Bulls laud 'extraordinary' LaVine after key play-in game performance

Zach LaVine drops 39 points as Bulls complete comeback vs. Raptors (1:51)

Zach LaVine goes off for 39 points, including 30 in the second half, to help the Bulls beat the Raptors in Toronto. (1:51)

TORONTO -- Even when the Chicago Bulls fell behind by 19 points in the third quarter against the Toronto Raptors, Zach LaVine said he and the rest of the team remained calm.

He put his head down and drove to the basket on the next possession, drawing a foul that led to a three-point play and began to chip away at the deficit. LaVine scored 39 points on Wednesday night, including 30 in the second half, to help the Bulls rally to beat the Raptors 109-105 in a play-in tournament game Wednesday night.

The Bulls advance to visit the Miami Heat on Friday night for a chance to earn the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference and a first-round matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

LaVine's 39 points are tied for the second most by any player in a play-in game, trailing only Jayson Tatum's 50-point game against the Wizards in 2021.

"What he did going into the third quarter and into the fourth, it would have been very, very difficult for us to have won that game if he had not done that," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said about LaVine. "His performance was extraordinary. It gave us life and it gave us hope.

"Then once we got back into it, I think a lot of guys made a lot of different plays. But I give him credit, he had that mentality that he's going to do whatever he can do to get us back into the game."

The Bulls became the first 10th seed to win a play-in tournament game by getting to the rim consistently in the second half.

They created 29 points off drives in the second half while limiting the Raptors to just two points, according to ESPN tracking, led by LaVine, who scored 15 points on 4-of-5 shooting on drives (7-for-7 free throws).

"Just aggressiveness, really," LaVine said. "We started figuring out how they were playing us. They were so far up the court and they started doubling [DeMar DeRozan] with pick-and-rolls. ... For me, in the third quarter, just throw it all out there."

DeRozan added 23 points against his former team. He and LaVine combined for 20 points in the fourth quarter; Toronto scored only 24 fourth-quarter points.

And after starting the game just 3-for-19 on 3-pointers, the Bulls hit four of their seven 3s in the fourth, including clutch shots from Alex Caruso and Patrick Beverley.

"I think that's why our team is set up for success, we got two killers in Zach and DeMar," Caruso said after the game. "That's all we got to do is play our roles and then we know we got two killers that down the stretch of the game can go get a bucket on just about anybody in the league."

Meanwhile, the Raptors allowed the Bulls to climb back into the game by missing their chances at the free throw line. Toronto -- with DeRozan's 9-year-old daughter, Diar, screaming when they shot -- made only half of its free throw attempts, going 18-for-36 from the line, the most misses in a winner-take-all game since 1969.

"That's a lot of misses," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "We left a lot of points on the board."

LaVine's performance on Wednesday caps off what has been a stellar second half of his season, after struggling at the start of the year coming off knee surgery in the summer. LaVine was sidelined for the Bulls' season-opener and missed four of their first eight games while he sat out back-to-backs.

However, as his health has improved this season, so has his production. Since the beginning of January, LaVine is averaging 26.4 points on 50% shooting (37% from 3) along with 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

"I knew I was going to get in rhythm after coming off injury in the summertime," LaVine said after the game. "Credit to [DeMar], he did a good job talking to me when I was upset early in the season, getting my rhythm back. And then about a month before All-Star break, I started feeling like myself."

Added DeRozan: "There's not too many people in this league that have the talent that Zach has. It feels good just to see him get appreciated from the moment that I got here. I wanted everything to come his way in a positive nature because I know how hard he works, how much he cares about the game and he's a hell of a person.

"I've always been a fan of him before he came to Chicago, so now to be able to share every moment with him and see it means a lot."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.