CHICAGO, April 8- The Chicago Bulls and their Most Valuable Player candidate Derrick Rose defeated Boston 97-81 on Thursday to close in on the top seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference.
Rose scored 30 points to lead the Bulls to their 17th victory in 19 games, a triumph that put them four games ahead of the Celtics and the Miami Heat with four games remaining in the regular season.
The Celtics, who play the Heat on Sunday, still have a slim chance of capturing the top seed for the playoffs, but only with the help of a Bulls collapse.
That wasn’t looking likely at a lively United Center on Thursday, where the Bulls obliged a raucous sell-out crowd with a fifth straight win.
"That’s when you want to be playing your best basketball," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said of his team’s surge into the postseason.
Luol Deng rallied after early foul trouble to score 18 of his 23 points in the second half. Carlos Boozer had 14 points and 13 rebounds for Chicago.
The only low note was a quiet night for Joakim Noah, who had six rebounds and played just 23 minutes and had his sprained right ankle tended to several times.
Rose was spectacular against Boston’s Rajon Rondo, beating him with his crossover and getting to the basket.
In addition to displaying an array of dazzling shots — including a running bank shot and twisting layup — Rose also added eight assists and five rebounds.
"I said he’s the MVP a while back," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said.
Rose scored 16 points in the first half as Chicago took a 48-43 halftime lead.
After briefly falling behind in the third, the Bulls regrouped with a 10-0 scoring run and held the reigning Eastern Conference champions to a 38.4 percent shooting rate.
Paul Pierce led Boston with 15 points.
Kevin Garnett scored all 10 of his points in the second half and Rondo finished with seven. Jeff Green scored 10 points an Ray Allen added seven.
With the current Bulls lineup delivering Chicago’s best season since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen led them to six titles in the 1990s, it was only fitting that the Bulls unveiled a Pippen statue at the United Center on Thursday.
The bronze bust, which will be displayed in the arena’s concourse, was made by the same artist who sculpted the statue of Jordan that stands outside the venue.
Pippen said the honor "truly ranks at the top" of all the accolades he has received.