Choose your own adventure: in this edition, you’ve dropped the glass, and now you’re forced to clean up the mess with your bare feet.
What in the hell was that?
Let’s start from the end and work backwards.
Why did Dwane Casey call an isolation play for a limited ball-handler to attack Chicago’s best wing defender? Why? Was he intrigued by the outcome two possessions earlier, when Demar tried to go at Butler one-on-one, and airballed a long-two with Jimmy Buckets draped all over him?
And why not call for a screen? You had 10 seconds to make something happen! Why not have someone like Amir Johnson — who is an excellent screener, by the way — come over and try to create a mis-match? Worst case scenario, Chicago ICE’s the pick-and-roll, traps Derozan, and he has to cough it up, but guess what — that means someone is wide open! That means Johnson is probably rolling down the lane, unimpeded until a help defender rotates!
Or, perhaps have Patterson to screen Demar? ICEing the PnR doesn’t work when the screener can shoot the mid-range jumper. It’s not like Patterson hit this crazy game winner a month ago from…GASP, FROM THE MIDRANGE! In fact, why don’t you ever run pick-and-rolls with Demar and Patterson? Oh right, because that would only make too much sense.
But fine, you wanted to put the ball into the hands of your “All-Star”, your “go-to-guy”. And to be fair, Demar did carry your offense for prolonged stretches. If it wasn’t for Demar’s drives in the first quarter that netted him a dozen points, the game would have spiraled out of control pretty quickly. And I get that you Derozan is probably your best shot-creator in isolation — Lowry is too short to consistently get a clean look on his jumpshots, and unless he barrels into a big and draws the foul, his chances of sinking a layup over Noah and Gibson isn’t great — but that’s the thing: you don’t have to run an isolation play at the end of every game!
Or in other words, don’t fatten yourself up on fried rice when you’re at a Chinese buffet!
Alright, enough with Casey. Knit-picking a coach with hindsight in your favor is pretty low, so I’ll let him slide on his other transgressions — y’know, like not yanking a lifeless Jonas earlier, keeping Hansbrough on the bench when defensive rebounding was an issue — because the blame should fall on his team for not executing.
Like in the first quarter, when the Bulls just ran roughshod over the Raptors, seizing an 31-21 lead early on. Patrick Patterson inexplicably spent his hard-earned good karma on failing to body-up on Carlos Boozer, as the meme/gif superstar managed to score 9 points in the first quarter by simply out-muscling 2Pat. Amir eventually came in and stopped the bleeding, but the damage was done early.
And what was up with Jonas Valanciunas? He finished the game with 2 points and 2 rebounds (out of 7 rebounding chances) in 22 minutes of play. What was that? I believe in his potential and I still have high hopes for the kid, but how many NBA greats have ever poured in a performance of that caliber? He looked completely overwhelmed in the post, and struggled to both snag rebounds, and to box-out. The end result was Noah scoring on put-backs, and the Bulls netting 6 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone.
As an aside, here’s a sobering game to play with your friends — if you had could pick any center (played at least 50% of min at C this season) to win a playoff elimination game tomorrow, how many names down the list do you have to go before you got to Jonas? I’d rather have: both Gasols, both Lopez’s (when Brookie Monster is healthy), Noah, Hibbert, Boogie Cousins, Howard, Chandler, Horford (again, if healthy), Pek, Splitter, DeAndre, Bogut, Big Al, Varajeo and Bosh over him. You? My point is that Jonas isn’t yet a top-20 center in the NBA, and we should probably stop being surprised when he doesn’t perform like one.
Mercifully, the duo of Amir Johnson and Hansbrough came in to balance out the rebounding discrepancy. Hansbrough did what he does best — frustrate the hell out of his opponents — and he managed to turn the game into a giant wrestling match. He earned a double-tech for wrestling with Mohammed. He earned a double-foul for dragging down Dunleavy. Honestly, if Hansbrough’s grandmother was trying to box him out for a rebound, he would have probably thrown her an elbow as well. Last night, he was Psycho-T, and it paid off for the Raptors. Along with Amir, he steadied the interior and helped the Raptors get back into the game. After thoroughly outplaying Toronto, Chicago led by just 7 points going into the half.
And then Chicago’s defense simply smothered the any inkling of offense from the Raptors. Lowry’s jumpers weren’t falling and the sophomore duo of Ross&Valanciunas did little more than suckle on their thumbs (there’s your bright future, Raptors!). As sure as the rising of the sun, Casey panicked and subbed in John Salmons, who looked every bit like a 34 year-old playing on the second night of a back-to-back. He had no lift in his ill-advised jumpers (not that it would have helped) and Chicago’s lead ballooned to 15 points at one time.
Back came Hansbrough and Amir to start the fourth — albeit much later than everyone would have preferred — and the tandem steadied the defense once more. Lowry and Derozan took on the brunt of the scoring, and little-by-little, their efforts whittled the Bulls lead down to as little as four points.
However, this is when DJ Augustin — of all people — went off. There were moments during the fourth where I had to wipe the lenses, and re-affix my glasses because I was certain that Derrick Rose was back. DJA scored 13 of Chicago’s 24 points in the fourth, sinking prayer three-pointers and fall-away jumpshots, all the whilst pointing a giant middle-finger at the humongous egg on Masai Ujiri’s face. Vasquez started the quarter guarding Augustin, and despite Gravy sinking a three pointer here and there, he gave every single point back on the defensive end to DJ Freaking Augustin. Lowry playing with 5 fouls didn’t help either.
But the Raptors shook it off, and traded blows with the Bulls right until the very end. Dwane Casey went to Tyler Hansbrough after the timeout, and drew up a play for Hansbrough to fake the hand-off, and attack Joakim Noah in the post. That’s right, I repeat; Dwane Casey drew up a play for Tyler Hansbrough to post-up Joakim Noah. Hansbrough’s hook missed everything, but Amir Johnson was lucky enough to get the put-back and draw the foul. He hit the free-throw and the Raptors forced a 24 second shot-clock violation on the other end. Raptors had the ball, down one point, with 11 seconds left, and the win in their hands.
And then the final play of the game happened.
Raptors fall at home to Chicago for the second time this season. Demar finished with 32 points on 25 shots to lead all scorers, but it was all for naught. With the win, Chicago sits a half-game back of the Raptors for the third seed in the East, and every Raptors fan sits with shit in their pants at the prospect of potentially meeting these Bulls in the playoffs.