Call it a fitting end to an ugly game. With 30 seconds left in tonight’s game against Chicago, the Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen — 5-for-14 to this point in the game — grabbed a pick and roll pass and attempted a long floater. Taking one step forward and half a jump into the air, Marc Gasol extended his arm and sent back the shot in the old man-iest block you’ll ever see on a basketball court, non-YMCA division.
The Raptors, leading by one, would go on to whiff their last offensive possession on a long, unsuccessful Kyle Lowry isolation. On the other end, the Bulls failed to find the open roll man and came up empty. Toronto won, 93-92, to improve to 16-7.
There are games in every NBA season that you simply wipe away from your memory, no matter what side you come out on. Tonight was one for the Raptors.
The team had an energized start to the game, keyed by a 4-for-6 opening shift for Pascal Siakam. After that, the struggles came on strong for both teams — particularly from the outside.
In the game, Chicago shot 12-for-46 from distance (26.1%) while the Raptors shot 7-for-29 (24.1%). There were 29 combined turnovers and 32 fouls. Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell went 10-for-36 (!!) as a pair. Siakam followed up his hot start with a 3-for-12 close. I could throw some more numbers at you, but you get the picture.
In the end, the Raptors got just enough from the odd pairing of Gasol and OG Anunoby, who combined for four steals and six blocks in the game to get Toronto out in transition and into some easy scoring opportunities. Anunoby didn’t blow anyone away, but his 10 points, five rebounds, and two assists were also valuable along with his defensive effort. In one third quarter stretch, he had a dunk, a steal on the perimeter, and an assist for a Chris Boucher dunk.
It was one of those games where those easy buckets stand out more. Nick Nurse spent a lot of Monday experimenting with lineups in the absence of Fred VanVleet, who was on the bench but out of the game with knee soreness. Both in the first half and the second half, Nurse trotted out lineups with four forwards on the floor, playing Chris Boucher next to Siakam, Ibaka, and Anunoby. The idea might’ve been to make up for Toronto’s lack of shooting depth (no VanVleet, still no Matt Thomas) with some hustle points on the glass. It didn’t turn make a meaningful difference, though, as the Raptors surrendered a monster game to Bulls rookie Daniel Gafford, who had 14 points on nine shots and marked a +14.
Still, Chicago looked as disoriented as the Raptors with both teams on the end of a back-to-back. LaVine led the team with 20 points, but didn’t score after halftime and finished 6-for-18. On the last possession of the game, he drove into a Raptors triple team and completely missed a rolling Gafford who could’ve dunked in a Chicago win. Markkanen had 13 points but couldn’t get a late game shot over Marc Gasol (he can still reach pretty far, you know). Wendell Carter Jr. had 14 points but fouled out and was a -15.
The Bulls are the Bulls, I guess — 8-17 and seemingly without focus, despite constant big brain basketball-isms from Jim Boylen. At one point in the fourth quarter, you could hear the Bulls’ bench boss whistling at his team to get into the huddle. You have to wonder how stuff like that goes down behind closed doors.
The win can also be a bit of a warning call for the Raptors, who now look ahead to an important game against the Clippers on Wednesday. With Kawhi Leonard in the house, Toronto will look to avenge a narrow loss from earlier this season. It’ll also be a chance to put another an energetic, definitive win on their resume. Though it’s only been a few games since the last one, having that return to form would feel really good after tonight.