Patrick Williams didn’t necessarily play the role of defensive stopper on Monday.
The second-year forward wasn’t even the most talented recent No. 4 draft pick on the court.
But he was back.
The Bulls needed that, embraced it, then proceeded to blow out the red-hot Raptors at the United Center 113-99 in what was one of the more important games of the season.
The victory bumped up the Bulls’ record to 42-29, ended an ugly three-game skid and kept them in the chase for the No. 4 seed so they can open the first round of the playoffs with the home-court advantage.
Williams’ return was the cherry on top.
Injured Oct. 28 in a loss to the Knicks, Williams had surgery to repair the significant damage in his left wrist. The original timetable for his return was possibly the postseason.
But Williams was ahead of schedule, and the hope was to get him back for the last 10 to 12 regular-season games.
By last weekend, it was clear that it would be more than hope.
Williams checked into the game against Toronto (40-32) with five minutes left in the first quarter to a standing ovation, and while he was obviously working through some serious rust, he also showed some familiar flashes.
It took 16 seconds for him to commit his first foul and 80 seconds for Williams to grab his first rebound. His first basket came with 1:23 left in the first quarter — a three-pointer from the corner. Williams played just under seven minutes in that first stint, scoring five points and grabbing two rebounds.
The Bulls and Raptors went into halftime in a tight one with Toronto up 55-54.
Williams played 19 minutes and finished with seven points on 3-for-8 shooting.
“[Williams has] been out five months, and he’s a good player,’’ coach Billy Donovan said. “You can sit there and say, ‘OK, he’s been out five months; we’re just not going to play him and not even try.’ I don’t think that would be helpful to him and to our team, and we’re probably going to have to go through some growing pains. I mentioned when we were hopeful that we were going to start to get some players back, that it was the more difficult part, trying to integrate these guys back into playing when they haven’t played and they’ve been out for so long. You’re expecting them to pick up where they left off, and it just doesn’t work like that.’’
Donovan was expecting his stars to play like stars, and that’s what the third quarter was about.
The defense, helped by Alex Caruso now in the starting lineup, completely handcuffed the Raptors for 10 points off six turnovers, while Zach LaVine went 6-for-8 from the field, scoring 16 points in the quarter. Not only did the Bulls close that quarter out on a 21-8 run, but they held Toronto to 36.8% shooting from the field.
The Raptors never recovered, as the Bulls played to their identity for the first time in a while. LaVine and DeMar DeRozan each finished with 26 points, and Nikola Vucevic had 19. But it was Williams’ night.
“It was amazing,’’ Williams said of his return. “Couldn’t really put it into words. I felt good. I think I was able to get comfortable defensively. It’s still going to take some getting used to.
“I just want to bring the energy.’’