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Raptors offense struggles in 111-97 loss to Bulls

Fred VanVleet dropped 27 points, but the Raps couldn’t sustain scoring around their floor general as the Bulls evened a two-game set.

Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The story of the next two weeks — or longer — for the Toronto Raptors will be how to sustain offense without their All-NBA leader Pascal Siakam.

In the early part of the season, the Raptors have been stale trying to create opportunities in the half court. Siakam has been a salve, though. He’s been able to create his own shot anywhere from 28 feet and in, while blossoming as a creator — building chemistry with Scottie Barnes and other cutters and shooters on the roster. Without Siakam, the Raptors, by necessity, will need to find another focal point on offense — or otherwise try a committee approach where everyone gets out and scores in transition.

Faced with a two-game set against the Chicago Bulls, the Raptors found their focal point on Sunday with Fred VanVleet, who had 30 points. On Monday, VanVleet was excellent again, scoring 27 points on 19 shots, but the help and defensive chaos that was there on Sunday from the entire team was missing. Gary Trent Jr. had 19 points, but OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes combined to go 6-for-21 from the field and the Raptors shot just 32.1 percent from three as a team. The result was a 111-97 loss to the Bulls, as the Raps fall to 6-5 on the season.

At the outset of tonight’s game, the Raptors went with a similar defensive strategy to the night before — trapping and doubling DeMar DeRozan on every touch, forcing other Bulls to put the ball on the floor and beat them. Tonight, the beneficiary of that strategy was a player who sat out on Sunday due to rest: Zach LaVine. The Chicago sharpshooter was excellent with his decision-making off of Toronto’s aggressive helping scheme, as he poured in a game-high 30 points, shooting 11-for-20, while also marking five assists and three rebounds.

As he was on Sunday, DeRozan was mostly silenced, scoring just nine points in 36 minutes. The Bulls bench helped pick up the slack, though, and looked markedly more energetic than Toronto’s reserves on the tail end of a back-to-back. Derrick Jones Jr., Javonte Green and (ew) Goran Dragic as a trio combined for 31 points, more than all the Raptors reserves combined (and all seven had playing time!)

Chicago also won tonight on the glass, out-rebounding the Raps 49-31. Uncharacteristically for a team that usually swallows up defensive rebounds and turns them into transition opportunities, Toronto gave up nine offensive boards to the Bulls — many coming at inopportune times, as we’ll mention later.

The Raptors’ most competitive quarter tonight was the first.

Thanks to an active start from VanVleet and Christian Koloko, who had a finish under the rim and drew two early Bulls fouls, Toronto was able to jump out to an 8-2 lead. Committing a total of four team fouls in just five minutes, Chicago resolved to clean up their act after the timeout — and did so. A VanVleet three stretched the Raptors lead to 16-8, but a 13-3 Bulls run in response pulled momentum back to the home side and kept Toronto dribbling the ball up into half court sets.

Notably, the presence of Alex Caruso and Goran Dragic coming off the bench energized a lacklustre Bulls start. A couple Dragic layups (no shushing to note, but we’ll keep an eye on Instagram tonight) gave the Bulls their first lead of the game, 23-21, as — despite 11 first quarter points from Fred — Chicago finished the frame up 30-27.

Thin times call for thin lineups, and the Raptors started the second with a hope and a prayer: Dalano Banton (happy birthday!), Gary Trent Jr., Precious Achiuwa, Chris Boucher and Otto Porter Jr. With both Fred and Scottie Barnes on the bench, Nick Nurse saw this lineup tread water thanks to a couple Porter buckets and decided to scoop deeper into the lineup blender. Thad Young and Juancho Hernangomez also got into the game in the second frame, but none of the various looks were able to string baskets together effectively. When VanVleet returned midway through the quarter, a string of hero ball possessions resulted in Bulls baskets the other way, as Chicago stretched their lead to nine with 5:34 left in the half.

They’d go up by as many as 13 before a big Scottie statement attempted to wrestle momentum back.

So, yeah. That happened.

Barnes’ exclamation point, unfortunately for the Raptors, was weirdly part of a night where he faded into the background on offense.

Scoring just five points in 30 minutes, the main subplot from tonight’s game was where Barnes went to for long stretches. Six rebounds and five assists were nice, but the Raps really needed Scottie’s aggression and scoring punch without Siakam in the lineup — and will for the foreseeable future. Tonight, that 14-point difference between his Sunday output (19 points) and Monday was literally the difference in the game.

Scottie grievances aside (he’s just a sophomore after all), the Raptors didn’t help themselves any when tempers flared in the third quarter. When a Kyle Lowry Not A Shooting Foul Memorial no call came his way, Fred VanVleet picked up a technical foul for sarcastically complaining. The offense continued to look heliocentric as Fred tried to use the tech as fuel for his own game, but ultimately both teams got stuck in the mud through most of the third. Late in the frame, it was the Bulls who broke out, as two timely putbacks — with plenty of Raptors around to contest — made Chicago’s lead 15. They’d go into the fourth up 86-70.

Then, the patented fake comeback. After two LaVine threes stretched Chicago’s lead to 21, the Raptors bench got a mini 4-0 run — capped by Hernangomez setting up an Achiuwa layup on a pretty interior pass. That was all Nick Nurse needed to bring the starters back in, and while the Raptors were able to get as close as 10, the dogged inconsistencies on offense caught up with them again. They weren’t able to put together the run needed to really scare the Bulls, as Chicago treaded until garbage time, when it was finally time to take the starters out.

The Raptors now head home to lick their wounds, as they’ve got a Scotiabank Arena matchup with a spunky Houston Rockets team on Wednesday night.