With the focus on playoff seeding, now in the second half of the season, the Bulls won their fourth straight as they held on to defeat the Toronto Raptors 94-92.
With the win, the Bulls moved a half-game behind Toronto for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
The game featured the intensity of two teams lobbying for home court advantage, featuring seven technicals and plenty of extracurricular physicality. Toronto's Tyler Hansbrough and Nazr Mohammed had to be separated early in the second quarter and Hansbrough was again involved in a minor skirmish with Mike Dunleavy.
"It was definitely high intensity tonight," said Joakim Noah, who had a career-high 13 assists. "It felt like a playoff atmosphere. Everybody knows what we're playing for."
Jimmy Butler's block on DeMar DeRozan's jumper with 2.9 remaining helped seal the win
Carlos Boozer led five Bulls (28-25) who finished in double-figures in scoring with 20 points. Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin added 19, both going a combined 7-8 from 3-pt range. Jimmy Butler finished with 16 points.
The Bulls shot 50 percent from the field and 58 percent from three.
While Butler's pivotal stopped saved the game, he could only focus on DeRozan finishing with a game-high 32 points.
"I don't think I played any 'D' tonight," he said. "I take pride in my defense. (32) is a lot. Especially whenever I play 45-plus minutes. I’ve got to get a lot better. There’s no excuse for that.’’
Hinrich's jumper with 41.9 seconds remaining gave the Bulls a 93-89 lead, but just as they had come back from being down by double digits after the first, the Raptors responded.
"They didn't go away," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "They kept coming."
Amir Johnson's layup and foul, which ended Taj Gibson's night as he picked up his sixth foul, plus ensuing free throw made it a one possession game with 34 seconds remaining. The Bulls would turnover possession with 10 seconds left after committing a shot-clock violation, which helped set up Butler's block on DeRozan, one of his three on the night.
Butler split his trip to the line and DeRozan's 43-foot heave clanged off the backboard.
"I knew the scouting report was to make him go left," Butler said. "I knew whenever he stopped he was going to give a pump fake or two. And whenever he left his feet, I left mine and got the block."
While the expectations aren't as high as the previous past seasons under Thibodeau, the Bulls still expect a strong finish to the season and Wednesday's win over a playoff opponent was a good start.