We knew coming into this season that if the Raptors were going to find any success, it was going to come in the trenches.
With existing issues in the half court offense only exacerbated by a shoulder injury to Pascal Siakam, Toronto has been left with a collection of raw talent not really suited to creating baskets in slow-down situations, whether that’s in isolation or pick and roll. The only guy with a proven track record of doing so was Fred VanVleet, with OG Anunoby beside him showing positive strides in the preseason.
Still, the Raptors can get down and dirty — playing tough defense and forcing chaos to take over for long stretches of the game. Tonight, they showed all of that against the Chicago Bulls. The visitors were up by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but the Raptors clawed their way back in — much of the work at the hands of VanVleet and Anunoby — setting up a last-second shot for Fred that could’ve tied the game. It was just long.
The 111-108 win for Chicago improves their record to a perfect 4-0 on the season, while the Raptors fall to 1-3.
VanVleet’s line tells the full story of his role on this team. I discussed this a bit in last week’s player preview, but Fred is being asked to fill a Kyle Lowry-sized hole in the Raptors’ on-ball creation game, which isn’t entirely his forte. Still, he’s determined to fit his talents and abilities into that ask by Nick Nurse. Tonight, he committed eight of Toronto’s 21 team turnovers. Through the muck came some process, though, as VanVleet recorded a career-high 17 assists in his 42 minutes, also scoring 15 points and grabbing six boards.
And while VanVleet might be the most talked-about player coming out of this game, it was OG Anunoby who scored the most points for Toronto — 22, alongside eight rebounds, five assists and two steals. OG also had critical baskets during Toronto’s fourth quarter rally, but also found success early in the game in the post, working against Chicago’s smaller backcourt of Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan. Anunoby started 1-for-5 from the field, but it’s that process of working out where his advantages are in-game that feels encouraging at this point in the season.
If this feels like too positive a recap for a loss, then let’s bring it down to earth. The Raptors were not sharp with the basketball – those 21 turnovers tell that story. They also continue to struggle finishing at the rim, both in the half court and, frustratingly, in transition. VanVleet, Precious Achiuwa and Goran Dragic all took turns missing makable layups or bunnies in this game. If only two of them had gone down, we might be looking at the Raptors’ first home win of the season.
Elsewhere on the box, Gary Trent Jr. had 18 points among the Raptors starters, while Scottie Barnes had a balanced 13 points on 75% shooting, four assists, a steal and a block.
For the Bulls, the experiment in guards seems to be working well, as they were able to use DeRozan late in the game to make some difficult contested jumpers in isolation. The former Raptor was in vintage form, getting both Barnes and Svi Mykhailiuk to bite on pump fakes in the first half, then making three difficult mid-range jumpers to give the Bulls just enough cushion in the fourth — two over Barnes and one spinning back over Anunoby. DeRozan would finish with a game-high 26 points on 19 shots, committing just one turnover.
DeRozan was supported by 22 points from LaVine, 17 points from Vucevic and 15 points from Ball.
Next up for the Raptors is a home date with the Pacers on Wednesday, as they continue to search for their first victory of the season at Scotiabank Arena.