CHICAGO -- The plan called for getting Luol Deng back from injury and receiving benefits beyond returning a two-time All-Star and his myriad contributions to the lineup.
As coach Tom Thibodeau kept saying, Deng's return also would solidify the bench.
And while reserves played a big role in establishing an early nine-point lead, like much of this Bulls season, the plan went awry. As the Bulls went ice cold in the final 17 minutes, the Raptors rallied for an 85-79 victory Tuesday before a subdued New Year's Eve crowd at the United Center.
That put a period -- and a frown -- on a forgettable 2013 for the Bulls.
A 2012-13 season in which Derrick Rose never played and a 2013-14 season in which Rose went down with another knee injury has left the Bulls in this predictable predicament. The crisp ball movement and quick decisions that highlighted Monday's victory in Memphis faded into offensive ineptitude.
The Bulls shot 36.6 percent overall, including 28.6 percent in the second half and 16.7 percent in the fourth quarter. They went from the 8-minute, 45-second mark of the fourth to 4:26 remaining without scoring.
"When guys miss the amount of time they do and then they come back, it takes a while to find some rhythm," Thibodeau said. "Your fourth quarter has to be your best quarter. Your decisions have to be quicker."
The Raptors took control with a 21-4 run that included Greivis Vasquez blocking Kirk Hinrich's jumper up top and feeding Patrick Patterson for a fast-break layup.
The Bulls mustered one final effort. They pulled to 80-75 when Jimmy Butler stole the ball from John Salmons and converted a three-point play on a feed from Hinrich with 2:01 left. After a Raptors turnover, Deng sank two free throws with 1:24 left for a one-possession game.
With 64 seconds left, Gibson fouled DeMar DeRozan, who split two free throws. After Butler missed a jumper and Salmons missed both free throws, Deng tried to draw contact and missed a wild shot. Jonas Valanciunas sank both free throws with 27.2 seconds left.
Deng scored a team-high 16 points while limited to 34 minutes in his return. He missed five straight games and nine of 12 with a sore left Achilles. Butler added 15.
This is what the post-Rose-injury lineup is supposed to look like. But thanks to the widespread injuries, Deng, Butler, Hinrich, Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah started just their second time together. The first was a 16-point road victory over the Raptors on Nov. 15.
Valanciunas' 15 points led four Raptors in double figures.
Thanks to 13 points from Mike Dunleavy and 12 from Taj Gibson, the Bulls' bench outscored the Raptors' 33-31.
Gibson played all of the second quarter and Dunleavy and D.J. Augustin the bulk of it as the Bulls enjoyed a 26-15 advantage.
"D.J. is playing at a very high level," Thibodeau said. "Taj has been great all season. Mike has been great in the different roles he has had. Just getting people back is good for us."
But, ultimately, not enough.
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