Technically, the Bulls' first five-game winning streak since March 7, 2012, began Nov. 8.

In Tom Thibodeau's world, the streak, which continued in less-than-stellar fashion with Monday's 86-81 victory over the Bobcats, started Nov. 4. That's when the schedule allowed a team that had played disjointedly since an injury-plagued training camp to practice — for consecutive days.

This is Thibodeau's version of heaven.

And even though those two days initially were followed by a road loss at the Pacers, defensive and offensive chemistry began to form. That cohesiveness didn't make consistent appearances Monday in an underwhelming effort that featured 36 percent shooting and 16 turnovers.

But in their last United Center appearance before a season-high, six-game trip, they mustered just enough plays to keep the victory total climbing, if not the across-the-board improvement.

"Sometimes you have to find different ways to win," Thibodeau said. "We showed a lot of toughness down the stretch."

Luol Deng's 21 points led the Bulls, with none bigger than his 3-pointer with 27.1 seconds left and the Bobcats down just one.

"I'm just glad I had enough time," Deng said, alluding to his pump fake and barely beating the 24-second shot clock. "I had a good look."

The Bulls had led by as many as 10 early before failing to score in the final five minutes of the first half. They also endured a 10-minute stretch without a field goal in the second half, though they did make free throws in the span. In fact, the Bulls outscored the Bobcats by a rarely seen 18 points from the line.

That included Derrick Rose's first free throws in 10 quarters, a staggering statistic for someone who attacks the basket as much as Rose does. Lately, though, Rose has settled for outside shots.

Rose went 4-for-13 with just 12 points but hit a huge floater with 1 minute, 46 seconds left for a four-point lead.

"I liked that he showed perseverance and he made a lot of big plays for us late," Thibodeau said.