Whether they're doing it with standout performances from Jimmy Butler or from Doug McDermott, the Chicago Bulls keep finding ways to beat the Toronto Raptors. In fact, they did it for a ninth straight time on Monday night.
Even with a roster heavily depleted by injuries, the Bulls slapped Toronto with another heartbreaker, 109-107, behind 29 points from McDermott, keeping alive their hopes for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors, meanwhile, remain winless against the Bulls dating back to Dec. 31, 2013.
But worse, Jonas Valanciunas left with a hand injury.
Kyle Lowry led the way with 33 points for Toronto, while DeMar DeRozan had 27. But Toronto's determined fourth-quarter comeback fell short.
It seemed the odds might be in Toronto's favour this time. The Bulls were missing big stars such as Derrick Rose (adductor), Pau Gasol (knee), Mike Dunleavy (stomach virus) and Joakim Noah (shoulder). But Butler returned to action – in his last game in Toronto, the all-star scored a franchise-record 40 points in the second half to orchestrate a Chicago win. Butler had missed the past three games, and 14 of Chicago's past 15, with a left knee injury.
James Johnson was assigned to cover Butler early on, and held him scoreless in the brief six minutes the Bulls star played in the first quarter. Lowry jumped out to a fast 11-point quarter, but so did E'Twaun Moore for Chicago. McDermott came off the bench and quickly got hot, conjuring memories of the career-high 30-point game he had to lead Chicago to a home victory over Toronto last month.
The Raptors, whose defence has fallen from the top 10 in the league earlier in the year to the bottom five in the period since the all-star break, let the Bulls shoot a stellar 67 per cent in the opening quarter. Chicago led 34-29.
Valanciunas left the game in the first quarter after injuring his left hand – the same one that caused him to miss 17 games earlier this season. The team said X-rays taken immediately were negative.
Butler got loose for a few buckets in the second quarter, while McDermott amassed 24 points. Things got testy between the two teams, and several technical fouls were called.
The Air Canada Centre crowd got loud and angry over a questionable foul on Toronto newcomer Jason Thompson.
The Bulls seemed to stifle Lowry's production in the second quarter, and Chicago went into the half with a 58-52 lead.
The Raptors have had the top offensive rating in the NBA in games since the all-star break (112.3) and showed some promising flashes in the third. DeRozan and Lowry were heating up, as was Patrick Patterson, filling in for Valanciunas. Still, Toronto trailed 84-77 going into the fourth.
Toronto launched a run in the fourth behind scoring from their all-star backcourt duo, pulling within three points with 25 seconds left. DeRozan rolled in for an easy layup to get within one in the final 19 seconds, which began a cycle of forced fouls and free throws. Toronto's final attempt just fell short.
Five different Bulls scored double digits, including Butler, who had 13 points.
"It's hard to figure out," Toronto Coach Dwane Casey said when asked about Chicago's success versus his team earlier in the day. "We've truly struggled with them."
Chicago improves to 33-32 and sits ninth in the East, well within shooting distance of a playoff spot.
The Raptors fell to 44-21 and remain in the second spot in the conference with 17 games to go in the regular season. The team closed out this seven-game homestand, having gone 5-2. It now heads out on the road to face Milwaukee and Indiana before returning home Friday to take on Boston.