And Lowry, as everyone connected with the team is, remains confident in the pieces that are in place. “I’m confident in all my teammates, I think they’re all confident in me and I think we’re all confident in each other,” he said. “We’ve got some young pieces, some learning to do to get better in the summer. . . . We had a disappointing year but we’ll bounce back.”
It’s hard to take anything from the results of these quite meaningless games as the Raptors play out the string, but we can look for small beads of development in the rookies’ games and look at things like an improved three-point shot from Gay. All in all, we just ask that you bare with us over this final five games of the season. I’m not sure how much we’ll have to talk about after the games or how many of the games we’ll even have postgame thoughts for, but you can be sure that RaptorBlog will have a ton of its usual content again once the season ends and we can officially start looking ahead to the off-season and next season.
Might as well lead with Butler anyway: he played all 48 minutes, and finished with a career-high 28 points on 10-12 shooting. Also had 7 rebounds. But most impressive was his 3-3 on corner three-pointers on the evening: with this team at full strength Jimmy won’t be asked to do as much as he took on tonight, but he’ll need to hit those 3s. He of course was required to really expand his offense in this one, and he delivered in what was the most thrilling part of the night for the Bulls. The idea of him playing 48 minutes alone with his style of play is impressive.
“They have a team, starting with Luol Deng (their leader), Derrick Rose their other leader that is built to compete and play hard on the defensive end,” Casey said. “They have a defensive roster and I think that’s where it starts with that mentality and with coach (Tom) Thibodeau. He puts a high premium on defence and if you don’t play the way he demands, you don’t play.” Casey feels his team has had that kind of defensive buy-in for portions of the schedule, but not all of it. “That’s something I thought the middle team we had (Calderon starting at point guard, Amir Johnson, Ed Davis holding down the paint) did a heck of a job at. Defensively our numbers were (improved) but again, you have to coach the team that you have.”
Valanciunas was attended to on the Raptors bench as the rest of the team went to the locker room following the 101-98 win. He left on stretcher wearing a neck brace but was seen joking with the Raptors staff who were attending to him. GM Bryan Colangelo described the injury as “whiplash-like” and said Valanciunas was taken to Rush Presbyterian hospital as a precaution.
The poise and composure of Tom Thibodeau’s team, even undermanned, was evident while the Raptors were stuck with the “here we go again” look on their collective faces. Again, execution escaped Dwane Casey’s club down the stretch. They committed costly turnovers, gave up crucial offensive rebounds (Chicago grabbed four in the quarter, 13 in the game) and somehow managed to find themselves in yet another bizarre late-game situation when an inconclusive replay forced a jump ball with nine seconds remaining. Despite the dramatics, Toronto was able to pull out the rare closely-contested victory but likely would not have been so lucky against the healthy version (as healthy as it gets) of this veteran Bulls team.
The Raps enjoyed balanced scoring on this night, with contributions from Rudy Gay (19 points), and three players (Amir Johnson, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross) adding 13. Getting effective play from Terrence is a huge relief, after the mid-season scoring drought he endured. Quincy Acy continued bolstering his case for more minutes, as he chipped in 8 points and 6 rebounds. It’s clear the Raps are determined to take a long look at our rookies, now that the playoffs are out of reach. The kids are responding well. For the Bulls, Jimmy Butler, an unheralded sophomore small forward, never got off the floor while scoring 28 points. He didn’t miss on 3 shots from deep.
“You have to be willing to leave your guy knowing that sometimes another guy might forget his assignment and your guy might end up scoring,” Raptors centre Aaron Gray said of team defence. “That happens a lot, and you go, ‘OK, I’m going to stop helping other guys because they’re not helping me and it makes me look bad.’ With Amir, he knows how to play the game the right way. He doesn’t care who gets the credit. He’s going to make the right play every time. He’s going to try to do the right thing and continue to hope people have his back like he has ours.”
“It’s one of those plays,” Gay said. “That’s what makes the job tough. That’s why everybody can’t do it. Sometimes, things like that happen being aggressive trying to get the ball. He’s an aggressive player, but he just ended up in the wrong spot. We’re hoping that he’s OK. But we all know that anytime anything can happen. We all know that. Look at the Final Four, some of the crazy injuries that happened in that. This is a physical game.”
The team’s early struggles prompted Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau to insert power forward Malcolm Thomas (six points, eight rebounds), who was recently signed for the remainder of the season, and while the power forward wasn’t directly responsible for the hosts ending Toronto’s run and making it a more competitive affair, he did provide some energy, as well as a focus on interior defense and rebounding. Marco Belinelli, who was held scoreless in his return to the lineup Sunday in Detroit, was one of two scoring threats for the Bulls, along with Butler, as they battled to make it a single-digit contest.