TORONTO — The Chicago Bulls continue to have Toronto’s number.
And moments after the Raptors lost for the ninth consecutive time to the Bulls — 109-107 on Monday — coach Dwane Casey was as visibly angry as he’s been all season, in a tense news conference that lasted all of one minute 22 seconds.
"We can’t go in assuming, I don’t who care who’s not playing. If we don’t dot our I’s and cross our T’s, we’re an average team, and we showed that," Casey said. "We were not focused going into the game after preaching and preaching and telling them… I don’t care who doesn’t play, it’s the same trap game."
"And then there comes (Doug) McDermott out there and we allow him to get his rhythm in the first half and it’s hard to turn a guy’s water off when that happens."
McDermott scored 29 points to top the Bulls (33-32), who were playing without Derrick Rose (groin strain) or Pau Gasol (swollen knee).
Kyle Lowry led Toronto (44-21) with 33 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists, while DeMar DeRozan had 27 points, and Patrick Patterson chipped in with 13 off the bench.
The loss ended Toronto’s seven-game homestand at 5-2, and it was only the Raptors’ second loss at the Air Canada Centre in their last 17 outings.
"They beat us, that’s one of them things where they have good players and they’re comfortable playing against us. We don’t do anything to make them uncomfortable," Lowry said. "They’ve got our number, for us to change that, whenever the next time we get to play them again we have to beat them."
More bad news for the Raptors came late in the first quarter when Jonas Valanciunas headed to the locker-room holding his left hand — the hand he broke early this season, sidelining him for 17 games. The team said Valanciunas suffered a contusion, but he would travel with the Raptors to Milwaukee where they face the Bucks on Tuesday.
Valanciunas, his hand wrapped in a brace and bandage, said the hand was swollen. He’d injured it, he said, just getting "caught up in action."
"It felt sore, and it was getting sorer and sorer so I wanted the doctors to take a look at it," he said.
The Bulls have been tumbling down the Eastern Conference standings, and they arrived in Toronto trailing Detroit by a game for the eighth and final playoff spot.
But it seems all bets are off when it comes to playing Toronto. The Bulls have owned the Raptors, with a winning streak that stretches back to 2013 and includes an historic 115-113 victory at the ACC on Jan. 3 that saw Jimmy Butler go off for 40 second-half points to break Michael Jordan’s franchise record.
"It does (matter) for me because they’ve spanked us every time we’ve walked on the floor," Casey said pre-game, on whether beating the Bulls was of particular importance. "We’ve been here, we’ve been on a little semi-roll or whatever every time we play them then they come and spank us."
It was more of the same Monday. Chicago led for most of the night, and led by seven points going into the fourth quarter in front of a capacity crowd of 19,800 that included former heavyweight boxers Lennox Lewis and George Chuvalo.
Some late-game heroics saw the Raptors nearly pull out a victory. In a drama-filled final minute, the Raptors pulled to within a point on a DeRozan basket with 20 seconds left. DeRozan answered a pair of free throws from Nikola Mirotic with another basket, but a Butler free throw iced the victory for Chicago.
"They’re a great team, even with a lot of key guys out for them, they understand how to move the ball, how to play well off each other, everybody knows their role, and we just got up into them too late defensively," DeRozan said.
The Raptors didn’t have much time to lament the loss, with Tuesday’s game versus the Bucks.
"Just get back out there, go back out there and redeem yourself," DeRozan said.
The Bulls were strong from the outset, shooting 67 per cent shooting in the first quarter to lead 34-29 going into the second.
A Patterson three-pointer ended a mini 8-2 Raptors run that cut Chicago’s lead to 58-52 at the halftime.
A McDermott three early in the third put the Bulls up by 13 but the Raptors battled back again and Chicago led 84-77 with one quarter left.