The Chicago Bulls strengthened their grip on the NBA’s Eastern Conference third seed on Wednesday with a 116-103 come-from-behind triumph over the Toronto Raptors, who nevertheless secured their own playoff berth.
Jimmy Butler, making his second start since missing 11 games with an elbow injury, had 23 points and Pau Gasol scored 18 as the Bulls rallied in the fourth quarter, sweeping the season series between the two teams.
Chicago, who clinched a playoff berth for the seventh consecutive year with Monday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets, outscored Toronto 39-21 in the fourth quarter.
They took their first lead since the opening minutes of the game on Nikola Mirotic’s layup with 5 minutes, 47 seconds remaining, which followed Kirk Hinrich’s basket from the right corner.
The shots were part of a 25-8 run over the final seven minutes of the game.
“The ball moved really well, with quick decisions,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We had a lot of guys step up.”
Chicago’s Frenchman Joakim Noah said the Bulls believe they have the “deepest team in the East.”
“We have a lot of offensive weapons,” Noah said. “We shot 60 percent [from the floor] in a big game. That’s pretty impressive.”
Tony Snell scored nine of his 17 points in the fourth period for Chicago, who stretched their lead over the Raptors for third place in the East to 1.5 games.
The Raptors, who have now dropped 13 of their past 18, could have clinched the Atlantic Division with a win and a Boston loss to Miami.
They still locked up a playoff berth when the Celtics fell to the Heat 93-86 in Boston.
Goran Dragic had 22 points, seven assists and five rebounds for the Heat, who moved two games in front of the Celtics for the seventh seed in the East.
Meanwhile, the Celtics are trying to hold off the Indiana Pacers, the Brooklyn Nets and the Charlotte Hornets for the eighth and final post-season spot.
The Indiana Pacers boosted their playoff bid with a 103-101 victory over the Wizards in Washington.
George Hill scored 12 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and made the go-ahead layup with 2.7 seconds remaining to lift the Pacers over the hosts.
Hill added nine assists and seven rebounds for Indiana, who ended a six-game skid.
The Brooklyn Nets did themselves some good with a 91-88 victory over the Hornets in Charlotte.
Brook Lopez scored 34 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter, and pulled down 10 rebounds for the Nets, who are level with Charlotte with a 30-40 record and still in with a playoff chance.
Kyrie Irving scored 24 points, while Kevin Love added 22 points and 10 rebounds as the Cleveland Cavaliers rolled to a 111-89 victory over the Grizzlies in Memphis.
LeBron James finished with 20 points, Timofey Mozgov added 14 and J.R. Smith 13 to help Cleveland win their fourth straight and eighth in nine.
Cleveland shot 51 percent and were 14 of 34 from three-point range.
Marc Gasol led Memphis with 18 points, while Beno Udrih had 15.
Houston’s James Harden had 25 points and 10 assists, while Dwight Howard had seven rebounds and a block on Anthony Davis on his return from a two-month absence as the Rockets handed the New Orleans Pelicans their fourth straight loss, 95-93.
Davis had 24 points and 14 rebounds for the Pelicans, but uncharacteristically missed eight free throws, including one that could have pulled New Orleans to 94-93 with seven seconds left.
In San Antonio, Tony Parker had 21 points and six assists as the Spurs downed the Thunder 130-91 to stop Oklahoma City’s four-game winning streak.
Boris Diaw scored 19 points, while Tim Duncan had 16 and Kawhi Leonard 14 points in the Spurs’ highest scoring game of the season. They have won 11 of 13.
The Atlanta Hawks ended a three-game losing streak as Paul Millsap had 25 points and 11 rebounds in a 95-83 win over the Orlando Magic.
Jeff Teague added 16 points, despite spraining his left ankle in the first quarter.
The Hawks trailed by 13 in the first half, but outscored the Magic 27-12 in the fourth quarter.
Elfrid Payton led the Magic with 19 points and nine rebounds.
In other games, DeAndre Jordan raised the NBA’s best shooting percentage above 71 percent by making all seven shots and scoring 14 points as the Los Angeles Clippers pounded the New York Knicks 111-80, the Sacramento Kings defeated the Phoenix Suns 108-99, the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Utah Jazz 101-99 in overtime, the Los Angeles Lakers claimed a 101-99 overtime victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Philadelphia 76ers were 99-85 winners over the Denver Nuggets.
‘GREAT EVENING‘: In the women’s singles in Rome, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced, while Rafael Nadal swept into the quarters in the men’s singles Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Friday had to dig deep to advance to the semi-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome. The top seeds, who did not drop a game in their opening match on the clay courts at the Foro Italico, battled to a 7-6 (7/5), 6-4 victory over sixth seeds Veronika Kudermetova and Katerina Siniakova in 1 hour, 39 minutes. The reigning Wimbledon champions saved nine of 11 break points and converted three of eight, winning 56 percent of points on their second serve and sending down two aces
’SO CONSISTENT’: The victory gave the world No. 1 and world No. 2 a 21-1 win-loss record and their fourth title of the season after successes in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Sunday cruised to their fourth women’s doubles title of the season at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome in their first tournament back since the suspension of the WTA Tour due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The top seeds took just 63 minutes to complete a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 victory over unseeded German-Romanian duo Anna-Lena Friedsam and Raluca Olaru at the Foro Italico. It was the Taiwanese-Czech pairing’s first outing since they won the Qatar Open in February. “After five months, you don’t know what to expect,” Strycova told the WTA Web site.
‘FUN TIME’: Denver’s Nikola Jokic said that his team would not accept that anyone else is better than them and the opposition need to play much better than they do Just about everyone had LA versus LA written in for the NBA’s Western Conference finals, but the resilient Denver Nuggets have crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009 to face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is scheduled to be played tomorrow. This was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against the Utah Jazz before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7
‘GREAT COMPETITOR’: Former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza was tested by American teenager Coco Gauff, before the Spaniard advanced in three sets Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic on Thursday cruised into the quarter-finals of the women’s doubles at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia by handing their Japanese opponents a rare “double bagel,” a feat matched by US Open losing finalist Victoria Azarenka in the women’s singles. Top seeds Hsieh and Strycova took just 49 minutes to see off the challenge of Japanese duo Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya 6-0, 6-0 on the clay courts at the Foro Italico in Rome. The Taiwanese-Czech duo saved both break points they faced and converted six of 14, winning 62 percent of their first