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Explosive fourth quarter propels Bulls past Raptors

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CHICAGO — It wasn’t the kind of game that thrills Tom Thibodeau, but the result was exactly what the defensive-minded coach of the Chicago Bulls wanted Monday.

Thanks to the highest-scoring quarter in franchise history, a 49-point fourth quarter, the Bulls beat the Toronto Raptors 129-120 at the United Center for their third straight win.

Led by starting guards Derrick Rose (29 points) and Jimmy Butler (27 points, 11 rebounds), the Bulls (18-9) outscored the high-scoring Raptors (22-7) — the top team in the Eastern Conference — by 12 in the final quarter. Chicago also won the teams’ first meeting by a 100-93 margin Nov. 13 in Toronto.

“I don’t care how we win, as long as we win,” Thibodeau said. “Low-scoring, high-scoring, medium-scoring … just win.”

Rose, who played for the first time since missing two games with an illness, scored 15 points in the fourth. Butler added six in the fourth and recorded his second double-double by finishing with 11 rebounds. Butler’s performance was his fourth straight game scoring at least 20 points.

Combined with Rose and five other Bulls who reached double figures, the Bulls’ offensive firepower was just too much. Also contributing key points were reserve guard Aaron Brooks (17 points), forward Pau Gasol (14 points), center Joakim Noah (14 points), rookie reserve forward Nikola Mirotic (12 points) and forward Taj Gibson (10 points).

Mirotic scored eight points in the fourth, and Noah added nine.

“We have guys that you haven’t even seen, as far as their game, like (Butler) … he’s surprised everybody this year,” Rose said. “Nobody knew he could play the way he’s playing right now. (Mirotic), we still don’t know how good he is. He’s showing flashes. (Gasol) is still a guy who has put together (big) games. I think we’ve got a deep squad.”

The Raptors can say the same. They had six reach double figures, but the Bulls were just a little deeper. Toronto guard Kyle Lowery scored a game-high 34 points and center Jonas Valanciunas added 20 to lead Toronto, but Lowery was the only Raptors player who scored more than seven points in the second half.

Chicago hit 21-of-37 shots in the final two quarters (56.8 percent), including 3-of-6 from the 3-point line, and sank 24-of-27 from the free-throw line (88.9 percent). Meanwhile, the Raptors hit only 3-of-19 threes in the second half (15.8 percent), including 1-of-9 in the fourth. They also shot just 40.4 percent from the field during the game’s final 24 minutes.

Valanciunas, who dominated in the first half, was held to four points the rest of the way.

“He had a big-time first half,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “He attacked the rim, posted up and made good decisions. In the second half, he had some good looks, but he was playing against a great player in Gasol.”

After trailing most of the game, the Bulls took over in the fourth.

A 3-pointer by Brooks with 7:26 left put Chicago up 94-93 and gave the Bulls their first lead since early in the first. Rose soon hit four consecutive shots to help build a 106-100 lead with 4:13 to play, and the Bulls sealed it by outscoring the Raptors 23-20 down the stretch.

“They’re a great team,” Casey said. “We knew it coming in. You can’t think you can just outscore people. Our defensive attention to detail was just not there. We weren’t switching and against a good team like this they will make you pay.”

The Raptors were poised to run away with it in the first six minutes of the third. Chicago lapsed into sloppy play, committing multiple turnovers, and Toronto went on a 14-8 run to build an 80-68 lead.

The Bulls (18-9) turned it around in the final six minutes by using a better defensive effort. They outscored the Raptors 12-3 and started the fourth down just 83-80.

“I think we’re hard to beat,” Butler said. “We have so many guys that can do so many things well. You can’t stop this guy from shooting, because he can drive and pass and rebound. I feel like that goes (for our whole roster). As long as everybody’s healthy and we’re playing hard and playing together, we’re a really good team.”

NOTES: Bulls G Derrick Rose and key reserve F Taj Gibson were back in action. Rose missed the previous two games with an illness, and Gibson missed two contests with a sprained right ankle. … Toronto played without 6-foot-7 G Landry Fields (concussion), who sat out his second straight game. … The Raptors were also without 6-7 G DeMar DeRozan for a 13th game because of a torn tendon in his left groin. … Rookie F Doug McDermott (right knee) remains out for the Bulls, but F Joakim Noah (right ankle) and C Pau Gasol (left chest contusion) each started Monday. … The Bulls beat the Raptors for the third consecutive meeting and ended Toronto’s run of three wins in a row at the United Center. … Chicago G Jimmy Butler had nine career games of 20-plus points in his previous three seasons combined. He has 17 this season.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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