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After confusing 1st half, Bulls measure up

Chicago BullsBasketballToronto RaptorsBen GordonAndres NocioniSam Mitchell

You know NBA players. They can get so confused in a foreign country.

So it seemed for Kirk Hinrich when he stepped out of bounds twice receiving passes during a confusing and lazy first half that led viewers to adjust their televisions as Bulls coach Scott Skiles went Bulls' red in the face during one particularly lively timeout.

"I got into the guys pretty good in one timeout," Skiles conceded.

"I think they need to measure the size of the court," Hinrich said sheepishly.

But again it was the measure of the men wearing the red that enabled the Bulls to dig down for their kind of victory, a 105-94 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Seven Bulls scored in double figures, led by an improving Darius Songaila with 18. The Bulls responded to a sluggish first half by keeping the Raptors away from the basket with a defensive attitude in the second.

"I thought we were tired from last [night's loss to Miami]," Skiles said. "But we fought through it. Our guys really battled in the second half. Tyson [Chandler] picked us up (three blocks and two steals in the third quarter), defended the basket and when he went down (with a sprained left knee), Mike [Sweetney] came back and gave us a lift scoring.

"And Darius, each game he's showing even another dimension," Skiles said of Songaila's 15-for-20 shooting in the last two games. "He made a couple of great post moves, a spin. The ball ends up in his hands with seven, eight seconds on the clock and he finds someone.

"He makes a lot of plays to help us besides making shots and helping on defense. He's kind of a quiet, shy guy. He has been [hurt], changed teams. It has taken him a while to figure out his role and blend in with the guys."

But it was Songaila and Sweetney, the Bulls sort-of big men, who made the key plays in the fourth quarter that enabled them to pull away to move to 11-10 while Toronto fell to 4-18.

With the Raptors coming back from a 13-point deficit early in the fourth behind Chris Bosh, Sweetney grabbed a rebound on a Ben Gordon miss and Hinrich converted a three-pointer. Songaila then made a layup after some nice moves. It gave the Bulls a 97-92 lead with about three minutes left. Sweetney then converted free throws down the stretch while the Raptors continued to launch wild three-pointers.

"It was a good win," Skiles said. "I was happy with their response."

That pretty much explains this Bulls team. One might even say the Raptors have more talent with Bosh and 6-foot-11-inch rookie Charlie Villanueva, who was yanked after playing fewer than nine minutes for his turnstile defense.

"We had a chance to go up 12, 15 points at halftime and didn't take advantage," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said.

Yes, it could have been very bad for the Bulls. Skiles yanked Hinrich and Chris Duhon a few minutes into the game and was in a frenzy over Andres Nocioni's missed defensive assignments, though Nocioni did make six first-quarter free throws.

"We went to the bench early to get a lift," Skiles said.

But it didn't get much better. There were all the turnovers, the Bulls apparently thinking the court was smaller and stepping out of bounds and throwing passes that didn't fit it.

"We had to pick up our intensity," Hinrich said.

Toronto went up 54-45 late in the second quarter and led 56-51 at halftime. Toronto then scored only 12 points in the third on 27.9-percent shooting and committed eight turnovers as the Bulls shot a season-high 57.8 percent.

They threatened some in the fourth, but they didn't have Songaila and Sweetney to bail them out like the Bulls did.

Who does?

sasmith@tribune.com

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