Chicago 107, Toronto 97

CHICAGO, April 16 (AP) --Long after the final buzzer sounded, Ben Gordon was waiting for reality to hit.

He expects it to smack him now that this dismal season is over and the Chicago Bulls are playoff spectators instead of contenders.

"It's very bitter,'' he said. "It's just tough to swallow.''

While the Bulls entered what figures to be a busy offseason, the Toronto Raptors turned their focus toward the playoffs after finishing the regular season with a 107-97 loss at Chicago on Wednesday night. If they get more performances like this from T.J. Ford, they'll be in good shape.

Ford finished with 18 points in 18 minutes, but Tyrus Thomas scored a season-high 26 to lead Chicago in what might have been interim coach Jim Boylan's last game with the Bulls.

With the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round playoff matchup with Orlando locked up, the Raptors used their starters sparingly.

Ford made the most of his time, shooting 7-for-9 - and 6-for-8 while scoring 16 in the first quarter. Chris Bosh finished with eight points in 15 minutes.

Andrea Bargnani came off the bench and scored 13, while Kris Humphries added 14 points for the Raptors (41-41).

"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive,'' Ford said. "Try to get my mind-set ready for the playoffs.''

Toronto kept all but one of its starters - Jamario Moon - on the bench the second quarter, but all five were back when the third quarter began. They were on the sideline late in the period when Chicago rallied from six down to grab a 76-75 lead, and the Bulls pulled away from Toronto's reserves in the fourth.

While Thomas finished one shy of his career scoring high, rookie Aaron Gray set career-highs with 19 points and 22 rebounds. But Chicago's core players - Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich and Gordon - did little as a woeful season came to a merciful end.

Now, the makeover starts.

The Bulls' first move could be dismissing Boylan, who's scheduled to meet with general manager John Paxson on Thursday. He went 24-32 after taking over for the fired Scott Skiles in late December, and Chicago finished 33-49 following three straight playoff appearances.

"I'm here as the Chicago Bulls' coach,'' said Boylan, an assistant under Skiles. "I've had a wonderful time doing it. That's what I do. Hopefully, I'll continue on in this role and just go from there.''

The Raptors won 47 games last year and finished third in the Eastern Conference before losing to New Jersey, and they're not exactly sailing into the postseason, with nine wins over the last 26 games. Even so, Bosh said: "I'm ready to give the punch instead of taking it.''

Bosh and Orlando's Dwight Howard canceled each other out, statistically, when they met.

Toronto could have an edge in the backcourt, if Ford and Jose Calderon play well, but can the Raptors contain the Magic's perimeter shooters? Or will they concede the outside shot while clogging the middle?

"You don't want to shoot threes for seven games,'' Bosh said. "You definitely don't want to do that. You can either be really hot or really cold.''

The Bulls have another issue to address, and Boylan wasn't ready to throw in the towel on his tenure even though Chicago wrapped up its worst season since 2003-04. Skiles took over 16 games into that season, and the Bulls finished with 59 losses before making the playoffs the next three years.

They reached the second round last year and expected to contend in the Eastern Conference this season.

Instead, they came apart.

Paxson met with the team after the game, and he'll meet with his interim coach on Thursday. If it's a last chance to sell himself, Boylan didn't see it that way.

"I've been auditioning for this job the last three-and-a-half months or so,'' he said. "John and I have had several conversations over the last several weeks.''

Notes: Calderon buried a 41-footer at the end of the first quarter, extending Toronto's lead to 33-27. ... Gray started at center for Joakim Noah, who was late returning from New York after the death of a relative. ... Gray was glad to see the NBA suspend Milwaukee's Royal Ivey for three regular-season games for punching him in the groin on Monday. "It was nice to see, because (Paxson) was calling,'' Gray said. "It's obvious I had support from the organization and the NBA.''


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