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Raptors Blow Big Lead, Scrape by Bulls Late

The Toronto Raptors came into this game against the Chicago Bulls having lost just two nights prior to a John Wall-less Washington Wizards squad in an effort so lethargic that a bed of sloths would have been impressed. Coming off of a long Western Conference road trip, the Raps just looked flat-out jet-lagged and lead-legged. Still, that sort of effort is inexcusable at home, and so with the Bulls (who currently command the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference) coming to visit, one would think that the Raps would look to rebound emphatically.

The game started out ugly, however, something that fans have gotten used to seeing so far this young season. Toronto shot just 2–6 from the field to begin the game, and were sluggish contesting shots—especially those coming from deep. Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas continued to prove that they are a poor pairing, with Ibaka continually switching on pick and pops and leaving Valanciunas, who recovers slower than a one-legged dog in quicksand, out to dry as guys like Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine stepped out to take wide-open looks.

But it wasn’t all bad—Kyle Lowry had the ball in his hands more than he has recently, and looked good with it. He was aggressive early, sniffing out driving lanes and making intelligent passes to whichever of his bigs were on the floor at the time. The defensive effort improved when Pascal Siakam checked in, bringing his usual burst of energy, and C.J. Miles drained a pair of back-to-back triples after going scoreless from beyond the arc in the Washington game.

It was the second quarter when the bench made a significant push, displaying a five-man defensive effort that ultimately led to a faster pace and some easier buckets. Delon Wright and Jakob Poeltl looked like Riggs and Murtaugh out there, playing off of each other brilliantly in the pick and roll as they have been all season, and OG Anunoby was disruptive on the defensive end while making enough of his open looks to keep his defenders honest. The effort culminated in a 10–0 run for the Raptors that was then added to by the starters when they returned late in the half, with Lowry again controlling the tempo and cutting up the Chicago defense with pinpoint passes.

By the time halftime rolled around, the Raptors led 65–45 and were shooting 58.5 per cent from the floor, 53.8 per cent from three, and 90.9 per cent from the free throw line. Valanciunas continued his scoring rampage that he’d begun against the Bulls on opening night, recording 16 points and eight rebounds. As for the Bulls, Toronto held them to 42.5 per cent shooting overall, and 30.8 per cent shooting from deep, although many of their looks were good ones that just missed.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, those good looks eventually began to go in.

For the most part, Toronto did a decent job of keeping the Bulls at bay in the third quarter. The starting lineup returned and so did the torpid defense, but the offense kept things afloat just fine. Ibaka attacked closeouts well, and DeRozan found his footing by creating for his teammates out of penetration and also nailing a couple threes of his own. By the end of the third, the Raps had increased their shooting to a red-hot 61.4 per cent overall, 57.1 per cent from downtown.

In the fourth, Bobby Portis (playing his first game back after the suspension he received for punching teammate Nikola Mirotic) kickstarted life into the Bulls by making a triple, then barrelling back down the floor and directly to the hoop for a layup. Portis dropped 14 of his 21 points in the final period and his teammates followed suit, most notably Kris Dunn, who made some key free throws and shots of his own. Slowly but surely, the Raptors’ lead was whittled away—they didn’t help themselves, either, fouling on a lot of midrange jumpers and keeping the Bulls in the game with silly mistakes. DeRozan even had the ball picked clean from him right off of an inbound by Dunn, who he then fouled and sent back to the charity stripe.

With 30 seconds to go, DeRozan came flying down off of a Siakam screen, pulled up at the top of the key and drained a jumper. Subsequently, a block by Ibaka on Valentine was ruled a goal tend and DeRozan was then fouled to put the Raps up 119–114. The Bulls rushed down the floor and got two great looks from three, but missed both and that was that.

This wasn’t exactly what you’d call a feel-good victory. Toronto led by as many as 23 points and got complacent. When it came time to answer the Bulls’ (who rank dead last in the league in offensive rating, by the way) last major run, they weren’t able to do so because of their poor defensive effort and overall lack of urgency.

Still, a win is a win and that’s what matters.

This was, at least, the Raptors’ best shooting performance of the season, ending on 54.3 per cent shooting from the field and a fantastic 52 per cent shooting from deep. This was also the seventh time in 10 games that the team posted 20-plus assists, and while they overpassed occasionally, they made the right play more often than not.

The Raptors have now won their last three games against Chicago, something they haven’t done since 2009. They’ll end their three-game home stand against New Orleans on Thursday, and then it’s back on the road for another tough trip.

They’ll need to be better than they were against the Bulls going forward, but again, adding wins to the column is all that matters, and they picked up another one Tuesday night.

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