Bulls lose close call to Raptors

Bulls lose close call to Raptors

April 9, 2013, 9:30 pm
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First, the good news Jimmy Butler isn’t just a keeper, but a young player with even more potential than imagined, as evidenced by his career-high 28-point effort while playing the entire game Tuesday night against Toronto, which was sorely needed with the absences of All-Stars Luol Deng and Joakim Noah, not to mention former league MVP.

The bad news is that even with Butler’s stellar performance, the perpetually-undermanned Bulls (42-35) simply didn’t have the overall offensive firepower or play stingy enough defense throughout the contest and although they closed the gap to challenge the visitors late, they ultimately fell to the Raptors (30-48), 101-98, at the United Center.

A rough start on the offensive end and porous defense led to the Bulls digging themselves an 18-3 hole in the early going, as the Raptors perimeter trio of floor general Kyle Lowry (13 points, 10 assists) and the athletic wing duo of Rudy Gay (19 points) and DeMar DeRozan (20 points) had hot hands, while rookie center Jonas Valanciunas  was effective on the interior, drawing two quick fouls on veteran Nazr Mohammed (10 rebounds).

The team’s early struggles prompted Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to insert power forward Malcolm Thomas (six points, eight rebounds), who was recently signed for the remainder of the season, and while the power forward wasn’t directly responsible for the hosts ending Toronto’s run and making it a more competitive affair, he did provide some energy, as well as a focus on interior defense and rebounding.

Marco Belinelli, who was held scoreless in his return to the lineup Sunday in Detroit, was one of two scoring threats for the Bulls, along with Butler, as they battled to make it a single-digit contest.

Rip Hamilton, who had missed 19 consecutive games with a bulging disk in his back, saw his first action since Feb. 26 as the opening period approached its conclusion, after which the Bulls still trailed, 31-22, after yielding 61.9 percent field-goal shooting.

Butler continued to lead the way offensively for the Bulls in the second quarter, showcasing his improved perimeter game, but the visitors’ dominance of the action persisted, as Raptors rookie swingman Terrence Ross (13 points) came in to provide some offensive firepower off the bench.

Hamilton also provided a spark and Carlos Boozer started to come alive for the Bulls, but the Bulls just couldn’t make much headway, as their guests continued to flourish offensively, with old friend John Lucas III making his presence felt off the bench.

Improved defense, Butler’s continued brilliance and instant offense from backup point guard Nate Robinson (22 points) led to an 8-0 Bulls run and the hosts significantly slicing into the deficit to get within striking distance.

As Boozer continued to pick it up, the Bulls threatened to inch closer, but Toronto held them at bay and at the intermission, the hosts remained behind, 54-50, following a Robinson bucket with 1.5 seconds remaining in the first half.

After the break, the Raptors maintained their slim cushion, though the Bulls continued to plug away, propelled by Boozer’s all-around game and Butler’s high-flying acrobatics, which came in the form of a transition alley-oop from Kirk Hinrich.

But the play of DeRozan and Gay, the biggest in-season acquisition of the season, helped the visitors once again extend its advantage to double digits, as the Bulls’ offense began to flounder.

Toronto’s 12-0 run ceased after Thomas’ back-to-back finishes in traffic and the Bulls began to find a rhythm again, as well as clamp down on the defensive end of the floor.

However, the Bulls still couldn’t get it in within single digits and were on the wrong end of an 81-68 score heading into the final stanza.

At the outset of the fourth quarter, the Bulls’ apparent strategy of trading baskets—not that Thibodeau drew it up that way in the huddle, but that’s how the on-court events unfolded—wasn’t particularly successful for the hosts, as the Raptors’ comfortable winning margin endured, with big man Amir Johnson (13 points, 11 rebounds) quietly playing a major role.

After a hard foul by Toronto reserve big man Quincy Acy on Butler—it was originally ruled a flagrant, but downgraded to a personal after review, though Acy was hit with a technical—the Bulls went on a 10-0 run, keyed by the play of Butler, Robinson and Thomas, to make it a single-digit contest and get the home crowd back into the game.

The Raptors immediately responded with four unanswered points of their own, but the Bulls were resilient and fought back to once again make it a close-knit affair as the game entered its stretch run.

After not making much progress and allowing Toronto to gain more breathing room, a Robinson corner triple and a pair of Boozer free throws in the final minute made it a two-point game, DeRozan knocked down two free throws with 13.4 seconds left and after Robinson was fouled, a wild sequence ensued: Robinson made his first free throw and missed his second attempt, then appeared to save the ball before it went out of bounds; the officials apparently didn’t see it, ruled a jump ball, which ended up in Robinson’s hands after a scramble, but he lost it, threw it off a Raptor before incurring a backcourt violation and missed a halfcourt heave at the buzzer.