CHICAGO -- Not every NBA team will turn to its center when looking for better ball movement, but the Chicago Bulls are in a unique position.
Center Joakim Noah barely missed a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, while leading the Bulls to a 94-82 victory over the Boston Celtics on Thursday at the United Center.
It was the second consecutive game in which Noah led the team in assists. He is averaging 3.6 assists on the season.
"We have always run a lot of offense through (Noah), and that's what makes us a little different," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's going to make you fight for body position, and that opens up the basket area and gets us into a cutting game. He's very unselfish."
The Bulls tried to get Noah one more assist, but teammate Jimmy Butler missed a corner jumper off a pass from Noah with eight seconds left, as the fans groaned.
Forward Carlos Boozer added 16 points for the Bulls, and forward Luol Deng scored 14.
Chicago (13-18) won for the seventh time in its past eight home games against the Celtics (13-19).
"I enjoy setting guys up, but it really depends on guys making their shots," Noah said. "Everyone was telling me I was getting close (to the triple-double) and needed an assist. Yes, I was trying to get it. Jimmy tried to get it for me, but it's really not the way you are supposed to do it."
Guard Jordan Crawford led the Celtics with 22 points. Center Jared Sullinger added 11 points and 11 assists for Boston, which lost for the fifth time in six games.
"I am very encouraged, and the reason why is we played very physical," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "The Bulls are very physical, and they are very impressive. I think this is the best we've played in the last seven games."
The Bulls lost All-Star guard Derrick Rose to a knee injury on Nov. 22 and didn't have the rest of their lineup healthy until Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors. Chicago scored 79 points that night, but they moved the ball much better against Boston, finishing with 26 assists. The Bulls have four wins in their past six games.
The game went back and forth for most of the first three quarters. Boston closed within 66-62 with 1:12 left in the third quarter on forward Kris Humphries' jumper.
Chicago finished the quarter with a fast-break dunk by Butler off a steal by forward Mike Dunleavy. Then Dunleavy followed in a Boozer miss with 0.3 seconds remaining, giving the Bulls their biggest lead at 70-62.
To start the fourth quarter, Noah finished a lay-in, then found Dunleavy on a cut for another lay-in and the lead was up to 12. When Dunleavy pulled up and drained a 3-pointer on the next possession, the Bulls' lead reached 77-62.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Chicago forward Taj Gibson fell on his right hip when fouled hard by Sullinger. After a few minutes on the ground, Gibson shook it off and kept playing, while Sullinger was given a grade-one flagrant foul.
"I'm lucky," Gibson said. "The basketball gods are on my side because it could have been worse. I fell on my wrist and my elbow."
The Bulls were hit with three technical fouls for complaining about calls. Coach Tom Thibodeau and Boozer were whistled in the first half, Dunleavy in the third quarter.
NOTES: Boston sent G MarShon Brooks on a D-League assignment to Maine, where he was in the starting lineup for Thursday night's game against Tulsa. Brooks played in just nine of the Celtics' 31 games this season. Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the move was done mostly to get Brooks extended playing time. ... The game at the United Center marked a reunion between Boston assistant Ron Adams and the Bulls. Adams was a Chicago assistant for the previous four years and is one of Tom Thibodeau's best friends in coaching. The Bulls chose not to renew Adams' contract after last season. ... Stevens downplayed an argument between Celtics F Brandon Bass and F Jeff Green on the bench during Tuesday night's loss to the Atlanta Hawks. "Anybody who has been on a team knows that those things happen," Stevens said. ... Celtics G Rajon Rondo plans to follow the team on an upcoming West Coast trip and said he is close to returning from ACL surgery on his right knee. Rondo last played on Jan. 25, 2013.