Kyle Lowry milked his one remaining foul for five riveting minutes Wednesday night. He saved his brevity for a question about whether he'd have a difficult time sleeping ahead of Thursday's trade deadline.
"Nope," the Toronto Raptors point guard said after a 94-92 loss to the Chicago Bulls at the Air Canada Centre, adjusting the scarf that was wrapped around his neck. "Anybody got any more questions? Take it easy …" And so ended a night fraught with playoff tension, a sneak peak of what significant basketball will feel, smell and sound like for the playoff-bound Raptors and maybe a reminder that in addition to the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers, the Bulls are a team you might want to add to the Raptors list of "wanna miss" post-season opponents.
The Raptors have made a habit in recent games of falling into a snooze at the start and then digging themselves out. It almost worked again last night, despite a game that started with the Bulls pushing the Raptors around in the paint (scoring 16 of 31 first-quarter points in the paint, grabbing 10 second-chance points and six offensive rebounds).
Within four minutes of the opening tip-off all five Bulls starters had scored in what was a 12-6 lead; by the time the game was seven minutes old the Bulls had already scored 12 points in the paint and Raptors head coach Dwane Casey removed starters Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross – road-kill, to that point – and replaced them with Amir Johnson and John Salmons.
It looked like a lost night, with Lowry picking up two fouls then helping key an 11-0 run in the second quarter before his third personal put him back on the bench, opening the door for a 6-2 Bulls mini-spurt going into half-time. Lowry found himself with four fouls with eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, narrowly avoiding being ejected when – already sitting on one technical – he fired the ball to referee Kevin Scott after his fourth foul, earning a stern look and a delay of game call. Lowry finished with 16 points and fouled out with 2.4 seconds left after DeMar DeRozan, who had 32 points, had a shot blocked by Jimmy Butler. Lowry, who helped the Raptors come back from an 81-73 deficit and had five points while playing five minutes with his fifth foul, hacked Butler for his sixth. "Game-winning stop, right there," said Butler's teammates Carlos Boozer, who led the Bulls with 20 points.
Casey said the play was designed to get DeRozan "going downhill toward the basket." A rip-and-go, in Casey parlance. "That's one of those things we have to execute on," said Casey, whose teams is 29-25. "Get the ball to our top players; he had 32 points, he's the only guy who really had anything going.
"He made a strong move there, got into the paint, rose up and got a shot off. I don't know how you can fault that." Added Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau: "DeRozan is a load. I thought Jimmy defended him on several plays as well as you can, but he still has the ability to rise up and make a shot. He is a big-time player."
It was a rough and tumble affair, with technical fouls and plenty of ill-will – most of it involving Tyler Hansbrough, who had eight points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes off the bench and squared up to Nazr Mohammed at one point. There was something to be said for Lowry managing to be a force in the game – playing on back to back nights, with a whistle-happy, rabbit-eared officiating crew. Lowry even stepped in to take a charge with five fouls, a remarkably brazen sign of confidence.
"He played well with five fouls, through a hard stretch," Casey said of Lowry.
Lowry deflected any praise. "We can't allow ourselves to get down by 15 points and try to be a last-shot winner," he said.
The Raptors have 28 games left on the regular-season schedule. Just eight of them are against teams that went into the night with .500 records. They are done with the Bulls, the season series split 2-2 after Wednesday's loss which was only the Raptors third loss in their last 12 home games. Toronto secured the season series against the Washington Wizards on Tuesday, with their third win in three games with one more to play. They missed a chance to do so against another team near them in the standings … but they received a healthy helping of what's yet to come.
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