Jonas Valanciunas leads Raptors over Bulls
December 31, 2013 (AP) – With eight wins in their last 11 games, the Toronto Raptors head into 2014 pointed in the right direction.
They believe it can be the start of something big.
Jonas Valanciunas scored 15 points and the Toronto Raptors mounted a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Chicago Bulls 85-79 on Tuesday night.
He made two big free throws to seal the game in the final minute after Toronto had missed three of four from the line down the stretch.
Greivis Vasquez hit a 3-pointer two minutes into the fourth to give Toronto (14-15) its first lead of the second half, and the Raptors didn’t look back. Vasquez scored seven of his nine points in the fourth quarter, and also had two assists and a blocked shot in the final quarter as Toronto overcame the tenacious Bulls defense.
“Greivis came in and changed the game,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “It was a game of toughness and physicality that you have to have when you play if you are going to be in the playoffs.
“That is how we will have to play to get there.”
Luol Deng led Chicago (12-18) with 16 points in his return to the court after missing five games due to a sore left Achilles tendon.
Joakim Noah had a game-high 16 rebounds for the Bulls.
Toronto shot 37 percent through the first three quarters, but turned it up in the fourth making 10 of its 17 shots. Meanwhile, the Bulls went 4-for-24 from the field in the fourth quarter, falling to 1-6 at the United Center after starting the season 6-1.
“The fourth quarter has got to be your best quarter,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You have to have more intensity, your decision have to be quicker. We have to finish strong, we can’t just flip the ball up there.”
Coming off of season-highs with 32 points and 11 assists Saturday against the Knicks, Kyle Lowry had a modest 12 and six against Chicago.
The 27-year-old averaged 22.4 points over his last five games coming in, including 14-for-30 from 3-point range despite dealing with trade rumors. Lowry took an early breather after being whistled for a pair of fouls within the first five minutes. He didn’t score until seven minutes into the second quarter when he knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing.
He connected again from deep on the following possession.
“We know we have a chance to do some things and we can take care of business when times get tough,” Lowry said. “Pulling out these games is just showing that team camaraderie, the spirit that we have and we’re all happy for each other.
Following his season-high 26-point performance Monday at Memphis, Jimmy Butler poured in 15 for Chicago (12-18). He completed a three-point play to pull the Bulls back within five with two minutes left, but they couldn’t complete the comeback.
Carlos Boozer missed his first seven shots and didn’t find the scoring column until midway through the third quarter.
Boozer, Noah and Kirk Hinrich combined to go 4-for-27 from the field.
“We had the lead, and we didn’t play as tough as we needed to with the lead,” Thibodeau said. “We have to take a hard look at that.”
Deng was limited, playing 33 minutes. He averages just over 38 minutes per game.
He acknowledged that he may be limited for a while longer.
“I got into the game slowly,” he said. “In the fourth quarter, I tried to be a little more aggressive and force it a little bit. I knew coming back, I was going to feel it anyway, but nothing too crazy, nothing too bad. I’m happy with how it felt.”
Taj Gibson was the only player in double-figures when Chicago took a 42-36 lead into halftime. He finished with 12 points — two in the second half. Mike Dunleavy added 13 for Chicago, which had won three of its last four.
Toronto has won two of the three meetings this season, the road team coming out on top each time.
*Photo courtesy of Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images