Bulls

Bulls withstand late flurry in 11th straight win over Raptors

Bulls withstand late flurry in 11th straight win over Raptors

At some point, it has to become absurd for the Toronto Raptors.

Certainly, they were smarting and angry over dropping a 16-point home fourth-quarter lead to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday night, but they had to be on high alert against a Bulls team they haven't beaten in more than two seasons.

But absurdity rarely has an acceptable explanation, and the Bulls' dominance over their friends from the north qualifies as such. The Bulls made the Raptors say "uncle" shortly after the opening tip for their 11th straight win in the series, a 105-94 decision Wednesday at the United Center in the Bulls' first home game after their disappointing western swing.

In the most recent evidence of mastery prior to Tuesday's game, the Butler did it, as in Jimmy Butler, who poured in 43 in a game that saw the Bulls come back from a 19-point third-quarter deficit, pushing the game into overtime before suffocating and frustrating the Raptors.

Tuesday, Butler didn't have to be Superman in his return from missing four of the last five games with a right heel injury, though he took the extra defensive attention to dish out a career-high 12 assists and scored 19 points, with 15 of those points coming from the free-throw line as he went just 2-for-10 from the field.

"The heel is good, all there is to say," Butler said. "There wasn't much pain at all. Now it's about getting a rhythm and getting back in shape."

As for his third-worst shooting night of the year, Butler said, "When you're shooting 2-for-10, I think you'd better get to the free-throw line. Other than that, everyone has a different way of changing the game. Getting to the free-throw line was the way to win."

The firepower came from the bench as Doug McDermott led the Bulls with 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting with five rebounds. The Bulls shot 41 percent from 3, their highest such clip in awhile.

Denzel Valentine hit two triples in the fourth and along with Butler helped withstand a rousing comeback when the Raptors finally woke up after being down 23 in the second half.  Butler hit four free throws in the last two minutes to push the Bulls' lead back to nine when the Raptors cut the lead to 94-89 with 2:31 left.

"We were getting stops, which allowed us to get into transition," said McDermott, who had an inside score and layup when the Raptors started charging midway through the fourth.

"It started with our defense and rebounding. We got out, and we were really unselfish. It was a great win."

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The Raptors cut down on the turnovers in the second half after having 13 in the first, methodically getting back into the game, cutting the lead to 88-80 with six minutes left and shutting off any semblance of a Bulls offense.

The Raptors weren't playing anywhere near their best basketball, but apparently something clicked about the guys who were beating them, as it was anything but the usual suspects for the Bulls doing the damage.

The Raptors shot 50 percent in the second half after shooting 41 percent in the first, hitting just enough triples to make the Bulls pay for their scrambling defense. Kyle Lowry caught fire after scoring five points in the first half, hitting four of those triples and cutting through the teeth of the Bulls' defense and finishing with 22 points in 37 minutes.

His All-Star teammate DeMar DeRozan couldn't shake from his first-half doldrums, missing 14 of his 19 shots and earning an ejection with 25 seconds left with two technical fouls of frustration. Norman Powell and Corey Joseph came off the bench to provide support when the Raptors looked quite lifeless and the Bulls looked well on their way to re-establishing whatever this level of success is against this particular opponent.

In this case, the Bulls were the ones leading by 20 well into the third quarter, courtesy of 12 first-half turnovers that allowed the Bulls to get out and running for the latter part of the half, leading 66-43 with 7:55 left in the third.

"The biggest thing was our energy. We made good, simple basketball plays in the first half," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We had good pace, and it started with our defense. We were really locked in."

Cristiano Feicio (10 points, six rebounds) had his own jam session off the bench, following up misses with thunderous dunks and playing above the rim in a way that likely precipitated the Raptors acquiring Serge Ibaka from the Orlando Magic earlier in the day for swingman Terrance Ross and a first-round pick.

"Cris was terrific, I thought. He was all over the floor," Hoiberg said. "He was up in his pick-and-roll coverage, we did a good job getting our hands on balls and that's what led to those transition baskets."

But Ibaka wasn't yet in uniform as the trade still has to be cleared through the league and physicals must be taken, so the Bulls took full advantage of the free real estate inside.

Taj Gibson (14 points, four rebounds) had more than his share of dunks on the fast break, many of the aided by the pace-pushing of Rajon Rondo, who had 12 points and hit two triples, the fourth time such an occurrence happened this season.

How bad of a night was it for the Raptors? Isaiah Canaan was about to take a foul with less than six seconds left as the Bulls had one to give before the penalty, and as he was grabbing Joseph, reserve big man Lucas Nogueira gave Canaan too much hip and was called for an illegal screen.

They made the Bulls do a little more than sweat and the Bulls had to earn the victory, but the Bulls are no closer to finding out any true answers before the All-Star break — other than the fact the Raptors have no answer for them.

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

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USA TODAY

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

The Bulls gave Jabari Parker a two-year, $40 million deal for good reason.

One, the Bulls had the salary cap space to get the deal done and had just about filled out their roster. The money wasn't going to be used elsewhere. Also, the second year of the deal is a team option which gives the Bulls some security should Parker not be able to stay healthy or play up to the standards such a salary commands.

Parker was given that money for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was not for his defense.

But, according to Parker, no one gets paid for their defense.

Speaking on 670 The Score on Wednesday, Parker was asked about whether he felt he had the ability and effort to defend in the NBA, something he hasn't done particularly well in four seasons.

"I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense," Parker said. "There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

"If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them."

Parker's right in one sense, that players are usually paid for their offensive output. There are also more tangible, easily read statistics on the offensive end than there are defensively. Heck, the Bulls gave $80 million to Zach LaVine and he was the team's worst defender last season.

But then again, defense matters. A whole lot, especially at a time when offenses are better than ever (thus making defenders more valuable). The final four teams in last year's playoffs were ranked 1st, 6th, 9th and LeBron James (29th) in defensive efficiency.

A day after Parker's comments the Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $52 million contract. He's a career 37 percent shooter and has made 29 percenet of his 3-pointers in four seasons.

So while Parker, a below-average defender, might not be entirely accurate, at least he's owning who he is. And if he scores like he did in Year 3, averaging 20 points before re-tearing his ACL, no one will care how he defends.

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

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USA TODAY

Kawhi Leonard joins Raptors in the East; it could be good news for the Bulls

The best player in basketball left the Eastern Conference two weeks ago when LeBron James signed with the Lakers. Now another top-10 player in the league is on the move, as the Spurs dealt All-Pro Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors in exchange for DeMar DeRozan.

The Raptors, in essence, are going for it. General manager Masai Ujiri made a calculated decision that his current core - or more accurately, his top combination of Kyle Lowry and DeRozan - couldn't get over the hump. They've bowed out to LeBron James and the Cavs each of the last three years (including two sweeps) and, despite James moving to the West, now face legitimate tests in Boston and Philadelphia.

That's why Ujiri was willing to move DeRozan, the face of the franchise who had been with the team since he was drafted there in 2009, for a shot to get over the hump in the East. As talented as the four-time All-Star DeRozan is, he can't match what Leonard brings to the table on both sides of the ball. They also added wing Danny Green in the trade, making them a better team in the short-term.

That's where the Bulls come in.

Both Leonard and Green have one year remaining on their contracts. It's been well-documented that Leonard wants to play in his hometown of Los Angeles, meaning there's a better-than-not chance he plays just one season with the Raptors. Of course we saw what happened with Paul George and the Thunder, so never say never. It just appears likely at this point. Also, Green was more a function of making the dollars and cents work out in the deal; the 31-year-old probably isn't part of Toronto's long-term plans.

In other words, this could be Toronto's last shot. DeRozan had three years left on his contract, and Jakob Poeltl (also part of the deal) is entering the third year of his rookie contract. If the Raptors don't win in 2018 and Leonard bolts for the Lakers or Clippers, Toronto is looking at tearing it all down and entering, more or less, a rebuild phase. Both Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka will be on the final years of their contracts, and the team might be willing to build around young role players in Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Delon Wright and Norman Powell.

That's certainly a team the Bulls could move past in the following two seasons. With a young core that includes Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., Kris Dunn and Jabari Parker - plus next year's first-round pick - the Bulls will be trending upward as the Raptors attempt to pick up the pieces on a potentially failed dice roll on Leonard. Had the Raptors run it back with DeRozan they'd at least have their core in tact through 2020 (and DeRozan has a player option for 2021).

So while the Raptors were going to be ahead of the Bulls in the standings regardless this year, their window to compete in the long-term closed by swapping DeRozan for Leonard. That's good news for the Bulls in the coming years.