Scientists at UCLA and have now sanctioned a team of researchers to investigate just how the Bulls manage to own the Raptors despite missing their best players while losing to everyone not named the Toronto Raptors. The Bulls completed a 4-0 sweep of the Raptors at the ACC, which may not be a bad thing if the Raptors face them in the playoffs. See, the Raptors use the regular season to generally beat up on the team they eventually get killed by in the playoffs, so if the Bulls to manage to squeak into the 7th spot, the roles would be reversed, or so I hope and pray.
It’s not like the Bulls have any special plays or a use a very nuanced approach when facing us, they simply tend to play with a ton of confidence when they see the watermelon logo. It’s like they expect to win and play like it, the rest follows. There are circumstances which help them, and shame on us for not mitigating those circumstances by doing something – anything – different. Take for example, Luis Scola. Starting alongside Jonas Valanciunas, he was overmatched by Nikola Mirotic who took him outside and dropped bombs without a hand nary in sight. Taj Gibson is too nimble and strong of a power forward for any one of Scola or Valanciunas to stick with, so when those two combined for 30 points on 11/20 shooting and 15 boards, you might wonder why the Raptors didn’t matchup with known problems better from the start.
This isn’t hindsight talking and if you had to put every single Raptors frontcourt player in a police lineup and asked any sensible person to pick the two which are best suited to handle Mirotic and Gibson, Scola and Valanciunas might be the last two guys anyone would’ve picked.
Defensively, the Raptors were somewhere between horrid and horrible all game long, and no one came away with an ounce of defensive glory from this one. They conceded 49.4% shooting on their home court and the culprits were aplenty: Kyle Lowry for not being able to control E’Twaun Moore even onced on the high screen, DeRozan and Johnson for giving Doug McDermott daylight (29 points on 9-11 FG, BTW), Ross for getting back-cut a zillion times, Patterson and Biyombo for not knowing who’s boxing out who, and everyone for being susceptible to penetration and not knowing how to close-out.
The Bulls were able to move the ball around because they were able to penetrate through their guards, and our close-outs on their wings gave them easy chances to get into the paint. They’re a good passing team which spaces the floor very well on account of their coach, so when they almost double you up on assists 23-12, you can’t be surprised. They were back-cutting the Raptors far too frequently, and when our bigs came down to cover, a quick pass back out led to an open jumper or a driving layup for them. It was textbook 2-on-1 situations created through crisp passing. The Raptors rotations on the pick ‘n rolls conceded a lot of big-on-small matchups which Bobby Portis and Gibson converted easily.
Ultimately, nobody expects anyone to stop dribble penetration 100% of the time, but when you give up dribble penetration 100% of the time, it becomes impossible to compensate for that through rotations, no matter who you are. Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph, and the bigs are culpable for allowing Moore to get into the paint as easily as he did. They tried to ice him out but he was too quick for anyone and turned the corner just enough where it attracted attention from elsewhere.
I found James Johnson’s defense on McDermott was very lackadaisical, almost like he had chalked off what happened in Chicago as a fluke. Even after being lit up, he wasn’t being closed out or even respected as a shooter. When Johnson did come out to check him, the angle of the close-out was such that it was an easy drive for McDermott. This was a game of momentum and the Bulls role players gave it to them, and they rode it from the first quarter through three and a half quarters, and then relied on their defense to pull through.
Bismack Biyombo got the minutes once Valanciunas left the game with a hand injury, and I thought he did what he does best: chase down people and contest shots. The only problem was that when he does that, he needs another interior player to make a rotation so that a simple pass doesn’t lead to a score. He didn’t get that today which meant his defensive aggressiveness became an unfortunate negative. Forget about Luis Scola who is a write-off defensively, it’s Patrick Patterson and James Johnson that surprise me with their reluctance to box out Biyombo’s man when he leaves them to contest shots. This is the one disadvantage of not playing a “true” center because a guy like JV would just hang near the paint because he’s programmed to pick up a guy to box out, everybody else needs to force themselves to think like that.
For the Raptors offense, it was same old. DeMar DeRozan was being checked by Jimmy Butler and had to work too hard to create any space as Butler was playing him tight and physical. DeRozan did have 7 FTs but wanted a lot more than that. On the final possession of the game with the Raptors down 2, DeRozan drove and Butler managed to block his shot off DeRozan out of bounds, and that was game. The Raptors had chosen not to call a timeout and instead go the full length of the court in five seconds to get a good shot off. Questionable strategy, but I’ve seen it work so don’t have a major problem with it.
That possession is what many fear in the playoffs: The Raptors relying on iso-ball to get a shot off, half hoping the refs blow something only for them to swallow the whistle and the defensive player to get the advantage. I’m not going to dwell on it because the Raptors have shown that they can produce in the clutch all season long, so a glitch against Jimmy Butler doesn’t imply that the system is broken. Keep in mind that this exact same Raptor offense was able to produce very timely offense against the Heat just a few days ago.
It boils down to this: when Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are misfiring, the Raptors offense doesn’t have enough shot-making to pull them through. Cory Joseph’s jumper is inconsistent bordering on broken, and when we saw Ross tried to create from scratch, it wasn’t pretty. Contrast this to the Bulls, who despite having no Noah or Rose, and Butler struggling through a miserable shooting night, still managed to shoot 49% because their underlying system is still capable of utilizing the most out of their role players. For the Raptors, there is no system supporting the role players, it’s DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.
It’s a worrying loss to the Bulls again but that shouldn’t change the big picture thinking for the rest of the season for a team that is still trending positive:
- Get DeMarre Carroll healthy so he can play the three/four and come in use next time we face a guy like Mirotic
- Increase the rest for Lowry and DeRozan so they’re fresher for the post-season
- Tinker with more nimble lineups featuring Jason Thompson who continues to show good things, and I have a strong sense that his defense and rebounding will be a big factor in the post-season
- Add a little bit more diversity to the bench lineups rather than going with Lowry plus four bench guys every time since it’s becoming predictable
- Continue developing Ross’s confidence in doing things other than take threes
- Work on those close-outs as they’re basically inviting drives
- Probably more but I can’t think right now
The good news is that that’s the last we’ve seen of the bulls. In the regular season.