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Bulls Ride Tony Snell, Bench To Win Against Raptors

By Cody Westerlund--

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It was just three days ago, on Christmas no less, that Bulls executive vice president of basketball operations John Paxson expressed a measure of disappointment in the play of third-year wing Tony Snell, who has been tasked with a bigger role with veteran wing Mike Dunleavy still recovering from September back surgery.

"We've given Tony Snell an opportunity," Paxson lamented in an interview on 670 The Score. "And Tony has had a few moments, but to be very candid, he has needed to play better and with some more consistency. That's not been the case."

Funny how these up-and-down Bulls operate. Just when you think you have something, anything figured out, the script is flipped.

Monday added to the long list of "smh" moments the Bulls have had this season. Leading the Raptors 78-73 after three quarters, the Bulls closed out a quality 104-97 win at the United Center behind the hot hand of Snell, who scored 16 of his season-high 22 points in the final 12 minutes, shooting 6-of-9 in the frame and displaying the confident aggressiveness and poise that's too often been missing for him.

Snell had played a combined nine minutes in the previous three games – sitting two of them entirely – after being pulled from the starting lineup for inconsistency.

"He's one of those kids, he's easy to coach," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. "Talked to him before and after I took him out of the (starting) lineup, and he handled it like a champ – 'Whatever you think we got to do to win the game, Coach, whatever you think you got to do to win the game.' I told him to stay ready.

"To go out and respond … on both ends of the floor was awesome."

Snell's increased playing time Monday came in part because fellow young wing Doug McDermott sat out with right knee soreness (Hoiberg wasn't certain how serious the issue is, though it's worth noting that's the knee McDermott had surgery on in December 2014). The Bulls (17-12) found out about 10 minutes before the game that McDermott would be a late scratch.

Snell didn't even know that much.

"For someone who hasn't been playing that much in these recent games, for him to come in and have the confidence he had and take the shots he took, it changed the game," said Derrick Rose, who scored 20 points.

The story of the night was the Bulls' bench, which scored 51 points, nearly half the team total. In addition to Snell's big game, Aaron Brooks had 17 points and Bobby Portis had 12 points and nine rebounds. The bench had a plus-minus rating of +42.

The second unit played so well in the fourth quarter – stretching a five-point lead to 14 at one point – that Hoiberg didn't reinsert starters Rose and Gasol until just more than a minute remained.

For the most part, the Bulls relied on the Brooks-Jimmy Butler-Snell-Taj Gibson-Portis quintet late.

"It's not an easy decision," Hoiberg said of riding the bench in the fourth quarter. "Because you look at Pau, I thought, had a really good game and Derrick, I thought, played very well also. That's the balancing act is how you're going to finish the game. We just felt Aaron was doing a lot of great things out there. He was making a pass, which gave us numbers on the back side. Bobby was playing with all kinds of energy, getting grown-man rebounds out there. Then obviously, Tony's game speaks for itself."

Rose called the Bulls "a dangerous team" when they get contributions from the bench like they did Monday. In a season marked by unpredictability, the most recent surprise was a welcome sight. The Bulls just hope it lasts.

"We have a bunch of looks on this team," Brooks said. "You never know on any given day.

"There's a lot of talent on this team. Guys just have to step up when their name is called."

Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.

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