Trying to carry their momentum across the all-star break, the Bulls didn't approach Wednesday's game at Toronto in a conventional manner.
Center Joakim Noah collected a career-high 13 assists, while Mike Dunleavy was the team's rebounding leader with 11. There were 7 technical fouls passed out, 4 on the Bulls, including one on D.J. Augustin late in the fourth quarter when he argued the lack of a goaltending call to one referee, while a referee across the court made the call.
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When the game was on the line, though, the Bulls could rely on a couple of intangibles: Jimmy Butler's defense and Augustin's desire to stick it to the team that released him in December.
Augustin scored 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter and Butler's blocked shot in the final seconds secured a 94-92 victory at the Air Canada Centre. The Bulls closed within a half-game of Toronto for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
"It was definitely high intensity tonight," Noah told reporters after the game. "It felt like a playoff atmosphere."
The only time the Bulls trailed was early in the first quarter when the score was 2-1. They led by 15 points in the third quarter before the Raptors mounted a rally behind all-star DeMar DeRozan, who finished with 32 points.
Taj Gibson's jumper put the Bulls up 91-84 with 2:10 left, but they had trouble scoring the rest of the way. Kirk Hinrich's jumper kept the lead at 4 with 41 seconds left. On the other end, Amir Johnson's putback and 3-point play made it 93-92, and the Raptors forced a 24-second violation with 10.9 seconds remaining.
Toronto basically cleared the floor for DeRozan to work 1-on-1 against Butler. He couldn't clear any space, though, and Butler swatted away a 17-foot attempt, grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 2.4 seconds on the clock.
"Jimmy had a great play basically to save the game for us," Carlos Boozer said. "We needed one stop, and Jimmy got it for us."
Boozer led the Bulls with 20 points, while Hinrich and Augustin added 19 each. The Bulls shot 50 percent from the field, with Hinrich and Augustin combining to hit 7 of 8 shots from 3-point range.
Augustin started the season with Toronto but was released in December and has been a savior for the Bulls. "He's been playing as good as anybody in the league since he came to us, in my opinion," Boozer said of Augustin.
Noah, meanwhile, became the first NBA center to collect 13 assists in a game since Vlade Divac in 1996.
"They went to more trapping," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "When you go to the trap and now you put Jo in the middle of the floor, he's terrific.
"He's going to make the right play. He's going to hit the open man. He's going to give you some easy scores. Jo can hurt you a lot of different ways."