They ultimately fell four minutes short _ and what a disastrous stretch it was.
Luol Deng's 17 points and 10 rebounds paced a balanced attack as the Bulls used a 20-0 fourth-quarter run to rally past Toronto 94-82.
DeMar DeRozan led the way with 23 points for the Raptors (15-32), who donned camouflage jerseys in honour of their annual Canadian Forces Appreciation Night _ then completely disappeared during a 4:11 span of the fourth quarter that will go down as their worst stretch of the season.
“They're one of the best defensive teams in the league,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “We didn't execute. I thought we had some good looks in those situations, and we didn't knock them down. They came down and made tough shots.
“When you know that a championship team is turning up the screws, you have to make every play. There's no room for negotiations in those situations.”
Despite playing without superstar point guard Derrick Rose (strained groin) for a fifth straight game, the Bulls (39-10) needed only a small window in the pivotal final quarter to show the Raptors — and the rest of the Eastern Conference — why they're one of the prohibitive favourites to win the NBA title.
Down 69-62 after three quarters, Chicago closed to within three on a Lucas three-pointer from the top of the arc after Jose Calderon had missed back-to-back wide-open jumpers at the other end. Kyle Korver knocked down a three on Chicago's next possession, and an Omer Asik block led to a Taj Gibson alley-oop dunk that put the Bulls in front for the first time since midway through the second quarter.
Lucas and Korver gave Chicago some breathing room with consecutive jumpers, and Chicago capped the 20-0 stretch with a technical free throw after DeRozan was whistled for jawing at an official.
Deng said the Bulls knew Toronto was becoming increasingly irritated.
"We just felt like the momentum was going our way, we could see them getting a little frustrated and we just had a nice run," said Deng, who scored all but two of his points in the first half. "Once we got the momentum going, we just stuck with it.
The DeRozan incident served as a fitting microcosm for a Raptors team that has managed to hang around against several of the NBA's elite clubs, only to stumble down the stretch on countless occasions.
“I don't know what it is,” said Raptors forward James Johnson, who finished with 16 points against his former team. “When we can start putting four quarters together we're going to be a tough team, but until then, we look immature out there and we're not making game-winning plays down the stretch.”
Two of the team's go-to players ended up being the two worst offenders Wednesday night. Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon combined to make just five of 20 shots, and Bargnani's eight-point effort had him frustrated as he makes his way back from a calf injury that cost him nearly a third of the season.
“Offensively, I'm playing bad,” said Bargnani, averaging just 12.5 points in eight games since returning to the lineup. “That's it. I'm trying to do other stuff, play defence, make an extra pass.
“The injury's fine. I'm (just) playing really bad offensively.”
Notes: The Bulls haven't suffered consecutive losses since Feb. 5-7, 2011, a span of 81 games. It's the fifth-longest streak in NBA history; the Utah Jazz hold the record, going 95 games without back-to-back defeats from November 1997 to March 1999. ... Raptors G Jerryd Bayless played just a minute and a half after aggravating a hip pointer injury that forced him out of Tuesday's game against New York. ... Toronto needed just over six minutes to surpass its entire first-quarter point total (14) from its first encounter with the Bulls. ... Chicago improved to 11-4 with Rose out of the lineup.