TORONTO — Tyler Hansbrough and Nazr Mohammed engaged in some extracurricular shoving that produced a double technical foul. Hansbrough reprised his rowdy role later with Mike Dunleavy, this time resulting in a double personal foul.
Taj Gibson barked at the Raptors’ bench after a made basket. Tom Thibodeau drew his eighth technical foul to lead all coaches. Kyle Lowry, Carlos Boozer, DeMar DeRozan and D.J. Augustin joined the “T” party.
Who said the Eastern Conference’s third seed isn’t important?
Actually, the Bulls’ chippy 94-92 victory Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre — their fourth straight — offered just another example of the physical, tough-minded play that has defined their resurgence. That it featured Jimmy Butler stuffing DeRozan with 2.9 seconds left seemed fitting.
“It was a playoff atmosphere because it was definitely a physical game, high-intensity,” said Joakim Noah, who had a career-high 13 assists. “Everybody knows what we’re playing for.”
The Bulls trail the Raptors by a half-game in the “others” category behind the Pacers and Heat.
“This is one of the most physical and best defensive teams in the league,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.
And here’s a formula for success: Ride Carlos Boozer, who scored a team-high 20 points, early. Have Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin score 19 points apiece from the point-guard position, with Augustin posting 13 in the final period. Watch players like Dunleavy shed his off-shooting night to grab a team-high 11 rebounds.
And then sic Butler, whose improved offensive rhythm continued with 16 points and a career-high-tying six assists, on DeRozan at the end.
“I don’t think I played any ‘D’ tonight,” Butler said. “He had, what, (32) points? I take pride in my defense. (Thirty-two) is a lot. I have to get better.”
He did when it counted.
Despite Hinrich hitting a huge jumper with 41.9 seconds left, part of his 8-for-11 night, the Raptors kept coming. Amir Johnson’s three-point play cut their deficit to 93-92 with 34.9 seconds left and then DeRozan set up following the Bulls’ shot-clock violation.
“I knew the scouting report was make him go left,” Butler said. “I knew whenever he stopped he was going to give a pump fake or two. And whenever he left his feet, I left mine and got the block.”
One of Butler’s three on the night for a Bulls team that again built a double-digit, first-quarter lead, shot 50 percent overall and 58.3 percent from 3-point range.
Are the Nuggets in town yet for Friday’s game? The good vibes are flowing and the Bulls are itching to play.
“I’ve said this all along: The only thing that’s important is what we think and what we believe,” Thibodeau said. “If we listened to what everyone had said from the start, the season would have been over. The last 25-30 games, I think we’re starting to believe we can be pretty good. If we do certain things, we have a chance to win no matter who or where we’re playing.”