TORONTO (CP) – In the world of professional sports, two months can feel like a lifetime. In a gritty 94-92 Chicago Bulls victory over the Raptors on Wednesday night, D.J. Augustin returned to Toronto to face the team that waived him in December and led the way.
Augustin smiled when asked about the big night, but stressed the importance of getting another victory against an Eastern Conference opponent.
“It feels good,” Augustin said. Not just with my past here, but because we’re fighting for the third spot with them so it feels good. It feels really good.”
Scoring 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter against his former team, Augustin got revenge on the team that sent him packing and the Bulls pulled out a huge win against the team that is directly above them in the Eastern Conference standings.
“D.J. has been huge for us,” Joakim Noah said of his point guard. “And I know this was a big game for him, too, being able to play in Toronto, the team that cut him, and play well like that and lead us to victory. That must be the best feeling in the world. Just prove your doubters wrong.”
Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 20 points, Kirk Hinrich scored 19 points and Noah recorded a career-high 13 assists.
DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with a game-high 32 points. Kyle Lowry added 16 points, but shot just 4-for-13 from the floor.
With Toronto having played in Washington the night before, the Bulls came out strong and led by 10 at the end of the first quarter. Toronto was able to trim the deficit to seven at the half. Chicago went into the fourth ahead by eight. Things stayed heated throughout the game, particularly down the stretch of the fourth quarter as the teams traded scores until a Jimmy Butler defensive stop on a DeRozan jumper with 2.9 seconds remaining allowed the Bulls to walk off the court victorious.
“DeRozan is a load and I thought Jimmy defended him on several plays as well as you can,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “[DeRozan] is a big-time player. Each year he has improved significantly to the point where he is as good as it gets. There’s constant pressure on you. Jimmy battled and that’s what I like about Jimmy’s mindset. He is going to keep coming.”
While DeRozan was unsuccessful down the stretch, the Raptors had a hard time criticizing the effort they received from their All-Star.
“He’s our go-to guy throughout the game,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said of DeRozan. “He gave us 32 points and he’s going to grow into that role in closing games. That’s something he has to learn how to do. It’s not a lack of trying; he made a strong move there, got into the paint, rose up and got a shot off. I don’t know how you can fault it.”
It was Chicago’s first game since the all-star break layoff, but they showed little rust, and plenty of intensity.
“That was a playoff game,” Casey said. “That’s something our players have to get used to. That type of intensity, that physicalityawe have to initiate that from the beginning of the game.”
Seven technical fouls were called in the grind it out game, and exactly the type of game that Chicago excels at.
“We were going against a tough Eastern Conference team,” DeRozan said. “That’s one of the toughest teams when it comes to physicality, beating you up, holding, grabbing through the whole game.”
DeRozan wasn’t surprised that Augustin had a big game in his return to the city.
“D.J. Can shoot the ball,” DeRozan said. “He’s a smart point guard. He’s very crafty. He’s creative. He knocked down a couple of big shots for them.”
Chicago pulled ahead by as many as 15 points in the first half before the Raptors called a timeout midway through the second quarter. Coming out of the timeout, Toronto reeled off a 14-2 run before trailing 48-41 at the half.
The Bulls refused to relinquish their lead and they led 70-62 after three quarters. Back-to-back three-pointers from Augustin to open the fourth put the Bulls up by 10. After Butler’s stop on DeRozan, the Raptors fouled Butler and he made one of two free throws to put the Bulls ahead by two. A 43-foot heave from DeRozan at the buzzer missed the mark.