The 23-10 Bulls have won 14-of-16 games and, led by standout floor general Derrick Rose, look like they are going to be a factor in the East this spring.
The Raptors? Well, they’ve dropped 12-of-15 and are doing their part for the long-term good of the franchise by trying to join the truly horrific basement dwellers of the league.
“We have a lot of guys out of position and hurt, however there are no excuses,” said head coach Jay Triano.
Triano simply doesn’t have the horses to beat a team like the Bulls. The lack of an elite talent — like Rose — on the roster is crystal clear and only the ping pong balls can bring a saviour to town.
The Raptors knew what Rose was going to do and made keeping him in check their priority, but it just didn’t happen. Instead, the Chicago native and MVP candidate broke down the visitors whenever he felt like it, getting to the rim for one spectacular play or pass after another.
Rose’s tally of 19 points and six assists in 30 minutes doesn’t stand out on the surface, but 14 of the points came in the first 17 minutes of the contest when the game remained in doubt.
“We couldn’t get any defensive stops,” said forward Amir Johnson.
“It’s tough to stay in front of him because he’s so quick.”
Things started off reasonably enough for Toronto.
The team welcomed leading scorer Andrea Bargnani back to the lineup and he had an immediate impact with 10 points and three rebounds in the first quarter.
Triano said he would limit Bargnani’s minutes, but the big man played 19 minutes in the first half and finished with 23 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes.
The Raptors got both Bargnani (after a four-game absence) and Jerryd Bayless (who sat against Boston on Sunday) back, but had to do without starting point guard Jose Calderon.
Calderon desperately wanted to play, but couldn’t make it through shootaround.
Bargnani, who hadn’t played in 13 days thanks to a strained calf muscle, finished with 23 points on 7-for-17 shooting. He was also, like a lot of his teammates, a more-than-occasional liability on defence. In one stretch, he was roundly outplayed by Bulls reserve centre Omer Asik who, with Bargnani often offering minimal resistance, racked up 13 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes.
If certain Raptors looked like statues, at least they were in decent company. Sitting courtside was Scottie Pippen, the Bulls Hall of Famer who is slated to have his bronze likeness installed around the United Center later this season. Pippen, in a black leather coat and jeans, looked lean and ready for action; he even banked in a pre-game three-pointer to the delight of the early birds who saw him toss up a few jumpers in the warm-up. Hard to believe he’s 45 years old, and that it’ll be 20 years this June that the Bulls, led by Michael Jordan, whose bronze likeness has stood guard outside the arena since 1994, won their first of six championships.
Less implausible was DeMar DeRozan, coming off a pair of games in which he’d scored a combined 64 points on 45 field-goal attempts in Bargnani’s absence, managed 14 tries from the field and finished with 18 points.
It didn’t help DeRozan’s productivity that the Bulls commanded the boards, making it difficult for Toronto to run, and that the visitors’ half-court offence, against Chicago’s stifling defence, was often a mess. At its worst, it devolved into bad playground freelancing, Bayless tossing up prayers on the run.
“We were playing decent defence, but we stopped playing with four minutes to go in the second quarter,” Bargnani said.
The slumping Raptors got Bargnani and Jerryd Bayless back, but point guard Jose Calderon missed the game with a sprained right ankle. Bayless, who missed a game with a sprained left ankle, had 11 points and eight assists.
Toronto has lost 12 of its last 15 games.
“We cut the lead down, but the little things, loose balls you have to get those, they come back and score a couple of points,” Amir Johnson said.
DeMar DeRozan combined for 64 points over the previous two games, but looked a bit more passive with Bargnani back in the lineup. He took just four field-goal attempts in the first half as the Raptors struggled to find any offensive flow. He also turned the ball over four times in the opening half.
However, he got more involved in the second half as Bargnani pulled back. DeRozan wound up with 19 points, but the DeRozan-Bargnani union never looked especially cohesive.
The Raptors’ first half was full of contested fall-away bank shots and guarded jumpers. Jerryd Bayless, who himself was playing with a wonky ankle and grimacing often, is still working on becoming a true point guard; Leandro Barbosa is even less of a ball distributor. The Bulls are one of the league’s elite defensive teams, and without Calderon, Toronto could not solve the mystery that is the Bulls’ defence.
Yet, Rose was hardly pulling Winning Pretty on his own. Deng had many great drives to the rim. In the first he took on three Velociraptors, cutting them up, and rising above them all to lay it in. Later on, Carlos Boozer dropped it off to Taj Gibson (going for 16 points & 14 rebounds in 25 flippin’ minutes!), who split two defenders, while changing hands, and laying it in. For Pete’s sake, even Omer “Sloth” Asik had his power dunks and Brian “Rapaport” Scalabrine hit a fade away to the crowd’s delight!
To gain a little perspective, Toronto lost Chris Bosh in the off season, and are hovering around the bottom of the league, even when they are healthy (which they are not). On the flip-side, the Bulls have very much struggled to put away inferior opponents as of late. The difference in this game was two-fold: driving and energy.
The Bulls’ bench outscored the Toronto Raptors’ bench 52-22. Taj Gibson had 16 points along with a game-high 14 rebounds, Omer Asik had a career-high 13 points and 7 rebounds, and Ronnie Brewer had 12 points and 4 rebounds.
Overall, the Bulls had a very good team effort and had 6 players in double-figures. They’ve certainly been taking care of business, but many fans have felt that they haven’t been playing well because of the close wins over mediocre teams. However, as Bulls players have been saying the past few days, a win is a win. No matter if it’s by 7 or by 20.