of the Nets for the No. 4 seed and home-court advantage in the first round.
And the Bulls did it without Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli, all starters or key members of their rotation. Plus, they lost starting point guard Kirk Hinrich to fouls with 3:38 remaining.
But they made more clutch plays down the stretch to pull out a game they never led until the final period.
The Nets took a 67-65 lead into the fourth when Hinrich fouled Williams behind the 3-point line with 0.3 seconds left in the third, an inexcusable way to pick up his fifth, and Williams made two of the three free throws.
Daequan Cook made a free throw to make it 92-90 with 5.5 seconds to play. Williams drove into the lane on the Nets’ final possession and kicked it to a wide-open Lopez, but his jumper bounced out.
Joe Johnson, back in the starting lineup after missing five games with a sore left heel, scored 12 points in the Nets’ first home game since March 17. They went 5-3 on their road trip and seemed headed toward an easy victory in their return home.
The Nets scored the first eight points, six by Lopez, and increased it to 18-4 as Chicago missed 10 of its first 12 shots. Lopez made his first six shots, was 8 of 9 in the first quarter, and Brooklyn was ahead 26-13. He was only 1 of 4 in the second as the Bulls’ defense tightened, and the Nets took a 47-36 lead to halftime.
Chicago kept chipping away in the third, finally tying it at 65 on Butler’s 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left in the third.
Seemingly always battling injuries, the Bulls reported some good news Thursday when coach Tom Thibodeau said Gibson’s knee injury from Tuesday in Washington was just a slight sprain. Gibson had recently missed 10 games with a sprained ligament and felt similar pain when he was hurt Tuesday, but Thibodeau said he is day to day.
He also said Rose looks better and more comfortable on the court, and is just waiting for when the former league MVP feels he is ready to go after missing all season while recovering from major knee surgery.
The Bulls remain tough to beat even without him.