The All-Star point guard had 28 points and 11 assists and the Bulls won for the 13th time in 15 games, beating the struggling, short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers 100-91 on Saturday night.
Sluggish in a win over New Jersey the previous day, the Bulls trailed by 10 against a team that was missing three of its best players. But they outscored Cleveland 32-9 in the third quarter thanks to Rose and hung on after nearly blowing a 15-point lead in the fourth, sending the Cavaliers to their 16th loss in 17 games.
"I don't care who you are, it's hard to win in the NBA," Chicago's Carlos Boozer said. "We're proud of ourselves for winning, but we also do want to play much better. We take it for what it is. We want to play a lot better moving forward, but we are winning. We know that for us to continue to win, we have to get better."
Rose came up big in the third, scoring 12 points and hitting two 3-pointers.
Luol Deng finished 23 points for Chicago, and Boozer added 20 points and 11 rebounds despite committing two early fouls for the second straight game.
Coach Byron Scott called it "a great effort by a team that is obviously depleted with injuries."
And Antawn Jamison insisted the Cavaliers have enough to win.
"It's not like we've been playing horrible of late," he said. "It's been a couple that have dictated the outcome of the game. Once again, tonight, the third quarter was the difference as far as us losing the game."
The Cavaliers cut it to 92-89 on Jamison's two free throws with 2:48 remaining but wound up with their 14th straight road loss.
Hickson scored 21 points. Jamison added 19, but the Cavaliers were 3 of 21 from the field in the third -- turning a 61-53 halftime lead turned into an 85-70 deficit.
Rose was at a loss to explain why the Bulls struggled in the first half, saying "We have to figure out what's going on and get it right." But the defense tightened up in the third.
"We were playing our regular defense, what we're supposed to play. When they were shooting, we were contesting their shots and making sure we had our hands up on them," Rose said.
And the Bulls were connecting, hitting 13 of 21 in the period. They went on an 18-2 run early in the quarter, wiping out a 63-53 deficit, and came away with an another ugly win.
A dunk and finger roll by Deng and a layup by Boozer put Chicago ahead 66-65. Rose nailed a 3 from the wing and Thomas hit a 20-footer to make 71-65, capping the run with 5:51 left in the quarter.
"You lose a quarter like that, it's hard to beat anybody," Hickson said. "It was a lack of communication. I think at times our defense broke down. We weren't talking."
If ever there was a game that seemed made for a blowout, this was one. Afterall, Williams missed his second game. Varejao and Gibson were out of the lineup after being injured in a loss to Charlotte on Wednesday.
Instead, the Cavaliers hit 23 of 42 shots while building a 61-53 halftime lead behind Jamison (14 points) and Hickson (12 points).
"The effort again was fantastic," Scott said.
Leon Powe started in Varejao's place and scored 14 points. ... With Williams and Gibson out, Ramon Sessions started at point guard. ... The Cavaliers have not won a road game since Nov. 9, when they beat New Jersey 93-91. ... Thomas led the Bulls with 13 rebounds.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, led by their leader, Kevin Durant, dismissed any panic from their lopsided Game 1 loss to win Game 2 and grab a road split.
Just as he did in last season's playoffs, Cleveland's Tristan Thompson is giving the Cavaliers extra possesions against the Hawks with his rebounding.
Lead referee Ken Mauer said after the Thunder's Game 2 win over the Spurs that a non-call during a controversial inbounds play should have been an offensive foul.