CHICAGO -- When it comes to using aggressive, physical defense to slow down an NBA game, first-year Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford learned from one of the best -- the Chicago Bulls' Tom Thibodeau.
On Monday at the United Center, both teams shot below 40 percent from the field. The Bulls used some clutch shooting down the stretch, along with 31 free-throw attempts, to pull out an 86-81 victory. Chicago won its fifth straight game after starting the season 1-3.
"They're great defensively and Steve's a heck of a coach. He's doing an unbelievable job," Thibodeau said after the game. "I thought we showed a lot of toughness down the stretch."
The Bulls held a tenuous one-point lead when point guard Derrick Rose found his path to the rim blocked by several Bobcats. He jumped and fired a cross-court pass to forward Luol Deng, who drained a 3-pointer near the top of the key with 27.1 seconds left to give Chicago an 85-81 advantage.
Deng scored 21 points to lead the Bulls, who put all five starters in double figures. Guard Jimmy Butler added 14 points, forward Carlos Boozer totaled 12 points and 17 rebounds, while Rose scored 12 and had five assists.
"I felt we fought hard," Clifford said. "The difference in the game came down to two things -- free throws missed and being outscored by 18 at the line. That was the tale of the game."
The Bulls (6-3) started the fourth quarter with a 62-59 edge, but they could never pull away from the pesky Bobcats (5-6). A pair of Boozer free throws gave Chicago a bit of breathing room at 72-66 with 4:54 left, but Charlotte guard Gerald Henderson came back with a 3-pointer on the other end.
A few minutes later, guard Jeff Taylor and Henderson knocked down 3-pointers on consecutive trips to bring Charlotte within 80-79 with 1:27 remaining.
Rose responded with two driving baskets. The second, a clean burst through the lane for a lay-in, made it 82-79 with 1:07 left. Henderson drew a foul by going to the basket hard, and his free throws again cut the margin to a point.
Rose tied a career high by hitting six baskets from 3-point range on Saturday against Indiana. After this game, he was asked if he's been reluctant to drive to the rim.
"I'm just going to try to play my game," Rose said. "Of course I could try to come down and do that almost every play. Me not going to the line or not getting the calls, I really have to take that into consideration when I'm driving and play smart."
After Deng's basket, a Henderson jumper fell short of the rim and Rose split a pair of free throws to make it a four-point game. After Bobcats guard Kemba Walker missed a 3-point attempt, the Bulls ran out the clock.
The Bulls went 26-for-31 at the foul line, compared to 8-for-16 by Charlotte.
Taylor led the Bobcats with 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Henderson scored 16, and Josh McRoberts added 11.
"It was right there for us all night," Henderson said. "We played hard, but we just didn't come up with the plays at the end of the game."
The Bobcats made it a game by closing the first half with a 17-4 run to take a 44-40 edge at the break. The Bulls finished the second quarter by going 1-for-10 from the field.
NOTES: Charlotte coach Steve Clifford considers Tom Thibodeau a mentor. Thibodeau was on the New York coaching staff under Jeff Van Gundy when Clifford landed his first NBA job as the Knicks' advance scout in 2000. ... Charlotte assistant Patrick Ewing, on getting a head-coaching job: "Thibs waited 20-something years. I'm not waiting that long." ... Bobcats F Al Jefferson missed his third straight game and eighth of the season with an ankle injury. ... Former NBA center Yao Ming was a spectator at Monday's game. Thibodeau, Clifford and Ewing were all assistant coaches with the Houston Rockets when Yao played. ... The Bulls played their last home game until Dec. 2. Their annual circus road trip begins Thursday.