In the Lowry-DeRozan era, the Bulls have been one of those teams that, no matter who’s playing, always seem to be a thorn in the Raptors’ side. Whether they star Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler or Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls are always a tough team to put away.
Tonight though, the Raptors were able to put the All-Star weekend off for a couple hours and get the win in dominating fashion, 122-98.
It looked like it would become one of those games after the first quarter. Despite Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka combining for 18 of the Raptors first 27 points, they were still down six after the first. As the Bulls were powered by strong starts by LaVine, Robin Lopez, and Justin Holiday.
Then the bench mob came in and changed the game in the second. Led by Pascal Siakam, the bench took the game from a six-point deficit to a seven-point lead in only six minutes. Siakam was making plays all over the court — from his usual energy on the fast break to even making moves off the dribble, including a drive and kick to C.J. Miles for a four-point play. I think we’re close to seeing Point Siakam being a real thing. The starters eventually came back in and kept the momentum going, giving the Raptors a 61-49 lead at the half.
The third quarter held similar qualities to the first. Ibaka continued his strong play, but it eventually turned into the Kyle Lowry show. It seemed like he couldn’t miss on his way to 14 points in the quarter. Lowry also made plays for others, dishing out five dimes including a beautiful pass off the rebound to OG Anunoby for an and-one.
The explosion in the third quarter led the game into something we’ve started to grow accustomed to. The Raptors starters were able to sit out the entire fourth quarter for the sixth time in the last seven games.
The game was won by several factors. But it all started with Ibaka. He set the tone on both sides of the court with his aggressive play, and the Raptors are a much better team when he plays with that kind of energy. It also has to be stated over and over again how much DeMar DeRozan has improved his playmaking ability. His poor shooting night (11-of-25) was offset by eight assists, another number we’ve become accustomed to seeing. He deserves some votes for Most Improved Player at the end of the season, even though it’s likely he won’t get much consideration for the award.
The Raptors could have easily looked past this game in advance of the All-Star break, but it says a lot about this team that they didn’t take the lowly Bulls lightly. After the slow start, they attacked and handled their business, and made sure tonight didn’t go down to the wire like the Bulls games of the past.
Now it’s time to enjoy All-Star weekend. Root for Lowry in the Three-Point shootout, along with Kyle, DeMar, and coach Dwane Casey in the big game.