Bulls ram Raptors, sets up duel with Miami for final playoff spot

Zach Lavine was huge for the Bulls. (nbcsports.com)

By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña

The Chicago Bulls live another day after breaking the hearts of the Toronto Raptors, 109-105, last April 13, 2023, to set up a final NBA Play-In clash with the Miami Heat to determine the final Eastern Conference playoff picture.

After going down by as much as 19 points, Chicago turned to their superstar shooting guard Zach Lavine who spearheaded their comeback effort midway through the third quarter.

Toronto looked to snowball their way into the game after Fred Vanvleet sank a looping three-pointer from the right elbow that extended their cushion to 19 points with nine minutes still left in the third.

However, just when the Raptors thought they could continue their onslaught, Chicago responded hugely with their own offensive flurry and silenced the whole Scotiabank Arena when Lavine took over the game.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

That’s just the mantra that Chicago dwelled on in the last 19 minutes of the game as their efficient offense was balanced well with their better communication at defense.

In the first five minutes of the final quarter, the Bulls went aggressive to the paint and sank most of their physical drives, trimming their deficit to just three points after a DeMar DeRozan layup with seven minutes still remaining in the game.

Alex Caruso then gave the Bulls its first taste of the lead since the early minutes of the second quarter after drilling a trey from the right corner.

Chicago’s run then sucked the life out of Toronto and prevented them from scoring any easy baskets as the duo of Patrick Beverley and Patrick Williams locked up the perimeter for good.

As the Bulls were clinging to a 102-100 lead, DeRozan again scored a double-clutch layup to extend their advantage to four points with only two minutes remaining.

Toronto had all the chances to tie the game after Pascal Siakam was fouled on his way up from downtown but his shots from the charity stripe only went 1/3.

Vucevic then iced the game for the Bulls after converting both of his free throws, 109-105, in the last 11 seconds of the tight duel.

Vanvleet attempted a four-point play when he baited Caruso into a pump fake but the veteran defender was wise to sidestep and let the time expire.

Leading the charge for the Bulls was Lavine who scored 39 big points while DeRozan added 23 markers.

The winner between Chicago and the Heat will formalize its ticket to the Eastern Conference Playoffs as the no. 8 seed squad and will face the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder are set to face the Minnesota Timberwolves for the West’s 8th seed after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans, 123-118.