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Raptors throttle Bulls to snap losing streak, 122-83

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Ball movement, ball movement, ball movement. That was the name of the game for the Raptors, as they rediscovered the offense that helped them win 12 of their first 13 games.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors dismantled a reeling Bulls team by 39 points on Saturday evening, behind a complete and total team effort. Fred VanVleet led all scorers with 18, while Danny Green and Serge Ibaka chipped in 17 and 16 respectively.

The story coming into tonight’s game was the short-handed roster that the Toronto Raptors trotted out — four of the team’s most important wings were on the bench due to injury, or in the case of Kawhi Leonard: “load management.” To pick up the slack, reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Pascal Siakam was expected to handle a sizeable chunk of the offensive load after posting 17.8 points per game over his last ten games.

In addition to Siakam’s steady hand around the basket and on the break, fans were hoping to see a classic Fred VanVleet performance in his first career start. Overall, the third year guard had failed to impress early this season after inking a two-year, $18m deal in the offseason.

It was fitting, then, that two of the Raptors’ first three baskets after the tip came from these fellas.

VanVleet, who off the bench this season has looked apprehensive at best when handling the ball, was keen on making decisive plays with the ball, utilizing his quickness off the dribble to create open looks. Siakam and VanVleet combined for nine of the Raptors’ first 14 points before Fred Hoiberg called the first timeout of the game with his Bulls down seven.

The Bulls wouldn’t go away just yet, however. After the timeout, they managed a 7-0 run of their own to get back in the game, helped in part by a couple of ugly turnovers from — who else — Serge Ibaka. Ibaka had a rough start to this game, getting the hook for Jonas Valanciunas around the three-minute mark, after posting three turnovers and just two points on 1-of-5 shooting to go along with two blocks.

But back to the man of the hour: it’s tough to speculate what got VanVleet going tonight — whether it was playing next to Kyle Lowry; in front of his “hometown” crowd; a sub-par defensive team — whatever the case, it worked as he scored ten first quarter points. Behind FVV’s best start of the young season, the Raptors jumped out to a 27-18 lead after one.

The second quarter featured a lineup we all hope not to see this early in future games. Lorenzo Brown, Delon Wright, Danny Green, Malachi Richardson and Jonas Valanciunas shared the floor and things, as one would expect, got ugly. While the Raptors didn’t initially lose ground on the scoreboard, the bench offense once again became a disjointed mess (and that’s a very polite description) as Wright and Richardson forced entry passes, overthrew teammates on the fast break, and in general failed to take care of the ball.

Right after committing two head-scratching turnovers, Siakam took Richardson’s place in the lineup after just six minutes on the floor. After Siakam’s return, the Raptors’ free-flowing offense began to regain traction as the lead quickly went from seven back up to 14 points by the midway point of the second quarter. The Raptors maintained this cushion for remainder of the half, as Toronto took a 57-44 lead into the break.

Danny Green of all people paced the team with 14 first half points, followed by Siakam and VanVleet with ten points apiece. Valanciunas did his usual damage off the bench in limited minutes, putting up eight points and six boards to lead the bench.

Once the third quarter began, the Raptors made a clear effort to score close to the basket. Before you could blink following the start of the third quarter, Toronto had 34 points in the paint to Chicago’s 18. Behind this concerted effort, the Raptors began to throttle the Bulls, going on an immediate 9-0 run to open the third quarter.

A lot of fans will agree, this is the best the offense has looked in at least two weeks. The ball movement was nothing short of divine, as the Raptors’ ball handlers were able to find an open teammate on what felt like every possession. Driven in large part by the passes in rhythm and unselfish basketball, Toronto would keep the lead above 20 points for most of the third frame before finally peaking with an 89-56 lead after three — and that was pretty much the ball game.

A Few Notes:

  • The Raptors didn’t look like a team who just played an overtime game last night on the road. They had 21 fast break points at halftime, and 44 points in the paint by the end of the third quarter. In addition to playing a beautiful offensive game, the Raptors also held Chicago without a basket for the final four and a half minutes of the third quarter.
  • Lowry briefly left the bench for the locker room after limping off the floor. He would return just a few minutes later, but this is the underlying worry for all Raptors’ fans: he’s not young, even if he is playing like he’s ten years younger.
  • I don’t fully understand the makeup of this Bulls roster. It has a ton of ball-dominant guards, and bigs that aren’t great in the pick and roll. Robin Lopez is the team’s best center, so that’s saying something. Ryan Arcidiacono is the only pass-first guard on this team, and it shows. They have a great core, but the role players are a mess.