Jimmy Butler's return from injury was one of the most brilliantly unorthadox offensive performances you will ever see.
At some point, it has to become absurd for the Toronto Raptors.
The Raptors (32-24) dropped 11 of their last 15 and are 0-11 against the Bulls since late 2013. The Bulls broke a three-game losing streak and are 27-29. The Bulls were led by (who else?) Doug McDermott, who had 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting. Serge Ibaka's arrival will nearly certainly make them a better team as he gets acclimated with the squad, but he wasn't there tonight and the Bulls made their opponents pay for their recent complacency. "It started with our defense and rebounding".
The game was virtually over at this point with the Bulls leading 101-93, but this final assist from Butler was the one that basically put the game away. Paul Zipser had an ankle injury and came home vomiting.
But the Bulls got back the indispensible man, Butler, who with his achy heel wasn't making many shots. He did convert 15 of his 19 free-throw attempts however.
But, with the huge Bulls lead from earlier gone, and the score tighter at 88-81 with a little over five minutes left, Valentine stepped up and hit a big triple to extend the lead back out to 10 points. Lowry sticks to Butler with Carroll and DeRozan, but Butler goes airbourne on the pass, finds McDermott, who gets in the lane for the finish.
"I had the hot hand", he said.
"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.
The Bulls' bench enjoyed a 54-34 scoring edge over the Raptors' reserves.
On Tuesday morning, the Raptors and Magic agreed to a trade that would bring Serge Ibaka to Toronto.
The Bulls did show heart in this game, and so, appropriately, it was Valentine's Day and Denzel Valentine delivered some vital love.
Too bad the Chicago Bulls can't play the Toronto Raptors all the time. Felicio and Rajon Rondo in particular scored very well, which took pressure off of Butler and allowed him to focus on other areas of the game such as facilitation (seven assists) and playing the passing lanes on the other end (four steals). But the Raptors got no closer than 96-91 on a pair of DeRozan free throws with 2:08 to play. On Tuesday, he again provided the Bulls what they needed, just days ahead of his third straight trip to the All-Star Game. He also picked up a technical foul in the first quarter.
"The biggest thing that I was happy with tonight was our energy out of the gate", Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. "We got off to a really good start, especially defensively".
The Raptors weren't playing anywhere near their best basketball, but apparently something clicked about the guys who were beating them, as it was anything but the usual suspects for the Bulls doing the damage.
At the 1:44 mark of the second period, Butler converted two free throws to give Chicago a 56-35 lead, its largest of the first half. Toronto has had success the last two years going with small, three and sometimes four-guard lineups. Fortunately for the Bulls, this allowed them to maintain their lead of 20ish points for the majority of the quarter, as neither team found themselves able to string together a run against the other. But he usually sits late. The Raptors are struggling into the All-Star break as well with losses in 10 of the last 14 games to fall from second in the Eastern Conference to fourth. They had shots to get within four in the fourth quarter, but missed.
CAVALIERS: Cleveland forward Kevin Love will be out at least six weeks following knee surgery.
With two minutes to go and both teams already in the bonus, the Bulls found themselves up by only five points.