Tagged in: eastern conference

Team USA rebounds from back-to-back losses with blowout of Argentina

Team USA stabilized itself by putting together its most complete match of its Olympic preparation schedule, defeating Argentina 108-80 on Tuesday night.

After back-to-back losses that saw the Americans struggle with offensive execution and defensive stamina, they showed more traction on both fronts 12 days before their Olympic opener in Tokyo.

“I thought we sustained our [stamina] pretty well,” Team USA manager Gregg Popovich said. “Against Australia we competed well, rebounded, played defense, ran the floor and had good pace for a half and then it dissipated for a half. Tonight, we maintained that pretty much throughout the game. Hopefully that’s a sign we’re getting better.”

Kevin Durant, the unquestioned engine of the national team’s offense, had shown some rust after taking some time off following the Brooklyn Nets’ seven-game series loss last month in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Like many of his Team USA teammates, he looked a little flat in the first two exhibitions, which both ended in unexpected defeat. He was just 10-of-26 shooting in those defeats to Nigeria and Australia.

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Durant came out with a purpose Tuesday, swishing a 3-pointer on the game’s first possession.

He scored eight points in the first quarter and ended with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting.

It was a similar story for Bradley Beal, who shot just 38% and averaged just seven points in the first two games while trying to regain rhythm. Beal made his first four shots, two of them 3-pointers, and ended with 17 points for easily his best game of the exhibitions.

“A sense of urgency is what we’re kind of preaching,” Beal said. “Today we got better, but there’s still a lot more we can improve on. We’re moving in the right direction.”

Despite it being the second game of a back-to-back and a comfortable victory, Popovich played Beal 30 of the game’s 40 minutes in an attempt to help him round into form.

Popovich cited conditioning as a reason the Americans faded down the stretch in the two losses. After a heavy calendar for most of the players over the previous 12 months, players taking time to rest was expected after their seasons ended, but it seems to have contributed to the slow start.

Tuesday’s game also featured a strong performance from Zach LaVine, a late addition to Team USA who has been building a case for more playing time this week. LaVine was in Popovich’s starting lineup for the Jayson Tatum, who sat out to rest a sore knee, and made a statement with 15 points, five rebounds and three assists.

“Somebody’s got to take Tatum’s place,” Popovich said. “So you choose one, simple as that.”

LaVine, who has had more time off as the Chicago Bulls missed the playoffs, is one of the players who seems to be in better rhythm. He had a spectacular highlight dunk in the fourth quarter, rising over a defender and slamming it despite a foul.

It must be said the Argentinians, who came in ranked No. 4 in the world after taking the silver at the 2019 World Cup, were the weakest team the Americans have yet faced. They are 0-3 in the games at Mandalay Bay this week and are an older team. Former NBA player Luis Scola, who is 41, led them with 16 points.

A better test for Team USA’s development will come Friday in a rematch with the Aussies. It will come after two days off to allow for some practice and film work.

“The last thing we want to do is overwork people to the point where we get injuries, but the first priority is we have to get back in shape,” Popovich. “We’re going to continue to work hard like we need to. … Without the condition we can’t get this done.”

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Khris Middleton lifts Milwaukee Bucks past Atlanta Hawks, into NBA Finals

The Milwaukee Bucks are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 — and they secured the final wins of the series without star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Milwaukee defeated the Atlanta Hawks 118-107 in Game 6 on Saturday behind 32 points from Khris Middleton. Jrue Holiday added 27 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists.

After the final buzzer sounded and the Bucks swarmed the center of the court, putting on caps and T-shirts that announced them as Eastern Conference champions, players hugged each other and laughed. Coaches embraced.

“It feels awesome,” Holiday said. “I’m still kind of on this high, but I’m going to the Finals. It’s cool to think as a little kid, this is what you watch the playoffs for. This is all the moments that I felt as a little kid watching TV. I lived them and went through them and now I get to go to the Finals and see what this is about.”

Antetokounmpo, who has been out since injuring his knee in the third quarter of Game 4 when he landed awkwardly after contesting an alley-oop, was in the middle of it all — a triumphant fist raised in the air.

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Thursday marked the end of a slew of Milwaukee playoff runs that were cut short or went awry. In the 2019 postseason, the Bucks swept the Detroit Pistons, defeated the Boston Celtics in five games and built a 2-0 lead versus the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Then, after losing back-to-back games only once during the entire regular season, the Bucks lost four consecutive games to the Raptors and were eliminated.

Last season in the NBA’s bubble, the Bucks fizzled to a disappointing end in the playoffs.

Milwaukee earned the No. 1 seed and defeated the Orlando Magic in five games. But Antetokounmpo sprained his ankle in Game 3 of the team’s series against the Miami Heat.

He gave it a go in Game 4, but re-sprained his ankle in that game and was unable to play in Game 5, when Milwaukee was eliminated. Back then, Antetokounmpo said that “nobody was going to be happy” with the outcome of Milwaukee’s 2019-20 playoff run. He said he hoped the Bucks could learn from that loss.

It appears they did — and those losses, Middleton said, made their success this season that much better.

“It’s been a long journey,” Middleton said. “But it’s been a great journey. It’s been worth it. After winning 15 games in our first year here and seven years not making the playoffs, to the last two years thinking we had a chance and just didn’t do enough and now we’re here. This is what we’ve worked for.”

The Bucks avenged last season’s loss and rolled the Heat in four matches in the first round. Midway through that series, starting guard Donte DiVincenzo injured his ankle. He had season-ending surgery on a ligament in his left ankle in June and P.J. Tucker slid into a starting role.

Still, Milwaukee kept rolling. After falling down 3-2 in a wild series versus the betting title favorite Brooklyn Nets, the Bucks outlasted them in a seven-game series. And after losing at home for the first time in the playoffs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bucks battled back, including winning two games without Antetokounmpo.

All the while, Antetokounmpo stood — almost never sitting down — on the sidelines in black shorts and a Bucks warm-up shirt. A protective sleeve swaddled his hyperextended left knee. But even injured and unable to play, Antetokounmpo was in the middle of the celebration. His longest hug was reserved for his brother and teammate, Thanasis.

“There’s a bittersweetness to him not being able to play these last two games,” Budenholzer said. “Khris and Giannis are the key to this team, to this organization. To have the opportunity to coach them and come here three years ago and try to build something special, those two guys are special, and it starts with them.”

And while there has been no public decision on whether or not Antetokounmpo will be available to play in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, one thing is certain: The Bucks are sitting atop a hill that Antetokounmpo has envisioned summiting for years.

Now, they have just one more leg to complete. “We ain’t did nothing yet,” Tucker said.

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Without Giannis, Bucks beat Hawks 123-112 for 3-2 lead

Brook Lopez scored a playoff career-high 33 points and the Milwaukee Bucks withstood Giannis Antetokounmpo’s absence to defeat the Atlanta Hawks 123-112 on Thursday night for a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Bucks are one victory away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974. They won their lone NBA title in 1971.

Four of their starters had at least 22 points: Lopez, Khris Middleton (26), Jrue Holiday (25) and Bobby Portis (22). Middleton also had 13 rebounds and eight assists. Holiday had 13 assists and six rebounds.

Game 6 is Saturday in Atlanta, with the winner of the series facing the Phoenix Suns in the NBA Finals. Each team was missing its biggest star as Antetokounmpo dealt with a hyperextended left knee and Atlanta’s Trae Young sat out a second consecutive game due to a bone bruise in his right foot.

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Young got hurt when he accidentally stepped on an official’s foot along the sideline in Milwaukee’s 113-102 Game 3 victory. 

Antetokounmpo landed awkwardly after trying to block Clint Capela’s dunk attempt in Atlanta’s 110-88 Game 4 triumph.

Just as the Hawks’ role players stepped up with Young sidelined in Game 4, Antetokounmpo’s teammates came through Thursday to help the Bucks overcome the loss of their two-time MVP.

Bogdan Bogdanovic led the Hawks with 28 points. Atlanta also got 19 points each from John Collins and Danilo Gallinari, and 17 from Lou Williams.

Portis took Antetokounmpo’s spot in the starting lineup and had the Fiserv Forum fans chanting “Bobby! Bobby!” on multiple occasions, continuing something that started during Milwaukee’s Game 2 blowout victory. Portis’ 22 points were a playoff career high.

The Bucks never trailed and led by as many as 20 in the first quarter, making most of their shots and getting second-chance opportunities on their rare misses. The game was nearly eight minutes old by the time Cam Reddish got Atlanta’s first defensive rebound.

Milwaukee led 36-22 after a first quarter in which the Bucks outscored the Hawks 28-8 in the paint. Bogdanovic’s 13 first-half points helped the Hawks close the gap to 65-56 at the break.

The Bucks needed that edge in the paint because they again couldn’t connect from range, continuing a problem that has hounded them the entire postseason. After making their first two 3-point shots, they missed their next 12 attempts from beyond the arc.

Atlanta cut the lead to 65-59 when Bogdanovic hit a 3-pointer to open the third-quarter scoring, but that’s as close as the Hawks would get in the second half. This marked the second consecutive game in this series without any lead changes. The Hawks never trailed in Game 4.

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Nets head to second round, beat Celtics 123-109 in Game 5

Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden had just eight matches together in the regular season, few enough to wonder how good they could really be.

Five games versus Boston provided some answers — and a chance to keep making up for all their lost time.

“We just don’t want to take any of this time for granted,” Irving said. “This doesn’t happen too often kind of in our culture, in our history, where three of the best scorers to ever play the game are on one team.”

Harden had 34 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists for his first postseason triple-double with Brooklyn, leading the Nets into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 123-109 triumph over the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night in Game 5.

Irving scored 25 points and Durant had 24 for the Nets, who will face the Milwaukee Bucks in their first appearance in the second round since 2014. The No. 2-seeded Nets will host Game 1 versus Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks on Saturday.

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“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Durant said. “I mean, he’s a two-time MVP, Defensive Player of the Year for a reason, so we’re looking forward to the challenge.”

Despite their limited time together during the regular season, the Nets’ three superstars showed how potent they can be in this series, particularly when they combined for 104 points in Game 4.

“We weren’t even worried about the playoff run yet, we were just happy to be on the court together,” Harden said. “So it’s great to get one series out of the way and like I said, we’ll take tomorrow off and we’ll recoup and get ready for a tough Milwaukee team.”

Brooklyn was nowhere near as potent as Game 4, when it rang up 141 points. But a little explosive stretch here and there was good enough to wrap it up.

The finishing one came with the Celtics trailing by just eight with under eight minutes to play.

Durant then made a 3-pointer, Jayson Tatum turned it over and Irving nailed another 3 on the break, pushing it to 103-89 with 7:19 to play.

Evan Fournier scored but Harden answered with another 3 and Bruce Brown scored inside, an 11-2 burst in less than 90 seconds that broke it open at 108-91 midway through the fourth.

Tatum had 32 points and nine rebounds for the Celtics, who made the Eastern Conference finals last year but went quickly with Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker unavailable.

“Jayson continued to make plays. We didn’t do enough as a team. But he showed a lot of mettle this year,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens stated.

Fournier added 18 points and Romeo Langford had 17 starting in place of Walker, who missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury.

“It’s been a lot. Injuries on top of injuries. Guys not being able to play together. A lot of personal stuff. It’s life, things more important than basketball, but you’ve got to be professional,” guard Marcus Smart said.

The Nets were eager to avoid a return to Boston after a fan threw a water bottle at Irving after Game 4, but the clincher didn’t come easily.

The Celtics hung in the game, not letting the Nets build a double-digit lead until a 7-0 burst early in the second half made it 66-54. Boston recovered and trailed just 86-79 after Tatum made a jumper at the buzzer to end the third.

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Bucks put Heat on brink, win 113-84 for 3-0 series lead

The Milwaukee Bucks have a chance to sweep the Miami Heat out of the playoffs, and they’re making the task of dispatching the reigning Eastern Conference champions look very simple.

Khris Middleton scored 22 points, Jrue Holiday added 19 points and 12 assists and the Bucks took a 3-0 lead in their East first-round series with a 113-84 triumph in Miami on Thursday night.

Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 17 points and 17 rebounds for Milwaukee, which can end the sweep and move into the East semifinals with a victory Saturday afternoon.

“The last two games haven’t been easy,” Antetokounmpo said. “Obviously, we were up 30, but it’s not easy. … I’ll say this: I’ll say by us doing our job, I’m not surprised that we’re able to win a game because once we focus on ourselves, play together, have fun and be tough, good things are going to happen. And in these three games, good things have happened for us.”

Miami has lost three games by 29 points or more this campaign — all versus Milwaukee, two of them in the last two games of this series. The Bucks held leads of 51 and 36 points against Miami in games earlier this season; the margin got to 32 on Thursday night.

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And as if Milwaukee needed another edge, there’s this: No team in NBA history has ever squandered a 3-0 series lead.

“We’re not worried about that. We control what we can control, and that’s how we play, that’s how we prepare, how we compete,” Miami forward Jimmy Butler said. “Not too worried about what history says and all of that good stuff, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Butler scored 19 points and Bam Adebayo had 17 for Miami. Nemanja Bjelica — little-used by Miami this season, then called upon Thursday out of desperation for any sort of outside shooting — scored 14 points.

Milwaukee outrebounded Miami 56-41, held the Heat to 38% shooting and became the first team to top Miami by at least 29 points twice in the same playoff series. And that’s after the Bucks beat Miami by 47, in Miami, back in December.

“We’ve got to continue to work,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They have so many weapons on the other side. They do a lot of things that are hard to guard. Defensively, our focus, our attention to detail has got to stay high.”

The biggest Miami crowd of the season, by far — 17,000 in a building that in pre-pandemic times called 19,600 a sellout — showed up, most of them in their seats by tip-off, hoping that they would see the start of a turnaround.

Instead, in the biggest game of the season, they saw Miami’s slowest start of the season.

The Heat managed only eight points in the game’s first nine minutes, the fewest they managed in such a game-opening span since last August and the fewest to open a game on their home floor since Nov. 14, 2018.

It was 26-14 Milwaukee after one quarter, then the lead swelled to as much as 19 — 44-25 late in the second before got to 49-36 at the half. That matched the fewest points permitted by the Bucks in a first half in more than three years.

The margin swelled to 27 in the third quarter. More than a few of those 17,000 fans didn’t stick around too much longer.

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LaVine, Markkanen lead Bulls past Raptors, 114-102

Zach LaVine scored 24 points, Lauri Markkanen added 20 and the Chicago Bulls defeated the short-handed Toronto Raptors 114-102 on Thursday night.

The Bulls pulled within two games of idle Washington with two remaining for 10th place in the Eastern Conference and the final play-in spot.

Chicago led by 24 in the third quarter, with the Raptors holding out their best players, and came away with the victory despite a big effort by Stanley Johnson.

“We don’t control our own desiny, but we live another day, so to speak here,” coach Billy Donovan said. “It’s out of our hands. And I thought it was important that we show up and do our job as best we can.”

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LaVine, coming off a 41-point in Tuesday’s loss to Brooklyn, scored 16 in the second half.

Markkanen made six 3-pointers — one shy of his season high.

Coby White had 17 points and 10 assists. Nikola Vucevic added 16 points and 16 rebounds to help the Bulls win for the fourth time in five matches.

Johnson led Toronto with a career-high 35 points. The sixth-year pro nailed six 3s and grabbed 10 rebounds while playing turnover-free ball.

“You put a lot of work in, you put a lot of effort into something, to get a positive result and affection is always good,” Johnson said.

“As much as you kill yourself when you’re down, you’ve got to give yourself a pat on the butt when you’re up. … To be able to play a decent game, a good game, I’m happy.”

Rookie Jalen Harris scored a personal-best 17. Malachi Flynn added 16 points. But Toronto lost for the eighth time in nine games.

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Washington Wizards’ Bradley Beal scores 50 but is absent for OT because of hamstring, ankle injuries

Bradley Beal scored 50 points, but the Washington Wizards guard sat out the end of regulation and overtime with a left hamstring strain as Washington outlasted Indiana 133-132 Saturday to overtake the Pacers for the No. 9 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Beal stated he tweaked the hamstring in the second half and that it intensified in the last minute and a half of the fourth quarter. He also tweaked an ankle.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks stated he was unsure how serious Beal’s hamstring injury is and that the guard’s status will have to be determined over the next few days before Washington plays at Atlanta on Monday.

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“I knew it was a little tight in the second half,” said Beal, who checked out of the game with 21 seconds left in regulation.

“First play of the second, I twisted my ankle … I went back out there, my left hammy felt a little tight. I didn’t think anything of it, kept playing. I think the layup on [Doug] McDermott put us up one, it kind of intensified a little bit, and then the floater I missed at the end, it definitely kind of put me over the top.”

Beal drilled 19 of 31 shots in 39 minutes.

His fifth career 50-point game came on the night when teammate Russell Westbrook made NBA history by tying Oscar Robertson for most career triple-doubles with 181.

Westbrook had 33 points, 19 rebounds and 15 assists, and he made two free throws with a second left to give Washington the overtime victory. He even blocked the Pacers’ final shot.

The Wizards (32-36) play their next two games at Atlanta before returning home to face Cleveland and Charlotte. They lead the Pacers (31-36) by half a game for ninth place and trail the Hornets (33-34) by 1.5 games for eighth.

“Let’s hope for good news and that he is all good to go,” Westbrook said of Beal. “His night can’t go unnoticed either. He had 50 … He has been keeping us together along the season and [been] very exceptional. I am grateful to have him as a teammate.”

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Bucks rally in 4th to beat Nets 124-118, clinch playoff spot

Milwaukee’s late-season schedule has given the Bucks plenty of chances to measure themselves against the two teams they’re chasing in the Eastern Conference standings.

The results have been encouraging.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 36 points and the Bucks used a fourth-quarter rally to defeat the Brooklyn Nets for the second time in three days, winning 124-118 on Tuesday night. This mini-sweep comes less than two weeks after the Bucks won two consecutive games from East-leading Philadelphia.

“I’m happy we were able to put on a show for our fans and able to build good habits in those games, but that’s all,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had 12 rebounds.

“They don’t mean nothing. Nobody’s going to remember these games when we’re in the playoffs.”

Brooklyn (43-23) lost its third straight to fall 1½ games behind Philadelphia (44-21) Milwaukee (41-24) clinched a fifth straight playoff appearance, but is third in the East, three behind Philadelphia and 1½ behind Brooklyn.

The Bucks are chasing their first NBA title since 1971.

They posted the NBA’s best regular-season record in 2018-19 and 2019-20, but lost in the Eastern Conference finals two seasons ago and in the second round last year.

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That’s why they’re not making too much about their regular-season success versus the teams ahead of them.

After all, the Nets didn’t have James Harden for either of their two losses in Milwaukee. Philadelphia didn’t have All-Stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons playing together in any of its matchups with Milwaukee.

If nothing else, these last two weeks have given the Bucks a confidence boost.

“It’s important to be playing well going down the stretch here,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Milwaukee blew a 10-point lead in the second half and trailed 103-97 with 10 minutes left, but it responded with an 18-1 run.

Brooklyn cut the margin to four with 1:02 left, but Antetokounmpo sank a pair of free throws and Jrue Holiday made a steal in the final minute to seal the triumph. Holiday had 23 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds.

“They got a nice groove going in the fourth, made shots, made plays,” said Brooklyn’s Kevin Durant, who had 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists. “You’ve got to give them credit.”

Kyrie Irving scored 38 points for the Nets, who got outrebounded 55-39.

Milwaukee’s Donte DiVincenzo had a career-high 15 rebounds to go along with 10 points. Khris Middleton had 23 points and seven rebounds.

“They were overall more physical than us on both ends of the floor,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. The Bucks’ fourth-quarter comeback followed their 117-114 Sunday afternoon victory over the Nets, also in Milwaukee.

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Lakers hold off Magic 96-93, win again without LeBron, Davis

Dennis Schröder scored 24 points, Kyle Kuzma added 21 and the Los Angeles Lakers rallied in the fourth quarter to beat the Orlando Magic 96-93 Sunday night.

Montrezl Harrell added 18 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles, which has won two in a row without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, the Lakers had a tough time trying to shake the Eastern Conference’s second-worst team.

Orlando’s Otto Porter Jr. had a clean look at a 3-pointer to send it to overtime, but the shot hit the rim.

“It wasn’t pretty, but we played well. This is a tough shooting night, but our defense carried us through,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel stated.

Los Angeles improved to 2/3 without James and Davis. They are fourth in the Western Conference at 30-17 and are 2 1/2 games in front of Denver and Portland. They are also two games behind second-place Phoenix and a game in back of the third-place LA Clippers.

“We’re not playing for holding on. We’re paid to do the same job, which is win games,” Harrell said. “We’re going to try to continue to keep rolling until they get back.”

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Kuzma, who also had 11 rebounds for his 12th double-double of the season, said the Lakers got plenty of open looks, but were not unable to convert until late.

Los Angeles made only 41.6% of its shots from the field for its sixth-worst shooting game of the campaign.

“We probably got the most open looks that we’ve had all season, especially on 3-pointers,” he said.

Orlando had a 82-77 lead with 7:19 left after R.J. Hampton drilled a 3-pointer. The Lakers trailed 84-80 midway through the fourth quarter before going on a 12-1 run to seize control as Schröder and Kuzma each had five points.

Los Angeles had a seven-point lead with under three minutes remaining, but the Magic got within three going to the final possession.

Dwayne Bacon led the Magic with 26 points and Chuma Okeke scored 14. Orlando (15-31) has dropped 13 of 15.

Even though he has plenty of moving pieces after five players were moved at the trade deadline, Orlando coach Steve Clifford was frustrated with his team’s failures to execute down the stretch.

“We fouled unnecessarily, played undisciplined defense and missed blockouts,” he stated. “We played hard and didn’t play smart. The game was there to be won. Nobody knocked it out of the park.”

There were nine lead changes and three ties during the first 13 minutes before the Lakers went on a 17-3 run to go up 39-26 with under three minutes remaining in the second quarter. The Magic rallied to get it down to a five-point deficit at halftime (44-39) as Bacon had seven points down the stretch.

Markieff Morris’ 3-pointer gave the Lakers a 61-53 lead before Orlando scored eight consecutive to tie it at 61 with 2:12 remaining in the third quarter. There were three more ties in the quarter as it was 69-all going into the final 12 minutes.

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Williams scores 23, Bulls beat Raptors 118-95

Rookie Patrick Williams had a career-best 23 points to lead the Chicago Bulls past the Toronto Raptors, 118-95 Sunday night.

Zach LaVine scored 15 to help the Bulls end a two-game slide. Coby White had 13 points and Wendell Carter Jr. added 12 points and 11 rebounds after the two were removed from the starting five for the first time this campaign.

Chicago kept a double-digit lead for most of the second half and enjoyed a nice cushion after Denzel Valentine made three 3-pointers during a 9-0 run that pushed the lead to 96-78 with eight minutes remaining. Toronto, which had won 12 consecutive versus Chicago, never got closer than 11 the rest of the night.

Norman Powell scored 32 points as the depleted Raptors, down five regulars, lost their fifth straight. Kyle Lowry had 20 points and eight assists before being ejected in the final minutes after picking up his second technical foul for arguing with officials.

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Lowry stated he didn’t think the pressure of fighting to stay in the playoff hunt — a new experience for the Raptors after several seasons of riding in the upper half of the Eastern Conference standings — or even his actions led to his ejection.

“I really didn’t do anything,” he said. “Sometimes I guess egos get bigger. … This is very unconventional but we’ve just got to find a way to get through it.”

Chicago coach Billy Donovan hinted at lineup changes a day earlier and followed through Sunday as Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky each made their first starts of the campaign, bumping White and Carter from the opening five. Each of the new starters finished with 10 points.

Donovan, disappointed with his regular starters’ lapses after they returned from last weekend’s All-Star break, said the move was hardly meant to punish White and Carter — or set in stone.

“I really appreciate Coby and Wendell making sacrifices for the team,” Donovan said. “It’s not like those guys are out of the rotation or not important pieces of the team.

“It’s more about trying to get a consistent combination through 48 minutes.”

Carter was a reserve most of last season and didn’t seem to take the lineup shift personally.

“It was fun mixing the lineups,” he said. “It was really nothing new to me. I just knew I had to come in and be aggressive. … (The change) had to be made and it is what it is. We weren’t clicking on all cylinders like we’re supposed to.”

The Bulls took the lead for good late in the opening quarter and went on a 9-0 run near the end of the first half to take a 58-49 lead to the break.

Carter, a starter in all 25 games he’d played this season, made his first four shots after entering the game late in the first.

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