It came down to free throw shooting and a crucial call late in the game, but the Toronto Raptors could not get the extra bucket they needed in overtime and were narrowly defeated by the Chicago Bulls 109-107.
The Raptors fought back from a 19-point deficit to force overtime against the veteran Bulls squad who are still playing without their star point guard Derrick Rose.
It was Toronto's bench that provided the spark they needed to complete the comeback, led by Kyle Lowry's 26 points and 7 assists -- including a number of clutch plays down the stretch -- and Alan Anderson's career-high 27 points.
About and hour and a half before the game there was still question as to whether or not Lowy would even play after suffering an ankle injury Tuesday night in Brooklyn. Not only did Lowy play, but he was routinely the best player on the floor.
"(Lowry) and Alan Anderson together really did a great job down the stretch - attacking (and) making the right basketball plays," Dwane Casey said. "I just told him there a few minutes ago that I was proud of the way he competed. (He) made the right basketball decisions, scoring when he had to (and) gave it up when he had to."
It appeared as though the Raptors would have an opportunity to tie the game from the free throw line late in the overtime period after Joakim Noah fouled Amir Johnson with one second left on the clock. Much to the dismay of coach Casey, it was ruled that the foul occurred on the floor and Johnson was awarded no free throw opportunities.
On the ensuring play, Jose Calderon missed a semi-contested three-point shot that sealed the victory for the Bulls. The previous play however, stands as the key play in the game and one that the referees appear to have gotten wrong.
"I hope the league looks at that," Casey said. "That's all I'm going to say about it, because it's a very questionable, marginal call at the end of the game. We'll see what the ruling is."
Questionable call or not, the Raptors stood up to one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference and hung right in there with them until the end of the game. This Raptors squad has shown some improvements over the last month or so and if not for a few mental lapses, they could just as easily have three or four more W's in the win column.
"We're coming around, we just gotta close these games out," Alan Anderson said. "We gotta knock these free throws down, especially with tougher teams like this - one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. We're right there; we (have) got a chance to win a big game like that. We gotta start winning these."
On Chicago's side of things, the Bulls got significant performances out of their core of veteran players. Loul Deng finished with 19 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and he hit the game winning shot with 11 seconds on the clock in Overtime. The combination of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah tortured the Raptors down low for 36 and 16 points respectively.
The combined effort of those three players helped the Bulls overcome a horrendous shooting night from their bench that saw them make just five of their 21 attempts.
Despite their struggles on the interior, Raptors rookie Quincy Acy managed to have a solid game once again off of the pine. Acy came in and gave the Raptors some much needed energy, rebounding and even a defensive presence as he took four charges on the night.
"It feels real good, you know," Acy said about getting extra minutes. "I wanna make sure that the organization (knows) they made the right pick in the second round with me. I said that when I got drafted, I'm going to work as hard as I possibly can and try to earn my way into the rotation."
Without Klieza and Valanciunas in the lineup, Acy has gone from getting little-to-no playing time to now having an opportunity to showcase his talents and prove that he can play at this level - something that was not a forgone conclusion at the beginning of the season. This is an adjustment that Acy has been working towards all season long.
"I prepare myself, I get in every day with one of the coaches and they work me out. They make sure (that) I'm in shape and (I) watch extra film - Just working as hard as I can."
There are certainly a number of positives to draw from a game like this against a higher caliber team in the Eastern Conference, but ultimately this game will go down as yet another contest in which the Raptors failed to maintain a full effort for 48 minutes.
Toronto has now lost three straight games and things will not get any easier for the team anytime soon. The Raptors travel to Philadelphia to take on a 76er team that will be out for revenge on Friday before returning home to take on the Lakers on Sunday.
Without a full 48-minute effort in each of those contests, this is a Raptors squad that could be staring at a five-game losing streak by the week's end.