With little left on the line for the lottery-bound Toronto Raptors, coach Dwane Casey has been preaching to his players about being competitive.
He liked what he saw Friday.
With 5:33 left in the third quarter, a frustrated Chicago Bulls guard Richard Hamilton threw a hard forearm that caught DeMar DeRozan under the chin and promptly got Hamilton ejected from the game — a 97-88 Raptors victory.
“I liked that, the officials made the call but I liked that of our guys. No back-down,” Casey said. “That’s what we’re trying to develop, that’s what we want to be. Guys get frustrated when you touch them when you lean into them. We want them to be uncomfortable.”
Amir Johnson had 24 points and nine rebounds, while Rudy Gay poured in 23 points to power the short-handed Raptors past Chicago for Toronto’s second win over the Bulls in four days.
DeRozan finished with 19 points, Kyle Lowry had 13 to along with 11 assists, and rookie Quincy Acy finished with 10 points and nine boards for Toronto (31-48).
The game got chippy in the second half, highlighted by Hamilton’s cheapshot that brought the Raptors’ bench to its feet and Acy — an aggressive rookie that Johnson compares to a Dennis Rodman or Reggie Evans — rushing into the fray in DeRozan’s defence. A teammate corralled Acy, who already has two technical fouls in April.
“I love Q, I just hate to see him lose his money when he gets techs,” DeRozan said of the rookie forward. “He has everybody’s backs and that’s big. That’s the type of guy we need on this team. For a rookie to be doing that, that’s big.”
DeRozan picked up a technical soon after for yapping with Nate Robinson.
“We can’t give up,” DeRozan said. “We have to play the whole game, we just have to continue to get better at that, especially when things aren’t going our way.”
Carlos Boozer had 19 points and 12 rebounds to top the Bulls (43-36) before fouling out with 3:49 left to play. Robinson had 17 points, while Nazr Mohammed grabbed 13 boards to go with 16 points for Chicago.
The Raptors were missing Jonas Valanciunas, who hurt his neck in Toronto’s 101-98 win at Chicago on Tuesday, Terrence Ross (ankle) and Landry Fields (strep throat). Yet they managed to cobble together a 15-point lead in the third quarter against a Bulls team that’s battling for playoff position, and took a 73-65 lead into the fourth.
The Raptors kept their composure through the final quarter, and when Marco Belinelli drained a three-pointer to cut the lead to six points with just under three minutes to go, Toronto answered with a Johnson dunk followed up by a three by Gay and the home team was back up by 11.
Chicago had snapped New York’s 13-game winning streak with a 118-111 overtime victory at home the previous night and Casey said the gameplan was to go hard at the tired team.
“We wanted to play a fast tempo game. Our guys did a good job of running the floor and not turning the ball over,” the coach said. “Defensively we made it tough on them. We made them earn every inch of the court.”
A sellout Air Canada Centre crowd of 19,800 turned out to watch a Raptors squad that has just three games left in its fifth consecutive season without a post-season appearance.
Toronto could finish one spot out of the playoffs in ninth, but it’s a position Casey said would mean “nothing right now.”
“We went into the season, I remember saying we were going to knock on the door for the playoffs. I don’t think I ever said we’re going to make the playoffs. If you look at the predictions early in the season, we’re close to where everybody predicted,” Casey said. “I’m not happy, I’m not satisfied, I’m disappointed as anyone that we didn’t make the playoffs, but we’re taking steps.
“Nobody said it was going to be fast, but nobody is satisfied with where we are.”
Boozer scored 13 first-quarter points, including six consecutive baskets to give the Bulls an early 11-point lead. Toronto battled back to cut Chicago’s lead to 22-20 heading into the second.
Toronto shot 65 per cent in the second, and finished the quarter on a 12-3 run to take a 47-43 lead into the dressing room at halftime.
The Raptors stretched their advantage to a game-high 15 on a long jumper by Gay with 4:19 left in the third and held on to lead by eight with a quarter left.
Notes: Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah didn’t make the trip for Chicago. ... The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, are in Atlanta on Tuesday, then return home to host the Boston Celtics in their season finale on Wednesday. ... Valanciunas was presented with the Eastern Conference rookie of the month award for March before the game.