Heading into last night’s game, it wouldn’t have been crazy to expect a fourth straight loss for the Toronto Raptors; after all, the team had played an overtime game the night before and was missing Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles and Norman Powell.
The Chicago Bulls were having no part of that. After putting up about five minutes of fight, they rolled over, and by the second half, they were playing dead, and the Raptors cruised too victory. Five quick thoughts:
A Shot in the Arm for Fred VanVleet
With the Raptors down multiple bodies, Fred VanVleet got his first career regular season start. Nick Nurse explained the choice pre-game:
Nurse says the hope is this start for van vleet gives him a shot in the arm.....as fred hasn't been playing up to the standards he has surely set for himself— Eric Smith (@Eric__Smith) November 17, 2018
After the Celtics game, Nurse alluded to Fred not being 100% healthy, so I thought he might join Leonard et al in getting a night off. Instead, Nurse went the other way — and it sure seemed to work! VanVleet missed his first shot but then hit his next two, a midrange J and a 3-pointer from the left wing. He’d go on cash in seven of his 11 shots, including 4-of-7 from downtown; he also had four assists and only one turnover.
Sometimes all it takes to break a slump is to see a couple go through the hoop, and hopefully that’s what Fred’s game last night was all about. And with Kyle Lowry leaving early with an injured ankle, Fred might have an even bigger role the rest of this road trip.
Is Chicago Really This Bad?
Nah, not really. Well... maybe? I mean, the Bulls are bad! But they were missing Bobby Portis, Zach LaVine, Denzel Valentine and Kris Dunn. I’m confident that, with all of those guys in the fold this would have been a closer game… then again, if the Raptors were also fully health, the result may have been the same.
Either way — these guys just don’t defend. Especially in transition! The Raptors had 31 fast break points, but I would add an additional dozen points to that that weren’t fast break points, but where the Bulls were so slow getting into their defense that the Raptors just had easy routes to the basket. And at the rim? Basically no resistance; the Raptors had 58 points in the paint.
Serge Ibaka was the beneficiary of many of these:
There’s just no help defense at all. Yikes.
(Here’s a fun stat for you: In their last two second halves — last night against the Raptors, and Friday night against the Bucks — the Bulls have been outscored 143 to 80. Double yikes.)
The Battle of the Big Men
Both teams started small, and both brought their big men — Jonas Valanciunas for Toronto, Robin Lopez for the Bulls — off the bench with about 3:30 to go in the first quarter. And on the first play, Toronto went to Valanciunas, who had established deep post position, and after initially bobbling the ball, he executed a dropstep and laid it in for two.
Two plays later it was Lopez’ turn! He set a screen for Shaquille Harrison, who in turn hit Lopez on the roll; Lopez spun and dropped in a nice lefty hook shot.
In today’s perimeter-oriented NBA you don’t see a lot of old-school big man moves like those two; I appreciated the momentary throwback! At the end of the day, you’d have to give JV the edge in this one; Lopez scored nine points but failed to grab a single rebound. Valanciunas finished with an efficient eight points on 4-of-6 shooting and nine rebounds in less than 14 minutes.
Is... Is That the 905’s Music?
I’ve had high hopes for Malachi Richardson all year; I knew his chances to play would be limited, but I thought with his shooting touch he’d have opportunities to at least put the ball in the hoop. He lit it up in a 905 game last week (eight three-pointers), it just hasn’t come with the big club. With last night’s game all but over by halftime , Richardson finally got a good run.
He managed to get up four shots, hitting three, including 2-of-3 from downtown. Richardson has a good stroke; he should be able to knock down three-pointers consistently, even in limited minutes.
Of course, we can’t pretend it was all sunshine for Richardson; he did have five turnovers and didn’t manage to get a single assist. Still, as noted above, sometimes just getting a few shots to go can give you the confidence you need to do even better the next outing.
Lorenzo Brown, meanwhile, also scored the ball well (10 points), but also had four turnovers to only two assists. And if we’re talking up the young guys, we can’t pass over Jordan Loyd, who hit both 3-pointers he took to score his first points as a Raptor!
Playmaking Pascal Siakam
We’ve talked a lot about Pascal Siakam so far this season, as he is absolutely killing it; the spin moves have been things of beauty. But the way Pascal is setting up others is just as impressive. You can see it his dish to Serge Ibaka above; here are two more examples:
I feel confident in saying Siakam wouldn’t have made those passes last season; he was very much in head-down mode, and would have gotten himself in trouble, either too far underneath the hoop or by leaving his feet with nowhere to go. This year, he’s still hunting the hoop, for sure, but he’s keeping his head up and finding scoring opportunities for his teammates. He finished with five assists last night, along with 12 points and eight rebounds.
It’s hard to take too much away from a game like this; you hope that it serves as a bit of a reset button after a tough week, and puts everyone’s mind back in the right place. The Raptors have a couple of days off to get healthy, then two more games against sub-.500 teams to continue putting themselves back on track.