TORONTO — Zach LaVine took over in the second half as the Chicago Bulls rallied past the Toronto Raptors 109-105 on Wednesday to win their single elimination play-in game.
LaVine scored 30 of his 39 points in the second half for Chicago, which trailed by as many as 18 points in the game. Former Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan scored 23 and pulled down seven rebounds.
Chicago will face the Heat in Miami on Friday in the second round of the play-in tournament.
The winner of that game will be the eighth seed in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs, playing the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
Atlanta had already emerged as the seventh seed after the Hawks beat Miami 116-105 on Tuesday in their first-round play-in game.
Fred VanVleet had a double-double with 26 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for Toronto, including seven three-pointers. The Raptors hosted the game after finishing the regular season ninth in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
All-star forward Pascal Siakam scored 32 with nine rebounds for the Raptors and Scottie Barnes added 19.
VanVleet sank a buzzer-beating three-pointer before intermission, bringing the 19,800 fans at Scotiabank Arena to their feet and gave the Raptors a 58-47 lead, their largest of the game up to that point. It also improved VanVleet’s shooting from beyond the arc to 4 of 5 after 24 minutes, better than the entire Bulls lineup, who had gone 2 for 11 from three-point range in the half.
The Raptors didn’t let up in the third, starting the quarter on a 10-3 run to open up an 18-point lead.
LaVine scored 11 points in the final three minutes of the third quarter — including eight in a row — to cut Chicago’s deficit to nine. Despite the outburst from the Bulls all-star guard, Toronto entered the fourth quarter with an 81-72 lead.
After a back-and-forth start to the fourth, Chicago closed the gap to three thanks to an 8-0 run, with LaVine responsible for six of those points.
Alex Caruso quieted the sold-out crowd with a three-pointer to tie it 91-91 with 6:26 left on the clock. Barnes came right back with a layup, forcing Chicago head coach Billy Donovan to call a timeout.
On the ensuing possession, Caruso stole the ball from O.G. Anunoby for a breakaway layup.
Patrick Beverly sank a three-pointer on the next Bulls possession for their first lead of the game. Siakam’s dunk gave the fans life but LaVine replied with a 20-foot jumper to maintain a three-point lead before Barnes and DeRozan exchanged field goals.
VanVleet missed a deep three-pointer but the rebound came out to Toronto guard Gary Trent Jr., who passed it back to VanVleet for another chance at the game-tying shot. VanVleet didn’t miss on his second chance to tie it 100-100 with 3:10 left to play.
LaVine answered with a two-pointer and then DeRozan grabbed a defensive rebound and scored at the other end to give the Bulls a four-point lead with less than two minutes to go.
Barnes made one of two free throws on the next Raptors possession. Siakam was fouled by Beverley with 50 seconds left on the clock, making one of his two shots at the charity stripe to cut Chicago’s lead to two.
DeRozan then hit a free throw with 28.7 seconds remaining, forcing a Toronto timeout. On the ensuing possession, Siakam drove to the net for a two-handed dunk and a one-point Raptors deficit.
Anunoby fouled LaVine after Caruso inbounded the ball to him, sending him to the free-throw line. LaVine hit both shots, giving the Raptors 17.9 seconds to tie the game.
Feeding the ball to Siakam on the inbound pass, Caruso immediately fouled the Toronto all-star forward for three free throws.
Siakam sank his first one, but clanked it with his second and the ball rolled off the rim with his third, keeping Chicago ahead by two.
Nikola Vucevic was fouled on his rebound of Siakam’s final free throw and he made both of his free throws for the game’s final scores.
CELEBRITY FANS — Former Bulls and Raptors forward Charles Oakley, notably wearing Toronto gear, sat in Drake’s courtside seat for the game. Canadian Olympian Penny Oleksiak and Paralympian Marissa Papaconstantinou were also in the crowd, as was actor Jaleel White, best known for playing Steve Urkel in the 1990s family sitcom Family Matters.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 12, 2023.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press