Bulls suffer letdown, fall to Raptors

Bulls suffer letdown, fall to Raptors

April 12, 2013, 8:30 pm
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TORONTO—While the Bulls (43-36) have deservedly earned a reputation for consistently playing hard on a nightly basis, a trend has emerged in which they also play up or down to the level of their competition, as evidenced by Friday night’s’ 97-88, to the Raptors (31-48) at the Air Canada Centre.

While that’s fine for performances like Thursday’s thrilling overtime home win over the Knicks, an upper-echelon opponent, the Bulls’ clearly uninspired effort in Toronto left much to be desired, as their trademark defense didn’t live up to its usual standards and the offensive execution wasn’t any better.

The visitors made a concerted effort to find Carlos Boozer (19 points, 12 rebounds) from the outset of the contest and the power forward, as he usually does in Toronto—his two highest-scoring games in a Bulls uniform took place in Canada—the power forward delivered, knocking down his first six shots from the field.

What was a close-knit affair early on evolved into the Bulls opening up a comfortable winning margin, due to their offensive efficiency and not allowing the hosts to find a rhythm on the other end of the floor.

But the Raptors fought back, going on a 12-3 run to make it a competitive ballgame again, as the athletic trio of Rudy Gay (23 points), Amir Johnson (24 points, nine rebounds) and DeMar DeRozan (19 points) each made a positive impact as scorers, while floor general Kyle Lowry (13 points, 11 assists, nine rebounds) set the table for them.

But buoyed by the contributions of center Nazr Mohammed (16 points, 13 rebounds)—again starting for injured All-Star center Joakim Noah after a one-game break against the small-ball Knicks the previous evening—the Bulls clung to a 22-20 lead after a quarter of play.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau experimented with his rotation, as he attempted to mix and match to deal with the team’s injury woes, reintegrate players on the mend and rest some of his core players, all of which didn’t result in much productivity, especially as Boozer went cold, missing five consecutive shots following his hot start.

Toronto briefly overtook its hosts, but it was more of a back-and-forth contest, as the likes of All-Star Luol Deng (10 points, eight assists), who focused on facilitating for his teammates, and veteran Rip Hamilton, in a reserve role, ensured that the Bulls stayed within striking distance.

Propelled by Gay and DeRozan, the Raptors’ gradually gained efficiency on offense, as the home team got high-percentage opportunities in both the halfcourt and in transition.

At the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 47-43, with their problems compounded by Boozer picking up his third foul late in the second quarter.

After the break, Boozer scored a quick basket, but instead of resuming his early-game dominance, he soon took a seat after picking up his fourth foul and the Raptors subsequently extended their advantage, with the duo of Johnson and DeRozan leading the way.

Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when Hamilton was called for a flagrant-two foul, resulting in an automatic ejection, for throwing an elbow to the head of DeRozan while attempting to get open off the ball.

Toronto took a double-digit lead, as Mohammed became the Bulls’ best offensive option and while the game remained chippy—DeRozan was hit with a technical for jawing at Nate Robinson (17 points, six assists) for pushing him—but Robinson’s instant offense, perhaps inspired by the mild fracas, helped draw the visitors closer.

It wouldn’t last, however, as Gay began to come alive and Raptors rookie power forward Quincy Acy (10 points, nine rebounds) added some grit on the interior, putting the Bulls on the wrong end of a 73-65 score heading into the final stanza.

A quick 4-0 run to begin the fourth quarter ignited the Bulls, prompting a Raptors timeout, which seemingly refocused the hosts, at least on the defensive end of the court, as the Bulls’ offensive attack stagnated.

Toronto maintained its cushion, partially due to the visitors’ ball-security issues, as well as defensive lapses and in some cases, improbable occurrences, such as Johnson, not known for his range, knocking down a trey.

To make matters worse, Boozer fouled out as the game entered its stretch run and while the Bulls didn’t permit the Raptors’ lead to balloon, they simply couldn’t string together enough defensive stops and successful offensive possessions to truly challenge the hosts as time went on, though late triples from Deng, Robinson and Marco Belinelli kept hope alive for the time being.

But after a long bomb from Gay with 2:17 remaining gave Toronto a double-digit winning margin, 95-84, the hosts kept control of the contest and the only drama that remained was whether the home team would top triple digits, which would entitle their fans to free pizza.