For a while, at least.
Shawn Marion scored a season-high 34 points, Chris Bosh set one with 19 rebounds while scoring 21 points, and the Toronto Raptors closed their season by beating listless Chicago 109-98 Wednesday to snap its season-high five-game win streak.
That along with Philadelphia’s win at Cleveland knocked the Bulls into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with a first-round matchup against defending champion Boston. Although Kevin Garnett missed 22 of the last 26 games with a sprained right knee, Chicago figures to be in for a tough time.
Then again, the alternative wouldn’t have been easy.
A win—or a loss by the 76ers—would have meant the sixth seed and the Orlando Magic in the first round.
“Right now, we need to forget about it,” guard Kirk Hinrich said. “We focus on Boston.”
The only time the Bulls seemed focused was in the locker room afterward, as the 76ers-Cavaliers game wound down. There were yelps and groans, and after a foul by Cleveland’s Wally Szczerbiak late in the game, Thomas couldn’t contain himself. “What you doing, Wally?” he blurted.
Even so, he didn’t stick around for the finish of that game. And the Bulls never really showed up for theirs.
Chicago had won 12 of 15 but stumbled badly against a team that collapsed following two straight playoff appearances. Yet, the Bulls are in a much better place than they were a year ago—or even two months ago.
They struggled for much of the season after missing the playoffs last year, yet they’ve now made it four out of five years. So they’ll take that.
What they can’t afford are more performances like this.
Chicago fell behind by 20 early in the second quarter before pulling within three, but trailed 61-49 at the half after a late surge by Toronto. The Bulls never threatened after that and ended the season with just their second home loss in 16 games.
Derrick Rose had a solid game, finishing with 20 points and 11 assists, while Ben Gordon scored 23. Joakim Noah added 17 points and nine rebounds, Brad Miller added 14 points and 11 rebounds, but the Bulls couldn’t keep Bosh and Marion off the glass. The result was a 57-40 rebounding edge for the Raptors.
Marion, who will be an unrestricted free agent, grabbed 11 and made 15 of 18 shots in what could be his last game with the Raptors.
Bosh shot 8-of-23 but made up for it with his work on the boards and has 4,017 career rebounds. He averaged 22.7 points and 10 rebounds this season.
Jose Calderon had 14 points and 14 assists. He also broke Calvin Murphy’s league record for free-throw accuracy in a season, finishing at 98.1 percent (151-for-154) after hitting both his attempts.
But for the Raptors, the only record that matters is this—33-49.
“We just wanted to go out on a good note,” Marion said.
Bosh added: “We wanted to give our best effort for the last game of the year.”
While they’re headed home, the Bulls (41-41) are moving on.
Considering Chicago finished the regular season at .500, it’s premature to plan any parades, yet it clearly made a big jump over the past two months. After going 33-49 a year ago, the Bulls were a longshot to make the playoffs, let alone get anything higher than the eighth seed, for much of the season.
Monday’s gritty, physical 91-88 win over Detroit guaranteed they would finish no lower than seventh. Not bad, given the Bulls were eight games under .500 after a loss to Philadelphia on March 13. Then, things turned around, although two big components arrived a few weeks earlier.
John Salmons and Miller arrived from Sacramento on Feb. 18, giving the Bulls the tall guard and inside scoring presence they lacked. The result? An 18-11 record since the trade.
But they were no match for Toronto.
It was 44-24 early in the second after Jason Kapono sandwiched two 3-pointers around two free throws by Rose. The Bulls then made a big run, and Toronto answered in a big way.
“It is disappointing,” Gordon said. “We had lackluster energy.”
Raptors F Andrea Bargnani sat out his second straight game because of a sore left heel. The top pick in the 2006 draft, Bargnani was the team’s second-leading scorer at 15.4 points while averaging 5.3 rebounds. … One decision the Raptors will have to make is whether to bring back coach Jay Triano, who replaced the fired Sam Mitchell in early December. Triano indicated he wants to return, although he’s not sure when he’ll meet with GM Bryan Colangelo. “He’s not around for the rest of this week, through the weekend, so we’ll play it by ear,” Triano said. “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be around. He’ll take his time.” … Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said he didn’t consider holding out Salmons, who’s been playing with a strained left groin the past few weeks and finished with five points.