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Five Daily Thoughts: Raptors drop a heck of a game, show encouraging signs

DeMar and the Bulls got the W, but the Raptors didn’t let it go easy.

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Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

That was a whole lotta fun last night, wasn’t it? Much better than the first two Toronto Raptors home games, and honestly, better than the win over the Boston Celtics — or at least more exciting.

There were some encouraging signs, too!

1. Halfcourt better, not great

The Raptors’ halfcourt offense, the bane of their existence this season the past two seasons the past three seasons showed some signs of life, at times, in the first half against the Chicago Bulls.

One of the reasons why was they simply moved the ball a little quicker around the perimeter. Like so:

Of course, there wasn’t nearly enough of it, and on most of the other occasions when they did move the ball the shots they generated just didn’t drop. Post-game, Nick Nurse agreed, saying he thought the offense played well in the first half: “We were executing and firing it around and doing some things, it just wasn’t bouncing our way.”

Ultimately it just didn’t look as embarrassingly bad as the last two home games, which is somehow an improvement.

Of course, the Raptors might have won this game had they not flubbed approximately 784 fast break opportunities in the first half.

2. Run run

Pre-game, Nick Nurse said he wanted to see his forwards snap up defensive rebounds and turn and run more — rather than looking to hand the ball off to a guard. He noted that, while the grab-and-go is something they all can do, it’s not something most of them have been asked to do very often in their careers, so they need time to get used to it.

Which is entirely fair! But the forwards aren’t the only ones to blame. All too often, Fred VanVleet and Goran Dragic either come back to the ball, or at most linger at half court and call for the pass.

The guards need to trust the bigs to run with the ball; Fred and Goran need to turn and run too, and fill the wings and be ready to fire away from downtown.

To be fair, I thought they did a better job in the second half. And it’s not something they need to do every time. Just, a little more than what they’re doing now.

3. Speaking of getting the ball up…

Fred and Goran both need to get into the frontcourt, and into the offense, faster after makes and dead balls. All too often the Raptors are starting their offense with fewer than 14 seconds or less on the shot clock.

In the fourth quarter last night, the Raptors had the cut the Bulls lad to one with just under nine minutes to go, and forced a turnover. OG inbounded the ball from the Bulls’ hashmark — and then took SEVEN SECONDS to cross halfcourt. By the time the Raptors got into the offense, there were 14 seconds left on the clock, and predictably, the play ended up with Anunoby forcing a shot, which got partially blocked and missed everything. The Raptors turned it over on a 24-second violation.

There’s absolutely no need for Fred to take that long to get from the hash to the frontcourt — especially in a situation where the Raptors had all the momentum.

4. Post-Prime DeMar

I feel like I’ve read two dozen DeMar DeRozan profiles since he left the Raptors, and yet somehow, I don’t get tired of them.

The latest, from Darnell Mayberry at The Athletic, is a somewhat more somber profile, as it looks at the late stages of DeMar’s career. Like DeMar himself, it’s hard for me to believe that he’s been in the league for 13 years and that he’s the oldest Bull.

I’m team DeMar forever. Though I really, really wish the Raptors had beaten him last night!

5. You know, the Raptors sure could use a guy like...

I’m not gonna say it! But I know I’m not the only one who saw DeRozan calmly come down, get to his spots, and take (and make) every big shot down the stretch for the Bulls last night, whereas the Raptors, with no go-to guy and limited shot creation, were scrambling to get decent looks.

Obviously I’m not suggesting the Raptors should have made a play to sign DeRozan last offseason or anything — beef with Masai Ujiri aside, he was out of the price range and he doesn’t fit the timeline.

But for all of DeMar’s flaws, it’s plainly obvious what a huge difference it makes having a guy like that to lean on when you need a bucket.