As Bulls games go, that was a pretty fun one. Going against an Eastern conference contemporary in Toronto in their first game after the All-Star break, the Bulls almost let things slip way but wound up with a 94-92 win. The Raptors had a chance to take the lead down 1 with ten second remaining, but their play was a DeMar DeRozan isolation on Jimmy Butler. And...it is extremely difficult to get a good look that way. DeRozan actually wound up with a terrible look, even after shoving (and traveling) while trying, failing to complete an impressive Raptors comeback from him and his team.
DeRozan did wind up with 32 points, and actually started the game with 12 of his team's first 14 on 6/6 shooting. But the story of how the Bulls built an early lead in that time (and had one for the entire game) was the performance by their starting unit. They began the game with 7 assisted baskets, showing the shared effort they can display on offense (and the lack of a scorer like DeRozan, too) on their way to 65% shooting in their opening stint. They had similar runs whenever on the floor together and wound up with some familiar, but also some strange lines:
- Butler's defense on the final play was mentioned, and he put in his usual great effort in his (gulp) 46 minutes on the floor, but was also extremely aggressive offensively while continuing his avoidance of the 3-point line.
- Carlos Boozer had another strong, yet typical game from him: 20 points on 7-13 shooting, yet only 33 seconds played in the 4th quarter (after Taj has fouled out)
- Joakim Noah is where it starts to get weird: 8 points and 4 rebounds, but a career high 13 assists. The most assists by a center since a Vlade Divac performance from 18 years ago.
- Mike Dunleavy meanwhile shot 1-6, but had 11 rebounds.
- Kirk Hinrich was on fire. 8-11 shooting (3-3 from three!) for 19 points, including a clutch jumper in the final minutes. But somehow didn't get a single assist.
Hinrich also did a hell of a job aggravating Kyle Lowry, though he had some big plays down the stretch himself he shot only 4-13 and seemed preoccupied with the officiating. Though that was not uncommon in this game (and really as a Bulls fan I try not to complain about mugging at officials since Taj Gibson is HoF in that department), which was chippy and poorly officiated. It finished with a tally of 7 technicals overall and 2 Tyler Hansbrough brouhahas. The aptly named 'Psycho T' got into whistled altercations with Nazr Mohammed in the first half and Mike Dunleavy in the second (plus general back-and-forths with Taj throughout) as he did his usual limbs-flailing mouth-breathing act. But Hansbrough also did help keep the Raptors in the game by allowing them to play small a lot while playing the Bulls even on the boards.
The Raptors runs also coincided with DJ Augustin's playing time, trying to overwhelm him physically on both ends of the floor. What was at times a 15-point deficit would be reduced in the 2nd and 4th quarters, but the guy the Raptors cut early in the season showed how he's a new player in Chicago: hitting 4 of 5 from downtown on his way to 19 points (that's right, 38 from the Bulls PGs), with 13 of those in that 4th quarter to give the Bulls just enough to hold on.
The end was a bit messy as the Bulls had a final-minute 24-second violation as one of their 4 turnovers in the final period, but this was an impressive victory. I'd say the Bulls and Raptors are firmly in that second (irrelevantly behind, but still second!) tier in the East alongside Washington. The Raptors did just beat the Wiz last night while the Bulls had 6 days rest, but no doubt this win further shows Chicago is in that group. And as it'd mean a seed where they wouldn't be a non-competitive underdog, that's a good spot to be in.