CHICAGO • Jimmy Butler scored 21 points as the Chicago Bulls prevented their campaign from ending in the National Basketball Association regular season with a 105-102 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday at the United Centre.
Cristiano Felicio had 16 off the bench, Nikola Mirotic scored 13 points, and Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose each finished with 10 for the Bulls (40-40), who would have been eliminated from play-off contention with a loss.
"It shows character. It shows pride," Gasol said. "But it's also very frustrating because if we showed this type of edge and competitiveness every single night, we wouldn't be talking about this."
The Bulls might yet wonder what could have been if they showed more consistency, having gone 7-1 against the top two teams in the East. They won three of four against the Cavaliers and swept their four-game series with the Toronto Raptors.
Chicago need to win their last two games - at New Orleans and at home to Philadelphia - and have the Indiana Pacers lose all three of their remaining games to clinch a post-season berth.
LeBron James scored 33 points and J.R. Smith finished with 24 for the Cavaliers (57-23), who entered the night in need of a victory to clinch the best record in the Eastern Conference for the third time in franchise history.
Kevin Love finished with a double-double (20 points, 13 rebounds) for Cleveland, who also got 11 points from Kyrie Irving.
After James got Cleveland within 104-101 late in the game, Smith split two free throws to cut the deficit to two points. Following a Smith miss on the second free throw, Cleveland's Mathew Dellavedova missed a three-point attempt with two seconds remaining that would have given the Cavaliers the lead.
Gasol split two free throws with 1.6 seconds left to give the Bulls a three-point lead. Smith's three-point attempt at the buzzer missed its mark, which allowed the Bulls to hold on.