In a game that was much closer than the final score will indicate, the Chicago Bulls pulled out a hard-fought 94-82 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre. The Bulls improved to 39-10 this season, which remains the best record in the NBA.
The Bulls placed five players in double figures against the Raptors (15-32). John Lucas III and Kyle Korver spearheaded a fourth-quarter rally, scoring 13 and 10 points, respectively, all of which in the final period. Luol Deng got off to a fast start and ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds in 43 minutes of action, although he missed 11-of-16 shots. Ronnie Brewer dropped 12 points, six rebounds and two steals and was the Bulls’ most energetic player in the first 36 minutes, while C.J. Watson – who was starting in place of the injured Derrick Rose (groin) once again – poured in 15 points and drilled three of his six three-pointers.
Both teams shot the basketball well from the outset. Each squad hit 11-of-22 from the field in the first quarter, but the Bulls, in terms of rebounding and ball movement, picked up right where they left off Monday night against the Orlando Magic. Carlos Boozer exhibited crisp passing early, and Deng benefited off his teammates, going off for 10 opening-quarter points as the Bulls led 27-23 after the first. While the Bulls’ offense tailed off and was turnover-prone in the second quarter, the Raptors continued to shoot around 50 percent from the field and outscored the visitors 28-16 in the period to take a 51-43 lead at halftime.
The Bulls were sluggish to start the third quarter and fell behind 57-45, but they went on a quick 7-0 run to cut the deficit to five points. But they weren’t able to build on that stretch and were down 69-62 through three quarters of play. Then, the “Bench Mob” – a lineup of Lucas, Korver, Deng, Taj Gibson and Omer Asik – entered and ignited a 20-0 run by the Bulls that spanned just over five minutes. Lucas started the surge, draining three straight jumpers for the Bulls’ first seven fourth-quarter points, while Kover added four buckets.
Thibodeau’s bunch snatched all the momentum, and, most importantly, the game, in the fourth quarter. Yet again, with four out of the five starters watching from the sideline, the reserves stepped up and made big plays on both ends of the floor time and time again. Even on a night when the Bulls’ offense shot 43.9 percent from the field; turned it over 14 times and made just 15-of-23 (65.2 percent) free throws, the team found a way to win.
The Bulls’ ability to receive strong performances from multiple sources and turn it on down the stretch of games has been a reoccurring theme all season long – and that didn’t change Wednesday when it seemed, for the most part, as if the Raptors, who were led by DeMar DeRozan's 23 points, had total control of the contest.
Next up, the Bulls have two days off before playing the second game of their home-and-home set with the Raptors on Saturday night at the United Center.