The Bulls won for the sixth time in their last eight games, pushed their Eastern Conference-leading road record to 11-5, and stayed hot on the heels of the Indiana Pacers for the Central Division lead.
Instead of taking care of business against a bad team — and Toronto (14-25) is a bad team — the Bulls wasted a 19-point lead and allowed the Raptors to score 56 points in the second half to force overtime.
The Bulls defense on Alan Anderson and Kyle Lowry was laughable. Anderson nailed four three-pointers and scored 27 on 10-for-18 shooting. Lowry had 26 points on 8-for-15 from the field and 8-for-11 from the foul line. Those two were the biggest reasons Toronto’s bench outscored Chicago’s reserves 66-18.
At times, Anderson and Lowry single-handedly kept the Raptors in the game. They combined for 14 points in the second quarter and 17 points in the fourth.
At first, I blamed Nate Robinson for letting Lowry explode in the second quarter. But, honestly, Kirk Hinrich looked nearly as helpless. What’s more, Lowry used his acting skills to bait both Hinrich and Robinson into untimely fouls.
The Bulls couldn’t figure out how to contain Lowry on high pick and rolls. And this wasn’t the first time an opponent took advantage of that particular tactic.
Lowry was getting to the rim and drawing fouls at will…even when the Bulls were clearly expecting him to drive. It almost cost them the game.
Outworked and Outhustled:
After Rip Hamilton hit the second of back-to-back threes with 4:28 left in the third quarter, the Bulls were up 76-57 and appeared to be on their way to an easy win.
From that point until the end of regulation, Toronto outscored Chicago 43-24. During that stretch, the Raptors hit three three-pointers and five shots at the rim, pulled down 8 offensive rebounds, and earned 22 trips to the free throw line. They also held the Bulls to 7-for-27 shooting.
The Raptors were more aggressive and determined over the last 16 minutes or so of regulation. They stymied the Bulls with physical play. It was what I would call a “soft” finish for the good guys.
Missing in Action:
Rip Hamilton was 6-for-9 from the field and 2-for-3 from downtown for 15 points in 18 minutes and a plus-minus score of +11. However, he was subbed out late in the third quarter and never returned. It was an interesting decision, considering how poorly the Bulls were shooting, and Marco Belinelli in particular (2-for-9).
The Bulls outscored the Raptors 54-36 in the paint.
The Bulls gave up 21 points off 14 turnovers and allowed the Raptors to score at a rate of 108.4 points per 100 possessions.
Both teams combined to miss 19 free throws — 10 bricks by the Bulls and nine by the Raptors — including several crucial misses in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls were 3-for-13 from three-point range.
Player of the Game:
Carlos Boozer. He was the team’s offense in the first half — Boozer scored 25 points in the first 24 minutes — and he finished with a season-best 36 points. He shot 16-for-24 from the field and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. He also pulled down 12 rebounds and dished out 3 assists. He had a team-best plus-minus score of +20.
Boozer has been on fire lately. In eight games this month, he’s averaging 24 points on 56 percent shooting to go with 10.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
And actually, Boozer is quietly having a terrific season. He has 21 double-doubles, which is first in the East and fifth overall. He leads the Bulls in Player Efficiency Rating (18.9), Defensive Rebounding Percentage (27.2) and Total Rebounding Percentage (18.1). He’s second on the team in Offensive Win Shares (1.8), Defensive Win Shares (2.1) and Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.148).
Bulls fans sometimes complain about Boozer’s contract…but he’s earning his money right now.
Clutch Player of the Game:
Luol Deng. He didn’t shoot well (6-for-14), but he finished with 19 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, and he made several key plays:
5:00 left in the fourth: Knocked down a three-pointer to put the Bulls up 93-86.
4:28 left in the fourth: Hit a 12-footer to put the Bulls up 95-89.
2:15 left in the fourth: Found Boozer for a layup to put the Bulls up 97-93.
1:22 left in the fourth: Attacked the basket against Alan Anderson’s aggressive defense, drew the foul, and knocked down both free throws to put the Bulls up 99-95.
0:03 left in overtime: Drilled a 18-footer to win the game.
That game-winner was huge.
Said Joakim Noah: “He told me even before he hit the shot. He said, ‘Let’s go home, man. I’m going to hit this shot and let’s go home.’ Yeah, his swag is crazy.”
Added Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau: “That’s what he does. Whatever you need. You need great defense? He does that. You need rebounding in traffic? He does that. You need a big shot? He does that. Move well without the ball, run the floor — to me that’s who he is. That’s what makes him such a good player.”
And what does the man himself think?
Said Deng: “I think it’s just maturing and being in the league for a while now. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. When it comes to last minutes in a game, I’m not as nervous or worried about what I’m going to do as I used to [be]. It’s a few things that I do well, and I’m going to stick to that. At the end of the game, just stick to my game. Never get out of character. Close game or not a close game, just keep staying the same way.”
Rough Outing for Taj:
Gibson was 3-for-9 from the field and had only 4 rebounds and zero blocked shots before fouling out in only 18 minutes of action. Worse, the Bulls were outscored by 14 points while he was on the floor.