For only the second time since 2014, the Toronto Raptors will not be participating in the NBA Playoffs.
Despite holding a 19-point lead in the third quarter, the Raptors allowed the Chicago Bulls to come all the way back and steal away a 109-105 win on Toronto’s home floor. The loss, Toronto’s first-ever in the NBA’s new Play-In Tournament, knocks Toronto out of the postseason.
The Bulls move on to play the Miami Heat on Friday night.
The Raptors were done in by a truly indescribable 18-for-36 performance from the free throw line, including Pascal Siakam missing two of three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt — with the Raptors trailing by three — with 18 seconds to go.
Two Nikola Vucevic free throws sealed it.
Siakam led the Raptors with 32 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists, but was just 5-for-11 from the free throw line. Scottie Barnes chipped in 19 points and 10 boards.
Fred VanVleet poured in 26, 12 and 8, and shot 7-for-13 from three-point range, but was just 1-for-4 in the fourth quarter from deep. Of course, he missed three of his six free throws.
Zach LaVine scored a game-high 39, with 30 of them coming after halftime. The Raptors truly had no answer for LaVine, who scored from all over the floor in the second half, and knocked down 12 of 13 free throws.
DeMar DeRozan, despite showing visible frustration at times with O.G. Anunoby’s suffocating defense, scored 23 points on 19 shots.
But the real star for the Bulls on this night may well have been Diar DeRozan, DeRozan’s daughter, who unleashed a shrill scream on every Raptors free throw attempt, and went viral as the misses piled up.
ESPN broadcast confirms that girl who has been screaming on every Raptors free throw is DeMar DeRozan's daughter. pic.twitter.com/8hvD8DWmj3— Steph Noh (@StephNoh) April 13, 2023
After the game, Pascal Siakam indicated he didn’t think anything of the screams, and it’s impossible to draw a direct connection between Diar’s eagle cries and the misses. But 18 missed free throws at home isn’t something you see often and Occam’s Razor might be pointing at Diar’s lungs.
In any event, as both Siakam and Nick Nurse said post-game, it shouldn’t have come down to free throws.
“If you ever miss over 10 in a game it’s hard to win,” Nurse said. “If you miss 50% when you’re 5 for 10 it’s probably no big deal, but that’s a lot of misses.
“We left a lot of points on the board for sure.”
Of his own big misses at the end, Siakam said “I just missed them. It shouldn’t have come down to those free throws, but we had a big lead, we just didn’t execute.”
Leading by 11 at halftime, the Raptors opened the third quarter on an 8-0 run, capped off by a VanVleet triple that made it 66-47. The lead was at 17 with 4:42 to go, an when DeRozan subbed out with 3:46 to go, ripped up his towel on the bench and hung his head in frustration, it looked like the Raptors had things well under control.
That’s when LaVine snatched that control away.
He went on a personal 7-0 run that cut Toronto’s lead to 77-69. The Raptors pushed the lead back to 12 with 10:24 to go, and LaVine again went wild, scoring 7 during a 9-0 Bulls run that cut the lead to three and completely took the ScotiaBank Arena crowd out of the game.
The plethora of empty seats made it clear it was far short of a sellout crowd, but through three quarters they were pretty into the game. But LaVine completely silenced the building (other than Diar, of course).
The Bulls kept chipping away, and finally broke even with an Alex Caruso corner three that tied things at 91. After Barnes and Caruso exchanged buckets, Patrick Beverley drained a corner three of his own — his first and only points of the game — giving the Bulls the 96-93 lead. The Raptors tied the game at 100 after a VanVleet three, but it was clear the starters — who all played 40+ minutes, except for Jakob Poeltl — were absolutely gassed at that point.
Gary Trent Jr. came back in for Poeltl to try and give the Raptors life, but he missed a wide open corner three that would have given the Raptors the lead, and layups from LaVine and DeRozan put the Bulls up 104-100.
After a Barnes free throw, the Raptors had a chance to tie on a VanVleet a pull-up in transition three, but it rimmed out. After a LaVine miss, Siakam got himself to the line — but predictably missed 1 of 2.
After a DeRozan free throw, Siakam threw down a sensational two-handed dunk to cut the lead to one. LaVine scored, making it 107-104 and setting up Siakam’s missed FTs that doomed the Raptors.
“We had our chances,” Nurse said, lamenting just a few poorly executed possessions that changed the game. “One stretch the we weren’t completing passes, we had a couple set plays that were open but had four or five poor executed passing plays that let us down and let them get out in transition,” he said.
“For the most part, we did a god job executing,” he added, saying the team did “a good job of trying to share the ball and make the right plays.”
Siakam concurred, saying that there were “just some moment out there in the second half where we didn’t play well.” He reiterated Nurse’s point about a few bad passes out of double teams, and added that they just didn’t get the stops they needed in the fourth.
“No matter which way you slice it, a loss in the play in is gonna be frustrating,” Fred VanVleet added. He said that it was a “tough way to go,” especially with DeMar DeRozan getting the win in Toronto. “I’m sure he’s happy but we’re on the wrong side of that for sure.”
The Raptors were on the right side of things early on. Alex Caruso started out of the gate guarding Siakam; the Raptors immediately put him in the pick-and-roll to get a switch on to Vucevic, and it led to an open Anunoby three from the left side.
On the other end, the Bulls went pick-and-pop to get Vooch an open jumper.
It was the like opening minute was scripted to show us each team’s exact strength!
The Raptors did jump out to a 7-2 lead as the Bulls were cold early; Siakam had two early buckets, one a drive right to the rim around Vucevic, the other a smooth turnaround over LaVine to the opposite shoulder.
DeRozan quieted the crowd with a one-handed hammer off a dish from LaVine, but Siakam got it back with another nice drive to the rim.
Vooch missed two early threes, negating the team’s early pick-n-pop advantage. When Barnes drained a wide open corner three, making it 15-8, Billy Donovan called for time.
The Bulls went on a 6-0 run to cut it to one, but the Raps ran a beautiful BLOB play to get a Freddie a corner three tppus the lead back to four.
Fred hit another one a minute later to make it 23-16, then wheeled and dealed his way to the rim for a crafty layup around Coby White. A late Patrick Williams triple cut the lead to 5, 28-23, after 1.
The Raptors played with three starters on the floor at all times in this one, which was clearly the game plan but even so, they got nothing from the bench. Gary Trent Jr. finally got on the board with a 16-footer with 7 minutes to go in the half, that made it 39-32. Siakam then drained a corner three on the same BLOB play that got Freddy a corner three in the first quarter!
The Raptors brought all the starters back halfway through the quarter, and they quickly pushed lead to 9, after a couple of bee-yoo-tee-full Siakam jumpers.
The coolest highlight of the half had to be Fred VanVleet draining a running three pointer at the halftime buzzer that gave the Raptors a 58-47 halftime lead
FVV AT THE BUZZER FROM HALFCOURT— NBA (@NBA) April 13, 2023
RAPTORS LEAD BY 11 AT THE HALF
: Live on ESPN | #ATTPlayIn pic.twitter.com/8log5cJMSZ
The Raptors opened the second half with a Poeltl layup, a Barnes steal, an Anunoby dunk off a nice Jak dime, an Anunoby steal and a LaVine foul. VanVleet’s three a minute later made the lead 19.
In addition to turning the ball over every other possession, the Bulls couldn’t shoot, either. They missed their first five attempts of the half, and didn’t score until a LaVine three point play with 8:55 to go in the quarter.
The Raptors now head into the offseason with many questions, both amongst the players and the staff. Will they shell out the money to their own free agents to keep a mediocre team together, or let them walk and risk getting nothing in return? Will Nick Nurse return as coach? It’ll likely take some time for these answers to come out, but keep it tuned right here for the latest.