The Eastern Conference leading Chicago Bulls roared back from a 13-point first-half deficit to defeat the Boston Celtics 93-86 in a meeting between playoff-bound teams on Thursday.

Luol Deng scored 18 of his season-high 26 points in the second half as the Bulls, playing without Derrick Rose for the 12th consecutive game, outscored the visiting Celtics 55-37 after halftime.

"We needed this one," Deng told reporters after the Bulls won for the first time in three games "We haven't been playing well and we just played hard."

He had 12 points in the fourth quarter.

"(Deng) made a lot of big plays, very good defense," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We needed the scoring. That's what he provided. He had a tough matchup with (Paul) Pierce."

Pierce led the Celtics with 22 points and Kevin Garnett had 12 points and 14 rebounds.

The outcome convinced Boston coach Doc Rivers that the Eastern Conference remains a two-team race.

Elsewhere, the New York Knicks beat the beleaguered Orlando Magic 96-80 and the Los Angeles Clippers stopped the Sacramento Kings 93-85.

New York's Carmelo Anthony scored 19 points while a subdued Dwight Howard could manage just eight for the Magic.

Orlando's defeat came hours after coach Stan Van Gundy had told reporters he had been informed top player Howard wanted him fired. Howard later denied seeking his coach's dismissal.

Jason Richardson had 16 points and Glen Davis 15 for Orlando, who lost their fifth consecutive game.

Randy Foye had 20 points, Blake Griffin added 14 and Chris Paul had 13 points and eight assists as the Clippers moved to within two games of the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Lakers.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina; Editing by John O'Brien)