Boozer, Bulls escape Toronto with win over Raptors

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Boozer, Bulls escape Toronto with win over Raptors

TORONTOPay attention to anything but the final score these days, and the Bulls (22-15) might give you a heart attack.

Playing a team with inferior talent, the Bulls squandered what appeared to be an insurmountable third-quarter lead to allow the woeful Raptors (14-25) to send the game into an extra session of play, before surviving to win a wild, 107-105 affair Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.

Carlos Boozers (36 points, 12 rebounds) solid stretch continued, as the power forward shouldered the load for the Bulls in the early going.

Toronto hung tough, however, propelled by the scoring of their starting backcourt of athletic wing DeMar DeRozan and floor general Jose Calderon.

The visitors kept feeding the hot hand throughout the opening period and Boozer delivered, whether knocking down his mid-range jumper or finishing on the interior, and aside from scoring, contributing on the glass and remaining an unselfish passer.

While the Bulls defense wasnt at the level of their historic previous outing Monday night, with Boozer carrying the offenseafter a floater with a second remaining in the frame, he finished with 17 in the framethey still held a 29-22 advantage after a quarter of play.

The interior tandem of Joakim Noah (16 points, 14 rebounds) and Taj Gibson attempted to pick up where Boozer left off at the outset of the second quarter, as the Bulls emphasized inside play against the Raptors inexperienced big men.

That approach wasnt the most effective, though, as Toronto began the period on an 11-4 run to tie the contest before overtaking its guests, as reserve guards Kyle Lowry (26 points)the feisty point guard was coming off a sprained ankle suffered during Mondays loss in Brooklyn, although he returned to that contest to score 19 fourth-quarter pointsand former D-Leaguer Alan Anderson (27 points) both caught fire.

While it was a close-knit affair upon Boozer and fellow starting forward Luol Deng (19 points, six rebounds, seven assists) returning to the floor, their presence seemed to give the Bulls a wake-up call, as Deng took his turn at asserting himself as a scorer, while Boozer showed that he still had the hot hand and Noah also made his presence felt.

The teams defense also stepped it up a notch, while Boozer, en-route to a 25-point half, revisited his first-quarter stretch as halftime approached, helping the Bulls go into the intermission with a 52-42 lead, even after Calderons jumper with 0.7 seconds left in the quarter.

After the break, the Bulls successfully pushed the pace to build a double-digit lead, as the post duo of Noah and Boozer were again focal points, while the visitors suffocated their hosts on the defensive end of the floor.

Boozer remained dominant offensively, but the Bulls got additional firepower in the form of veteran Rip Hamilton (15 points, five assists), who came alive after a quiet first half, only adding to the Raptors woes.

With Hamilton raining in jumpers from the perimeter in the third quarter, the game started to get out of hand, as the Bulls built a more than comfortable cushion, though Toronto chipped into the deficit by getting out on the break and converting transition opportunities.

The hosts momentum persisted and despite a technical foul on Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, the combination of Anderson and Lowry led the hosts back to make it a single-digit game, though following a dunk by rookie reserve Quincy Acy with 0.9 seconds left in the period, the Bulls maintained a 79-73 edge heading into the final stanza.

Gibson was a force for the Bulls early in the fourth quarter, playing his typical hard-nosed game, mixed in with some nifty footwork and post moves, to counter the Raptors equally aggressive Lowry, a point guard unafraid of going into the paint, ensuring the visitors kept some breathing room.

But Toronto kept gradually slicing into the deficit, making it a two-possession affairputting a little bit of salt in the wound was Boozer picking up his fifth foul before the period was even halfway throughas the game headed into the stretch run.

Deng stepped into what has become his role as the Bulls go-to guy late with Derick Rose sidelined to make some clutch baskets late, though the diminutive Lowrywho fouled out starting point guard Kirk Hinrichkept coming, hoping to make the visitors squander Boozers big game.

Down to the wire through the final minute of the contest, after Raptors big man Amir Johnson was fouled on an offensive rebound with 12.1 seconds remainingGibson fouled out on the playand split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 100 apiece, Belinellis jumper to win it was off the mark and the game headed to an extra session.

The beginning of the extra session could most positively be termed a defensive struggle, though it would be more accurate to describe it as sloppy with inept offense on both sides.

A Boozer layup, giving the big man a career-high point total, in a Bulls uniform, with 1:51 left gave the Bulls more of a cushion, but it was subsequently erased by an Anderson floater, making it a 104-103 game with 1:32 to go.

Following a Raptors turnover, another official review, this time giving the ball to the Bulls, occurred, and on the subsequent possession, Belinelli was fouled, splitting a pair from the charity stripe to give the guests a two-point advantage with 15.1 seconds on the clock.

Toronto went to Lowry the next time down the floor and the pitbull of a point guard delivered once again, hitting a teardrop at the 8.7-second mark of the overtime period, prompting a Bulls timeout.

Then, Deng rose to the occasion, making a pull-up jumper with 3.3 seconds remaining, silencing the boisterous Canadian audience.

The Bulls fouled Johnson on the floor with a second left and after Calderons heart-stopping game-winning three-point attempt at the buzzer missed its mark, the visitors survived.

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Who are the Bulls? The team that beat Cleveland and Toronto or lost to Dallas, Minnesota and Milwaukee?

That's the question Bulls fans are currently asking and the one Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill posed in the video above.

The Bulls have had impressive wins and shocking losses, but neither of those should be surprising at this point. The Bulls are, as Goodwill put it, consistently inconsistent.

The first half of the season has proven that Dwyane Wade still has some memorable moments left to give and Jimmy Butler continues to approach superstardom. On the downside, the drama surrounding Rajon Rondo has meant the 'three alphas' that were hyped up in the preseason haven't been the dynamic trio some Bulls fans had hoped.

Coach Fred Hoiberg doesn't have the shooters his system needs, but can he still rally the troops and get something out of Rondo?

Watch the video to see Goodwill's look back on the Bulls' first half and what could be ahead.

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Watch as the Bulls take on the Mavericks tonight on CSN+ and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Bulls Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Bulls.

Five Things to Watch:

1. What's Jimmy Butler got in store? On paper, Butler's performance Sunday night against the Grizzlies was nothing special. In fact, in many ways it fell short of his season averages. But Jimmy G. Buckets was on his game in the fourth quarter when the Bulls needed him most, helping them to a crucial road victory in Memphis. Tonight a fast start will be key against a Mavericks team that struggles to play from behind.

2. Dirk Nowitzki is back. The Mavericks are finally getting back to full-strength, and the main contributor to that is Dirk Nowtizki. The future Hall-of-Famer is finally rounding into form after an Achilles injury kept him out of the lineup most of the year. In his last three games, Nowitzki is averaging 20.3 points on 49 percent shooting.

3. There was at least some rumblings that the Bulls might have considered going after Ames native Harrison Barnes this past offseason. Instead, Barnes wound up in Dallas a potential building block for the Mavs. And he's looked pretty solid through the season's first half. Barnes is averaging 20.7 points on 48 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and nearly a steal per game in 36 minutes. It'll be a fun matchup watching him go against Jimmy Butler.

4. More 3-pointers on the way? It's easy to say that a 31-point outing will get you going, but maybe Doug McDermott can build on his career night against the Grizzlies. He hit 3 of 6 triples, made 10 of 11 free throws and even added six rebounds and a(nother) block. The Bulls will be able to run more against the Mavs than they were the Grizzlies, meaning more spacing for McDermott to find open shots. If he's hitting early, the Bulls are in good shape.

5. A three-game winning streak on the line. The last time the Bulls won three straight -- earlier this month -- it pushed them over .500. Now they've got a chance to reel off a third straight and again get back over .500. As poorly as the Bulls have played as a whole, the Eastern Conference is wide open at the bottom half of the playoff bracket, so these are opportunities they don't want to miss against a struggling team.

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