Toronto sweeps the season series, sending the Bulls into the break with a loss

Getting run out of the gym by the Raptors on Wednesday night was not how coach Fred Hoiberg wanted his team to go into the All-Star break.

Obviously, the Bulls were overmatched against the top team in the Eastern Conference, but that argument could be made on most nights.

RELATED STORIES
Kris Dunn is back with the Bulls and will participate in All-Star Weekend
Bulls point guard Kris Dunn is all set to return tonight against the Raptors

No, this 122-98 loss was different. All 48 disappointing minutes of it.

“Win or lose, you have to walk into the locker room after the game, look each other in the eye and say you were the harder-playing team,’’ Hoiberg said. “We were not.’’

Hoiberg was disappointed with this game, but he did praise the group for its attitude through all the ups and downs this season.

“That’s the thing we talk about every day, going out and competing, and playing at a high level,’’ Hoiberg said. “Our guys have bought into that. They brought it to the practice court and in games for the most part. We’ve still had some times where we’ve hit adversity, where we shut down a little bit, but I think we’ve learned from those experiences.’’

But slippage was expected, and it was evident against the Raptors, who swept the season series for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

With Kris Dunn back in the starting lineup after missing the previous 11 games, the Bulls jumped out to a 33-27 lead after the first quarter. But their lead was short-lived. Toronto answered in the second quarter, outscoring Hoiberg’s team of overachievers 34-16.

The Bulls shot only 5-for-20 (25 percent) from the field, including 0-for-6 from three-point range, in the quarter.

Game, set and match.

“I think they got the best of us,’’ Dunn said. “Shots weren’t falling, and when they’re not falling, adversity hits. You gotta be able to fight through that.’’

But rather than dwell on the team’s final act before All-Star Weekend, Hoiberg was still proud of how his players have continued to bounce back.

They had a 3-20 start to the season before putting together a 10-6 record in December, including seven consecutive wins. And when it appeared as if they’d hit hard times again with a seven-game skid in January, they rallied to win two of three heading into this game.

And they’ve done all this with a rookie — Lauri Markkanen — as the focus of their offense and with Zach LaVine or Dunn sidelined on most nights.

It’s a credit to the coaching of Hoiberg this season. Just don’t ask him.

“I don’t think so,’’ Hoiberg said. “I give our guys credit. They’re the ones that come out here every day and stay positive even when the times are tough. And they’ve stayed even-keel. When young teams have success, sometimes it’s hard to sustain that. You beat your chest a little bit, but our guys kept competing even after the 3-20 start, and then winning seven in a row, 10 of 12, they kept coming in with the right mindset.

“They weren’t overly excited about it. They stayed pretty level about it through the ups and the downs, and that’s what I’ve been most impressed with for our young group. They’ve stayed even-keel with everything we’ve gone through.’’

Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com