CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 12: C.J. Watson #7 and Loul Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls celebrate after Watson hit a three-point shot to tie the game in regulation against the Miami Heat at the United Center on April 12, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Heat 96-86 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Derrick Rose's return didn't amount to much, but Chicago's bench carried them to an overtime win over the Heat.
After another brief absence, Derrick Rose returned to the Chicago Bulls' lineup on Thursday night, just in time for their top-of-the-East showdown with the Miami Heat. The Bulls ended up winning, too but it had almost nothing to do with Rose. Chicago's bench fought them back into the game from an early deficit, kept them in it throughout, then made many of the big plays down the stretch to earn them a 96-86 overtime victory over the visiting Heat.
Chicago's starters came out looking pretty flat and overwhelmed by the fast-paced Heat. Rose and the rest took long, sheepish jumpers over the Miami starters (now featuring Udonis Haslem at center). The Heat turned those long misses into fast-paced offense the other way, pushing the ball up court and find quick, open jumper and drives to the basket. The points came quickly, decisively, and not only from LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh -- Haslem got his buckets and Mario Chalmers was contributing as well.
Through the end of the first and beginning of the second quarter, though Erik Spoelstra turned to some unusual bench lineups and the Heat started to crumble. A brand new and totally bizarre unit of Chalmers, Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Bosh and Ronny Turiaf couldn't get anything offensively. The Bulls, meanwhile, turned the corner fiercely with their reserves on the floor. C.J. Watson and Kyle Korver sprung off the bench to go wild from the perimeter and copilot a 15-2 run that put the Bulls ahead midway through the second. Then all the starters returned and the pendulum swung back the other way. The Chicago offense went cold and James led the Heat back in front going into halftime following a 12-0 run.
The trend held somewhat through the second half. Chicago's starting unit fell down by as many as 10 points, but dug its way out of the deficit behind the scoring of Luol Deng and Rip Hamilton. It was the bench guys, though, that ended up forcing overtime. While Wade kept the Heat rolling, Korver and Watson continued to keep the Bulls afloat in the fourth. It got to the point that Tom Thibodeau kept Rose -- who finished the game with just two points on 1-13 shooting -- for the final possessions of regulation. Watson took Rose's spot and capitalized on a James' crucial missed free throw to hit a game-tying three in the closing seconds. Dwyane Wade's game-winner clanged off the rim, and the game went into overtime.
And overtime got out of hand pretty quickly. Thibodeau stuck with his bench guys, and the decision paid off. Chicago ran off six straight points to start the extra period, and ended up outscoring the Heat 12-2 overall, putting the final nail in the coffin on Korver's deep three with a minute to go.
The win helped solidify Chicago's status as the first seed, as the Bulls are now 45-14, four full games above the 40-17 Heat.
For all of Thursday's NBA box scores, check out SI.com's NBA scoreboard.