Bulls return home and defeat Raptors, 105-94

He’s Jimmy, and he’s free shootin’;
He’s Dougie, and dinos he’s a slayin’
Raps are goin’ down again;
It’s the Bulls winnin’

Yeah, baby, yeah baby;

The Bulls needed this one more than maybe.

Apologies to Drake, and, actually apologies to the Drake Hotel, the Toronto Raptors, civilized society in general and anyone who treasures and appreciates music. But as inexplicable as anything in an often bewildering NBA, the Bulls Tuesday for a baffling 11th consecutive time delivered a rap to the Toronto Raptors, a 105-94 Bulls victory. A darn good Raps team, last season’s conference finalist which now has fallen to fifth in the Eastern Conference at 32-24. The Bulls broke a three-game losing streak and are 27-29.

The Bulls were Rappin’?

“Great win,” sang Doug McDermott, who led the Bulls with 20 points and is averaging 24 against the Raptors his last four against them. “We were getting stops, which allowed us to get into transition. We got out and we were really unselfish. It started with our defense and rebounding.”

However the Bulls did it, the win was a relief after the disastrous close to the Western Conference road trip, three losses by an average of close to 30 points per game, four straight opponents shooting at least 50 percent, the Bulls held below 100 points three consecutive times and falling to a season worst three games below .500.

So they needed this one, and it was going to be another difficult one, the first game home after two weeks on the road with half the players fighting through cold and flu. Dwyane Wade was out again with a wrist injury and Nikola Mirotic with back problems. Paul Zipser had an ankle injury and came home vomiting. It remained unclear whether it was bad walleye, as someone suggested, or bad basketball, as everyone had seen.

But the Bulls got back the indispensible man, Butler, who with his achy heel wasn’t making many shots. But he had 19 points with 15 of 19 free throws, 12 assists and four steals. And with the Bulls down the stretch seeing a 23-point lead shrink to five, Butler made six of eight free throws in the last three minutes to stop the Raptors in their tracks and help the Bulls escape the clutches of another embarrassing blown lead.

“This ball club had a lot of confidence in me to change the game in more ways than just going 10 for 10 from the field,” said Butler.

Butler did deliver with eight fourth quarter points, all on free throws, to go with 14 points from Taj Gibson, 12 from Rajon Rondo and 10 from Cristiano Felicio. The Bulls bench had a 54-34 advantage. Toronto also was missing players, having traded for Orlando’s Serge Ibaka earlier in the day.

The Bulls did show heart in this game, and so, appropriately, it was Valentine’s Day and Denzel Valentine delivered some vital love. With Toronto surging in the fourth, having gone with smaller players and pressuring on defense, the Bulls 72-51 lead with four minutes left in the third quarter was 88-81 with 5:30 left in the game.

But then Valentine made his second three pointer of the fourth quarter, his only baskets of the game. Then McDermott got out running on a DeMar DeRozan miss and finished on a pass from Valentine, the Bulls final two among an impressive 20 fast break points.

That first half, especially the second quarter with the Bulls flying up and down the court, had them with a 58-39 halftime lead and 16-2 on fast break points. There was seven assists for Butler, several fast break dunks each for Gibson and Felicio, a pair of threes and sharp ball movement from Rajon Rondo, and 31-9 from the Bulls bench.

But it was all about to disappear until the clutch shots and plays from Valentine and McDermott, and then free throws mostly from Butler and two from Michael Carter-Williams held off the Raptors. With 25 seconds left, DeRozan got himself kicked out.

“The biggest thing was our energy out of the gate,” said Hoiberg. “I thought we got off to a really good start, especially defensively, holding them to 18 in the first quarter. We were really locked in defensively in the first half.”

The second half not so much after the Bulls took their largest lead, 66-43, early in the third quarter. Toronto has had success the last two years going with small, three and sometimes four-guard lineups. They go to center Jonas Valanciunas early, and he dominated the Bulls on the boards in the first quarter. But he usually sits late. And while the Raptors got their game energized with their guards in the second half and pressuring defense that seemed to bother the Bulls, they fall into jump shooting mode. They had shots to get within four in the fourth quarter, but missed. And then Butler barreled his way to the basket to close it out.

And so comes to a close the unofficial first half of the NBA season for the Bulls Thursday with a national TNT game against streaking Boston. Then it’s the All-Star break for everyone but Butler, who was voted a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

Then it’s the trading deadline Thursday Feb. 23 and for the Bulls the start of the so called stretch run the next night at home against Phoenix and then Saturday in Cleveland for the ABC-TV national game. With the news the Cavs’ Kevin Love had knee surgery, suddenly there has been renewed hope in the conference that perhaps the Cavs can be caught. Toronto kicked it off with the first big trade. Will Boston or Washington, the two hottest teams, make a move? Will the Bulls, who still are in playoff position?

“As bad as you (media) guys may write stories,” said Rondo, “we’re still in seventh with a lot of home games left.”

After yet another rap beatdown.

So the Bulls are close to the edge;
But they’re not ready to lose their head;
Jimmy is makin’ buckets,
And he’s not the only one who dun it.