In their first meeting since being eliminated from last year’s play-in, the Toronto Raptors took on the Chicago Bulls in a back-and-forth matchup that didn’t at all feel like a preseason game. With teams ramping up to the start of the season, starting players saw a good chunk of the minutes.
Without Poeltl in the lineup, the Raptors started Chris Boucher, Dennis Schroder, Scottie Barnes, Pascal Siakam, and O.G. Anunoby to go up against the Bulls’ starters of White, Derozen, Lavine, Vucevic, and Williams. Throughout the game, Scottie’s high energy and Pascal’s adjustments to the new system showed a lot of promise for the upcoming season.
In the first quarter, the Raptors had to shake off some early struggles. Two early fouls forced Chris Boucher out of the game, which only furthered the challenge on the defensive boards in the absence of Poeltl and Achiuwa. The new offensive system also seems to be taking some time to adjust to, as a few poorly timed passes on high-low action and at the top of the key led to turnovers. The Bulls went up 11-5 early, and maintained a lead throughout the first, giving it away only briefly before going up 25-23 at the end of the quarter. Gary led the bench unit with 8 points in the quarter, showing his ability to lead the second unit effectively, hitting back to back 3-point shots as the quarter was winding down, keeping the Raptors within striking distance.
At the start of the second quarter, the Raptors came out strong, going on an early 6-point run that prompted a timeout by the Bulls. Zach Lavine showed his ability to get his own shot coming out of the stoppage, and proceeded with a strong offensive performance in the quarter. We got a bit of an extended look at Gradey Dick as well, which a lot of fans have been calling for. He’s been showing flashes of the skills he has outside of shooting while he still waits for his shots to fall, providing effort on the boards and distributing the ball for his teammates. The offense was back and forth for most of the quarter, but this time the Raptors came out on top thanks to strong effort from Scottie in the final minutes of the quarter. Scottie hit the floor going for a loose ball that he got to Gary who found Pascal for a highlight dunk. Strong defense kept the Raptors up 54 - 51 going into the break.
Unfortunately, 3-point struggles continued on from the first half and into the third, but some crafty moves from Schroder and Pascal to draw fouls kept the offense going early. Despite creating a 7-point lead, the Bulls stayed aggressive and closed the scoring gap, prompting a timeout by the Raptors who started a full court press. This broke up the Bulls offensive run and led to a shot clock violation that kick-started the energy for the Raptors, but with substitutions coming into the game, the Raptors turned the ball over several times, providing the opportunity for a strong offensive showing from Lavine and Vucevic who combined for 20 of the Bulls’ points in the quarter, on a 7-0 run to end the frame.
The Bulls continued their run early into the fourth, but back-to-back shots for Scottie and a turnaround from Pascal led the Raptors on their own 7-0 run to tie up the game. The Raptors started to play with more aggression, and that, combined with 3-point shots by Scottie and Pascal starting to connect, helped them regain the lead. With less than 7 minutes left, it was time for substitutions deeper into the bench to provide opportunities for the younger players trying to crack the rotation and prove their talents to be a part of the second unit. Despite mistakes on the defensive end and turnovers, strong effort from Gueye and Freeman-Liberty helped carry the Raptors to a 1-point lead in the final minute of the game. Key free-throws for Flynn despite shooting struggles helped seal the 4-point victory for the Raptors, winning 106-102.
Right until final substitutions, this didn’t feel like a preseason game, which also helps us with some key takeaways moving forward:
Scottie the Energy Guy
Already last season, we saw lots of Scottie posting-up and working in the paint. While he was fairly effective, it’s already clear there’s going to be a jump in his usage in the post. Throughout the game he actively sought mismatches down low, sealed his defender and called for the ball, going to work.
Scottie’s 22 points in the game were a combination of shooting and his post work, but the consistency of his shot in the paint is encouraging. Look for more of this as the season develops, given his ability to pass out as well if he gets stuck which could lead to an increase in his assists as he starts to draw more defenders on this action. Even more so the effort that he is showing on the defensive end is encouraging, racking up 4 blocks and 2 steals and this pure hustle play to end off the half:
A lot of people are expecting a big year for Scottie now going into his third season, and this type of effort could be a huge part of that for him.
Despite being almost impossible to stop in the open floor, last season Pascal had some trouble forcing plays in isolation. In the first two games it has seemed like Pascal’s usage had dropped, but given the changes in the system and introduction of new guys on the team, it felt like only a matter of time before we saw him start to flourish. Tonight was the start of that, seeing Pascal read the defense and make the right plays consistently. Ball movement helped provide him more space to operate, leading to a pair of breakaway dunks, a couple of 3-pointers, and this trademark spin move:
As the new offensive system continues to develop, it should be no surprise if Pascal continues to make adjustments that help the Raptors win this season.
Hopefully the winning streak will continue as the Raptors return home for their final preseason game facing the Washington Wizards this Friday, Oct. 20 at 7:30PM.