By Mike McGraw
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Remember those frustrating Bulls teams of a decade ago?
They specialized in winning meaningless games late in the season, finishing 4-2 in both 2002 and '03.
The current Bulls have met the modern match. The Toronto Raptors are exactly the sort of team you don't want to play this time of year -- young, athletic and more than willing to mask an underachieving season with some late victories.
The Bulls lost to Toronto for the second time in three days, dropping a 97-88 decision at the Air Canada Centre. The Raptors had two days off since winning at the United Center on Tuesday, while the Bulls went overtime against New York less than 24 hours earlier.
So it's really no surprise the Bulls didn't have the energy to keep up with Toronto. As the game ended, the home fans gave the 31-win Raptors a standing ovation.
Maybe Toronto will turn into a playoff team next season, but those late surges didn't help the Jalen Rose-era Bulls very much.
"That's the nature of the league," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "What happened yesterday has little bearing on today."
The injury news didn't change for the Bulls. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson did not play, while Luol Deng stayed in the lineup for a second straight day after missing two games with a sore hip.
The Bulls' best player on this night might have been center Nazr Mohammed, who didn't play at all against New York's small lineup. He started Friday, finishing with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 19 points before fouling out.
Deng (10 points), Jimmy Butler (7) and Kirk Hinrich (3) didn't provide much offense. Nate Robinson (17) tried to light a spark, but couldn't do enough to turn this game around.
"They made shots, we didn't," Mohammed said. "We didn't get the stops when we needed them and we didn't execute the way we normally do."
The Bulls jumped to a quick 19-8 lead as Boozer hit his first 6 shots and scored 13 points in the first quarter. But the advantage didn't last long as Toronto managed to slap at the ball and create turnovers.
Frustration boiled over with 5:33 left in the third quarter when Richard Hamilton was ejected for throwing a forearm at the face of Toronto's DeMar DeRozan. The 2 flagrant free throws were part of a 9-0 run that allowed Toronto to open a 67-52 advantage.
"I hate to see him get thrown out of a game but there was a lot of grabbing and holding," Thibodeau said. "We've got to handle that better."
The ejection seemed to give the Bulls a brief spark. Either that, or the delay while officials checked the video replay gave them a chance to catch their breath.
In the previous two contests, Butler scored a combined 50 points, while playing 98 of a possible 101 minutes. This time, 2 free throws with 4:01 left in the third quarter were Butler's first points of the night.
A short time later, though, Butler and Robinson canned back-to-back 3-pointers to bring the Bulls within 69-65. They got as close as 3 points early in the fourth quarter, but Toronto pulled away.
The Bulls are now tied with Atlanta in the loss column for fifth place in the East. The Bulls have three games remaining and own the tiebreaker against the Hawks.