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Heroic Johnson unable to lift Raptors past Bulls in 114-102 loss

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An unlikely career-high gave this game some juice, but with just seven players for most of the game, the sad reality continues to hammer Toronto.

Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite a career-high 35 points from Stanley Johnson — maybe the most unlikely starring performance in a doomed Raptors season since the Ben Uzoh Triple-Double game — Toronto was unable to beat the Chicago Bulls on Thursday, losing 114-102 at the United Center.

The loss locks Toronto into the league’s seventh-worst spot by record (or 24th-best, if you’ve got a sunny disposition) and ensures them odds of 7.5 percent at getting the first pick in the 2021 NBA Draft.

Chicago’s win also keeps them alive, but still distant, in the race for the ten seed in the East.

This one looked like it might be ugly basically from the moment we got road trip injury reports on Wednesday. Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet all sat out to rest various injuries tonight, while Chris Boucher and Gary Trent Jr. were DNP - coaches’ decisions despite being healthy. This left the Raptors with a rotation of eight players; seven, once Yuta Watanabe left early in the second quarter with ankle soreness.

The Bulls had every right to turn this into a blowout at that point, and they almost did. In the middle of the second quarter, Chicago had built a lead of 24 points thanks to a blistering 11-for-21 start on three-pointers and a double-digit margin on the glass. Coby White would burn the Raptors for 12 points, five assists, and two rebounds in the first half, while Nikola Vucevic nearly had a double-double with ten and eight.

The Raptors still had some tricks up their sleeve, though, and it started with their unlikely hero. Johnson had ten rebounds and five assists to go with his career-high in points, and basically had free reign to pull the trigger throughout the second half.

Toronto was down 19 at halftime, but a run of scoring from Johnson in the third cut the lead to 12. Coupled with some nice screen-setting and a few buckets from Aron Baynes, another surprise face, the Raptors nearly had another fake comeback on their hands (maybe the fakest of them all!): with 5:44 left, a Johnson three cut Chicago’s lead to nine.

It wasn’t meant to be, though. The Bulls responded with a 4-0 run of their own after a timeout and kept Toronto at bay the rest of the game. When Stanley Johnson is your hero, I guess there’s only so far you can go; the process was fun to watch, but you kind of knew the outcome based on who was in the Raptors’ rotation.

In support of Stan, the rookie starting backcourt of Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris combined for 33 points. Harris had a great start, scoring ten of his 17 in the first quarter, and continued a run of sweet shooting, going 3-for-6 from distance. Flynn was measured at point guard, and had a critical role in providing Johnson space on the weak side throughout the game. His seven assists led the team, but they really could’ve used a few shots too — Flynn was just 2-for-10 from downtown.

Chicago more or less won the game with outside shooting and rebounding. While their red hot first half tapered off, they still made 47.2% on threes and were +17 in rebounds. Most were on the defensive end to help lead the Bulls break. The main recipients of this were White and Javonte Green, who combined for 27 much-needed support points at the guard position. Zach LaVine had his usual point total with 24, while Lauri Markkanen dropped 20 off the bench.

The Raptors, now without even the thought of negative seeding on their minds, have just two games left in the season. The first of those will be tomorrow night against the Mavericks.