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Bulls gut out 105-94 victory to extend streak over Raptors to 11

Jimmy Butler drives past the Toronto Raptors' Jonas Valanciunas as Toronto's DeMarre Carroll and Chicago's Taj Gibson watch during the Bulls' 105-94 victory. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The simple question stumped forward Taj Gibson, who struggled to come up with a succinct answer.

How exactly — Gibson was asked Tuesday morning — had the Bulls, through good times and bad, managed to string together 10 consecutive victories over the Raptors?

Gibson stammered.

“I don’t know,” he offered initially. “I wish I could tell you.”

Finally, Gibson reversed course.

“We seem to get lucky at different times,” Gibson said hours before the Bulls snapped their string of three lopsided losses and extended their streak against the Raptors to 11 with a 105-94 victory at the United Center.

But nothing came easy for the Bulls, who continue to have more questions than answers with the All-Star break and trade deadline approaching.

Without Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic and Paul Zipser and with Jimmy Butler dealing with a heel injury, the Bulls saw a 23-point lead whittled to five with less than three minutes to play.

The Bulls’ supporting cast of Gibson, Doug McDermott, Rajon Rondo and Denzel Valentine had helped build the sizable advantage, and McDermott and Valentine made big shots to help the Bulls hang on.

Butler sealed the win with five free throws in the closing minutes.

When they needed it most, the Bulls were able to gut out a victory without much of the star power they have come to depend on.

“It’s huge for me,” said McDermott, who led the Bulls with 20 points. “With D-Wade out, I knew I had to step up a little bit.”

With Butler struggling to make shots, coach Fred Hoiberg’s bench players made a considerable contribution.

It was the shot in the arm the 27-29 Bulls needed with only one game left before the All-Star break.

Valentine made two timely three-pointers, and Cristiano Felicio was strong in the paint as the Bulls’ bench had 54 points.

The Bulls avoided the sluggish start that plagued them on their 2-4 road swing, and the second unit sustained the effort.

“We needed to come out and play hard, win or lose,” Hoiberg said. “We had to come out with a great competitive effort, and I thought we did that.”

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.