Jimmy Butler’s return Monday came with a dramatic finish as Butler’s last second block/strip of a DeMar DeRozan drive saved a most unlikely 109-107 Bulls victory.
It was the fourth straight Bulls win over Toronto this season as the Bulls moved to 33-32. Toronto fell to 44-21. The Bulls had lost six of eight.
The Bulls led much of the game and were hanging onto 106-100 lead with under a minute left when Toronto pressure almost led to an unraveling. But the Bulls held on after one of two Butler free throws and Butler’s defensive play.
The Bulls were led by Doug McDermott with 29 points and Nikola Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore each with 17. Butler had 13 and Taj Gibson was strong at center with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Kyle Lowry had 33 for Toronto and DeRozan had 27.
The Bulls had a turnover from Mirotic trying to dribble up and a five-second inbounds turnover before Mirotic made two free throws with 16 seconds left for a 108-105 Bulls lead. That ended a streak of four straight scoreless possessions after scoring with 1:54 left.
Not that this kind of thing is news anymore, but the latest for the Bulls had Derrick Rose not ready yet with his groin issue, Mike Dunleavy out with a virus and heading back to the team hotel from the arena, Pau Gasol back in Chicago with a knee problem and, of course, Joakim Noah out for the season. So with Taj Gibson starting at center, Justin Holiday at small forward and Jimmy Butler back from his knee injury, the Bulls, surprisingly, took a 13-4 lead to start. The Raptors went back to their scoring guards to score nine straight as Butler went out after six minutes with his playing time being managed. But Moore picked up the scoring deficit with 11 in the first quarter, hitting all five of his shots. The Bulls also got a boost from Doug McDermott, who had his career high of 30 in the Bulls last game against Toronto, with 10 points off the bench as the Bulls led 34-29 after the first quarter.
The Raptors fought back when a series of technical fouls seemed to unhinge the Raptors. First, Jimmy Butler got slammed on a drive with no call and he stopped to protest and was called for the technical. That enabled Toronto to pull within 44-42. But McDermott then kept it going against his favorite opponent with a pair of threes. That led to a pair of technical fouls against Toronto when coach Dwane Casey and Patrick Patterson had varied objections. That run gave the Bulls a 56-44 lead with three minutes left as McDermott was working on 24 points in the half. But the Bulls stalled and would not get a field goal the rest of the half with some forced shots as the Raptors got within 58-52 at halftime. Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas would go out with a hand injury.
The Bulls kept the pressure on after halftime with a Justin Holiday three for a 63-52 edge. Toronto battled back behind Kyle Lowry driving, but Moore matched that with a pair of tough jumpers for a 73-62 Bulls lead midway through the third quarter. The Bulls continued to frustrate the Raptors with Mirotic hitting a long three on top and Tony Snell driving down the middle for a two handed dunk. The Raptors, though, scored the last six points of the third quarter to cut the Bulls lead to 84-77 going into the fourth quarter.
McDermott continued to thrive with another three early in the fourth for a 90-77 Bulls lead before Lowry drove the Raptors back within 94-84 with about eight minutes left in the game. While the Bulls continued to hold off the Raptors with a pair of Taj Gibson scores, the Bulls were cracking inside as the Raptors with second chances—five fourth quarter offensive rebounds in seven minutes--got within 102-96 with 4:51 remaining. With 2:53 left, the Bulls still were holding on to a 104-96 lead with a key sequence Gibson grabbing consecutive offensive rebounds on one possession leading to his own driving score.