TORONTO – In a game that meant everything, the Toronto Raptors did nothing right.
Derrick Rose had a game-high 26 points and Joakim Noah narrowly missed his first career triple-double as Chicago cruised past Toronto 104-88 Sunday, overtaking the Raptors for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.
The win puts the Bulls (39-41) in the driver’s seat as the NBA enters the final week of the regular season. Chicago leads Toronto (38-42) by a game in the race for eighth, and will finish its schedule with games Tuesday against Boston (49-30) and Wednesday in Charlotte (43-37).
The Raptors, who have lost five straight games, wrap up their regular-season schedule with games Monday in Detroit (26-54) and Wednesday at home to New York (28-52). Toronto has the tiebreaker edge over the Bulls, meaning the Raptors will earn the final playoff spot in the East if the teams finish tied in the standings.
That advantage won’t mean a thing if Toronto continues to struggle down the stretch.
The Raptors were given a raucous pre-game ovation by the near-sellout crowd of 19,515 at the Air Canada Centre, then went out and played one of their worst games of the season. They were outshot, outrebounded and outhustled by the only team capable of beating them out for the final playoff berth in the East.
Most fans left early, and those who stayed behind booed the Raptors mightily as they left the court.
“I think this is the closest to a playoff atmosphere you can get,” said Raptors point guard Jarrett Jack. “I thought coming out that we were ready to play. (The Bulls) just made more plays than we did.”
Raptors coach Jay Triano said most of the blame lay with the offence, which shot just 41.1 per cent from the field, 5-for-21 from three-point range and 9-for-15 from the free-throw line.
“I thought our effort was good,” said Triano. “They were better than us, obviously, (and) shot the ball much better. Any time you shoot 41 per cent you’re going to struggle. It’s something that hasn’t happened to us a lot this year, but it did tonight.”
When asked if he was embarrassed by his team’s performance, Triano said quietly: “Yes.”
Raptors forward Sonny Weems, who tied a team high with 18 points, suggested Toronto’s defence was the soft spot.
“The defensive effort, it was so-so,” said Weems. “We lost that game, we can’t get it back, but we have two more left, and they have two more. We have to win out.”
Weems said his teammates need to regroup quickly.
“We have to dig in,” said Weems. “We still have a chance. If some players on the team are giving up, then they shouldn’t be here.”
When asked if he felt some of his teammates had given up against the Bulls, Weems replied: “We just lost. I don’t know.”
With Raptors all-star Chris Bosh out for a third straight game as he recovers from facial fractures, Noah took full advantage. After being held to just nine points in his previous game against Toronto, Noah erupted for 18 points, 19 rebounds and a career high-tying seven assists.
But it was Rose who made the biggest difference Sunday, scoring 10 points in the third quarter as the Bulls turned a 10-point halftime advantage into a crowd-silencing rout. He finished 12-for-23 from the field and added seven assists as the Bulls rebounded from a disheartening double-overtime to the lowly New Jersey Nets two nights earlier.
“It’s been up and down, but as long as it’s up, we’ve just got to keep it up here,” said Rose. “We’ve got two games left, and we’ve got to play every game like it’s our last.”
Luol Deng added 14 points and Taj Gibson 10 for Chicago.
Andrea Bargnani also had 18 points for Raptors, while Jack added 14 in a reserve role. Hedo Turkoglu had a career-high 19 rebounds and dished out nine assists, but shot just 2-for-12 to finish with six points.
“I thought (Turkoglu) played with real good energy and rebounded the ball really well for us,” said Triano. “He distributed the ball well, just didn’t shoot the ball well.”
A strong first half helped the Bulls build a double-digit lead, and they continued their surge with an 11-4 run to open the third quarter. Rose hit a teardrop in traffic to extend the advantage, then coolly nailed a jumper over Bargnani to give Chicago a 71-52 advantage.
The Raptors closed to within 11 on a Jose Calderon three from the corner – just his second in the past four games – but Rose hit back-to-back layups and added a pair of free throws to mute the Toronto rally. Chicago led 84-65 entering the fourth, and the boo birds let the home team have it between quarters.
“They’re just responding to what they saw,” said Jack. “Can’t be upset with them.”
Both teams emptied their benches for most of the fourth quarter, and Toronto didn’t get closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
With Bosh expected to miss the rest of the regular season, Triano was at a loss to explain why nobody has picked up the slack in his absence.
“You’d like to have everybody as a group step up,” said Triano. “I think the intent was there, I just don’t know why we couldn’t do it. Nobody really took the reins and was able to get anything going for us.”
Notes: Chicago shot 49.4 per cent and outrebounded Toronto 49-41. … Raptors G Antoine Wright (ankle) remains on crutches, and there’s no timetable for his return. … The Raptors are 6-0 against the Pistons and Knicks this season. … Bargnani entered Sunday averaging 17.8 points in 10 career games against the Bulls. … Noah didn’t need much time to clinch his 27th double-double of the season, securing his 10th rebound in the final minute of the first quarter. He finished the half with 10 points. … Raptors G Marco Belinelli missed all six of his field-goal attempts.