Fresh off one of the most stifling defensive performances in team history, the Chicago Bulls will look to build on that momentum with a win in a series they’ve dominated lately.
Chicago seeks its eighth victory in nine tries against the Raptors on Wednesday night in Toronto.
The Bulls (21-15) have won three straight and eight of 10 on the road, and they also exorcised some recent home-court demons with Monday’s 97-58 win against Atlanta. Chicago had dropped three of its previous four at home, including a 97-81 loss to Phoenix on Saturday in which the Suns shot 49.3 percent from the floor.
Coach Tom Thibodeau responded by screaming at his team during an intense Monday morning shootaround. That seemed to do the trick, as the Bulls held the Hawks to a franchise-low 20 first-half points - five in the second quarter.
Chicago also set a club record for fewest points allowed in a game while limiting Atlanta to 29.3 percent shooting.
“Everybody was serious about what they needed to do,” said Taj Gibson who finished with eight points, seven rebounds and five blocked shots. “Nobody said a word. Everybody was ready to go. … We ran back hard. It was the best I’ve seen our defensive transition all year. We were flying back on D and getting stops. They were frustrated. It’s one game. We hope we can build off it.”
The Bulls used a balanced offensive attack - a necessity with point guard Derrick Rose still sidelined - as seven players registered at least eight points. Carlos Boozer led the way with 20 while Luol Deng had 18 on 7-of-9 shooting.
“We are playing short-handed,” Thibodeau said. “So we have to play with great intensity all the time. You can’t relax, never exhale. We have to grind and fight. We have to do it day after day.”
Boozer continues to play particularly well, adding 13 rebounds against the Hawks for his eighth double-double in nine games - a span in which he’s averaging 21.1 points and 11.1 rebounds.
His 20 double-doubles lead the Eastern Conference, and he has 10 in his last 12 games against Toronto.
After winning 10 of 13, the Raptors (14-24) have lost their last two, including Tuesday’s 113-106 defeat at Brooklyn.
Already without Andrea Bargnani and Jonas Valanciunas due to injuries, Toronto received another scare. Kyle Lowry was initially expected to miss the second half after spraining his ankle, but he returned to score 19 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought I was done, but we’ve got a great training staff,” Lowry said. “I’ve been hurt a lot this year and I just wanted to get back out there with my teammates, and coach trusted me that I said I was OK and he put me back in.”
The Bulls won all three meetings with Toronto last season, yielding an average of 82.3 points on 40.3 percent shooting.