The veteran Chicago Bulls pulled no punches when the game started in Toronto on Wednesday night, racing out to a 10 point lead that they rode to an eventual 94-92 victory at the Air Canada Centre in front of 17,704 enthusiastic fans. The win evens the season series with Toronto, both teams taking 2 in the other team’s building.
The Bulls veteran big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah got their team off to a great start, scoring 13 points between them in the first quarter while holding the Raptors less experienced starters Jonas Valanciunas and Patrick Patterson to just 2 points on 3 shoots. The only Raptors player able to produce any offense early on was DeMar DeRozan who had 12 points in the first 9 minutes.
“I thought Carlos got us established in the paint early,” said Head Coach Tom Thibodeau. “Joakim and Kirk (Hinrich) were huge throughout. We got off to a good start which I thought was important to us.”
Toronto let the Bulls get up by 15 points in the second quarter before fighting back and some of that fight was almost literal as Tyler Hansbrough strenuously objected to being knocked down and stood over by Nazr Mohammed. For a while it looked like it might come to blows, but actual fights are a thing of the past in the NBA. A pair a technical fouls resolved the issue and not too long after, the Raptors started showing some life.
The third quarter saw Toronto get down by 15 points again before responding, but in typical Raptors fashion, they saved their biggest push for the fourth quarter. This was a 1-point game with less than 10 seconds left and the ball in DeRozan’ hands when Jimmy Butler was credited with a block that allowed the Bulls to escape with the win.
“DeRozan got going, but Jimmy was right there on him,” Thibodeau said. “He made him work for those points and came up with some big plays for us at the end of the game.”
“Jimmy has been playing at a real high level,” Noah said. “His ‘D’ has been crazy, that was great defense at the end.”
The Raptors outscored the Bulls 71-63 over the final three-quarters and put themselves in a position to win the second game of their first back-to-back set after the All-Star break, but in the end, they just couldn’t overcome their poor start.
“We can’t spot a team like that, that many points and expect to fight back and get back into the game,” said Head Coach Dwane Casey. “I do like the way we fought back, but that’s not a way to live in the NBA. That was a playoff game. That’s something our players have to get used to. That type of intensity, that physicality and I thought we matched that after we got hit in the face a couple of times. Back-to-back is not an excuse, but I do like the way we battled back.”
“It wasn’t a playoff atmosphere because of the technicals, it was a playoff atmosphere because it was definitely a physical game, high intensity,” Noah said. “We know what we are playing for, everybody knows what we are playing for and it was a big win for us.”
DeRozan led all scorers with 32 points on 11-25 shooting and Kyle Lowry chipped in 16 points before fouling out. Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough were effective off the bench combining for 17 points and 10 rebounds.
Boozer led the Bulls with 20 points while Hinrich and former Raptor D.J. Augustin scored 19 points each. Butler had 16 points.
The Bulls created something of a minor controversy when Taj Gibson was listed as their starting small forward before the game, but Mike Dunleavy ran out onto the court when Gibson’s name was called during the player introductions. Dunleavy did start.
The Bulls play Denver next on Friday.
The Raptors play the red hot Cavaliers, winners of 6 in a row, on Friday, then face the Magic on Sunday and head to Cleveland on Tuesday.
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