Raptors 91, Bulls 111 – Box

While the boxscore line won’t tell as much, it was Derrick Rose who sank the Raptors tonight. He imposed his will early and often, pulling the Bulls ahead even early on when the Raptors were still putting up a valiant effort. Rose finished with 19 points on 7/11 shooting, and added six assists. This, of course, is standard fare for Rose, even coming in below his season averages. Still, it was his ability to attack the rim and distribute via penetration that had the Raptors reeling.

Other Bulls chipped in as well, but from an offensive standpoint Rose was the story, as usual. His surreal combination of speed, size, shooting, and vision is too much to handle for even the best point guards, so asking a one-legged Jerryd Bayless to handle the assignment alone was beyond unreasonable.

While Bayless hasn’t proven to be a great or consistent defender, you have to appreciate the guy giving it a go on a very bad ankle because the team would be sans point guard otherwise (Jose Calderon missed the game with a sprained right ankle). Bayless’ ankle was clearly giving him trouble throughout the game, and he could be seen limping at times. He gave it a go for 31 minutes and managed to post 11 points with 8 assists, showing the promising trait of looking to others first and foremost when he himself was limited.

Outside of the hopeless-from-the-start point guard battle, the Bulls earned their supper on the boards and via the easy buckets teams must now be expecting when they face the Raptors. The Bulls shot 53% overall, shooting no worse than 45% in any quarter. Rose facilitated early, but later in the game once the starters put it in cruise control, open mid-range jumpers and easy trips to the line (28 FTA) were a plenty.

The Bulls also outrebounded the Raptors 44-33 (13-8 on the offensive glass), which is again par for the course for the Bulls, who rank second in the league in team rebound rate (percentage of available misses rebounded). While the Raptors aren’t too shabby themselves and even rank fourth in offensive rebound rate, a lackluster effort on the boards from the likes of Amir Johnson (just five rebounds) and the bench (just 11 rebounds combined in 84 minutes) caused the deficit. It is a seriously sad state when Andrea Bargnani leads the troops with six rebounds, only one of which came after the first quarter (and most of which were probably accidental).

This was a tough game to evaluate Bargnani. I know the blogosphere is all the rage with the Bargnani debating, and it’s fair. While Bargnani is posting career-best scoring numbers, including a career-best Player Efficiency Rating, the Raptors generally appear better without him on the floor. In the four games that he missed, the Raptors averaged just 88 points per game, but they also held the opposition under 100 points in three of those four games. Defense and rebounding have never been Bargnani’s strong suits, but you would think at this point he would have improved to a degree. His rebounding remains atrocious with the odd single-game outlier, but his defense seems to regress by the season, if that’s possible. His poor plus-minus rating, while not entirely reliable, is striking, especially considering just how efficient a scorer Bargnani has been.

Tonight, he started out demanding the ball, driving to the hoop for a layup to start the game and following it up with a three-pointer. He finished with 23 points but shot just 7-of-17, scoring most of his points early. Whether it was fatigue from missing a handful of games or his regular disinterest, he completely fell off after the first stanza.

A larger symptom of Bargnani’s return was the impact on Demar DeRozan, who had flourished over the past few games with an increased role in the offense. He put up 64 points over the past two games on 50% shooting, but tonight only had four field goal attempts at the half. He got more involved in the second half, finishing with a full boxscore line of 18 points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks, while again shooting 50% at 7/14. While he turned the ball over five times, it was one of his more complete games statistically (it’s possible he was let off the hook defensively with the Keith Bogans assignment).

It is tough to draw conclusions from just one game back, but it might be that Bargnani gets his numbers, while efficiently, at the cost of the others. Other than his porous defense, it is my only explanation as to why the team seems to play better without him. He could be the anti-Nash, making others worse. This could be a frustrated writer stretching for an explanation as to why the team’s best player hurts the team, or it could be the case. Regardless, the offense will have to find a way to exist such that Bargnani can remain engaged, but DeRozan (and others) can find the chances to develop their offensive games as well.

Further on DeRozan is that some have been disappointed with him this season. Granted he hasn’t made a monstrous leap in Bosh’s absence, but his nominal improvement from his rookie season to this year is impressive, as he has moved from 8.6-2.4-0.7 (Pts-Rbs-Ast) to 14.2-3.4-1.7. His field goal percentage has declined a bit, but he has gotten to the line at a greater rate. As a result, his true shooting percentage is nearly the same as last year’s, and his PER is up slightly. His statistical increase appears to be based on an increase in minutes, but a portion of it does appear to be legitimate improvement. This theory certainly passes the eye test over the last few weeks, but I’d be interested to know whether the fan base generally thinks DeRozan has improved his game or if it’s simply the circumstance of being on a team devoid of players.

In general, it’s difficult to get too upset about tonight’s result. While it was a 20-point loss to a team missing it’s third-best player (Joakim Noah), the Bulls are a far superior team in every respect at this point. Unfortunately it doesn’t get any easier for the month as the team plays 17 games, 10 on the road, and four back-to-back sets.

Plus, I’m covering four games this month, and the team has won 0.00% of games I have covered so far this season. Sorry everyone.

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