For the first two-and-a-half quarters, it looked like we were headed to another nail biter, as the teams went back and forth like a tennis match, with 19 lead changes and six ties.
But the Raptors hit one of their cold spells, and the Bulls took full advantage, using a 29-10 run that straddled the third and fourth quarters to blow the game open. The Raptors continued fighting in the fourth, but never got the lead back to single digits, eventually sending in the reserves with four minutes to play, down 20.
Pascal Siakam paced the Raptors with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher added 19 apiece. The Raptors surely missed the backcourt scoring and spacing provided by Gary Trent Jr., who missed the game with a sore two.
The Bulls were led by DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, who scored 26 points each, and combined to shoot 20-for-32 from the floor.
It was a missed opportunity for the Raptors, as the Cleveland Cavaliers also lost; instead of being tied with the Cavs and just a half-game back of the Bulls, the Raptors are now a full game back of the Cavs and 2.5 games behind the Bulls in the race to avoid the play-in. Since the Bulls and Cavs both own the tie-breakers over the Raptors, it’s a real uphill climb from here.
Despite playing with a rested VanVleet — who hadn’t played since Friday — the legs just weren’t there for the Raptors. Although they still crashed the glass, out-rebounding the Bulls by seven and finishing with a 21-10 advantage in second chance points, lackadaisical passing and poor court awareness led to 14 Raptors turnovers — and thanks to a subpar effort in transition D, the Bulls turned those turnovers into 29 points. (For contrast, the Raptors forced just six Bulls turnovers, and scored only five points off of them). Cold shooting didn’t help, either; the Raptors were a miserable 19% from downtown with even fresh-legged VanVleet struggling (3-for-12 from deep) and Precious Achiuwa’s hot streak finally ending (0-for-5 from three-point range).
Nick Nurse opted to once again go with Khem Birch and Precious Achiuwa in the starting lineup, an odd choice, since that lineup was dominated in the first period last night. Last night, of course, the Raptors didn’t have Fred VanVleet, who scored the team’s first five points.
But it was for naught — the Bulls promptly went on a 15-2 during which, much like Philly last night, nearly everything was at the rim, and the odd jumper the Bulls did take was wide open.
But then — you know it! — Chris Boucher came in for Achiuwa, and the Raptors promptly went on an 11-1 run, punctuated by Boucher throwing down a sensational one-handed oop from VanVleet to take the lead, 18-16.
The Bulls soon climbed back in front, as Patrick Williams — back in action for the first time since October — made an impact late in Q1, scoring off an offensive rebound. Chicago finished the frame with a 30-24 lead.
Scottie Barnes looked good early, with three assists in the first, including two great over-the-top passes to Pascal Siakam and Chris Boucher that got them buckets right at the hoop. But Barnes was the first Raptor to start pulling his shorts; he looked a little gassed last night, too, so it was no surprise.
Early in the second a Boucher three cut the Bulls’ lead to one, but two plays later Boucher committed the most Boucher-esque of offensive fouls, attempting the take the ball coast-to-coast and barrelling over DeMar DeRozan, picking up the offensive foul. Despite every person in the building or watching on TV knowing exactly what was going to happen, Nurse challenged it — unsuccessfully. I’m sure Boucher appreciated his coach having his back, at least!
The Raptors finally took the lead back two minutes later behind a Barnes putback and a Siakam runout, and headed into halftime with a 55-54 lead.
Although there weren’t many, there was at least one encouraging sign for the Raptors — Khem Birch actually got a handful of his patented bunnies and flips shots to drop! Including an and-1 late in the second quarter that tied the score at 47. Birch had seven points, four rebounds and three assists in the first half, and played solid defense on Nikola Vucevic to boot.
The real difference maker in the first half though, was — again — Pascal Siakam, who had 16 points and left pretty much every Bulls defender reeling.
The Raptors opened the third with the same starting lineup, but it appeared the team was finally starting to gel. Instead of the Raptors falling behind by a million buckets, the two teams kept pace through the first six minutes. When Boucher did check in, I fully expected the Raptors to go on another run and blow this one open.
Instead, the Bulls went on a 15-0 run, as the Raptors went into one of their patented offensive droughts. At one point the Raptors turned the ball over on three straight possessions, and they looked absolutely gassed; the Bulls stretched their lead to as much as 78-65 before Armoni Brooks scored on a drive.
The Raptors closed to within 8, but somehow left Zach Lavine all alone above the circle on the Bulls’ final possession of the quarter; he calmly drained a three-pointer to drive the Bulls an 84-73 lead heading into the fourth.
Up next: The Raptors have a couple of days off before hosting the Cavs on Thursday.