The last few weeks of the season, for teams who already know their fate, can feel long and unnecessary, and that’s definitely the space the Raptors now occupy. WIth Milwaukee almost certainly too far ahead for Toronto to chase the first seed and Philadelphia equally certainly too far behind to really chase the second seed, the Raptors know where they’ll sit when the playoffs arrive, and the games remaining feel like nothing more than a formality in order to get to that point.
Tuesday night, they welcomed the Chicago Bulls to town, with the Bulls missing Otto Porter, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn as well for this game. On the Raptors side, they came into this one with their entire lineup intact for the second straight game, and only the fourth time all season.
Most of this game, the talent differential between the two teams was obvious, and every time the Raptors bothered to exert themselves, they pushed the game further out of reach, only to have it slip back a little closer when the Raptors relaxed. That isn’t to say this game was ever really close, it felt at hand nearly from tipoff to final buzzer, but the gap never got too egregious, especially with the Raptors’ all-bench units largely struggling in this one, despite Norman Powell leading the way with 20 points and Fred VanVleet delivering another nice outing. For the Raptors’ starters, Kawhi Leonard had 6 steals and 5 assists on the night, and Kyle Lowry contributed an efficient 14 points.
There were some sloppy portions of the game for Toronto, and while it’d be easy to criticize those things, it just felt like the team knew how unimportant the game was in the grand scheme. This is a veteran Raptors team well aware that they’ll be evaluated solely based on how the playoff run goes, and that awareness brings with it a lack of urgency on nights like this.
The most notable event of the evening was probably when OG Anunoby had Brandon Sampson fall on him and was hit in the head with an elbow, and ended up leaving the game looking a little woozy, but he cleared concussion protocol after the game, and will be checked again on Wednesday to ensure no lingering effects.
Aside from that, and some late game shenanigans from the Bulls that felt unnecessary with the game well at hand, there just wasn’t much too this particular game of note. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Raptors are the more talented team here, and that was the difference maker. There’ll be a few more of these before the playoffs arrive, and the Raptors starters could probably use the reps. Marc Gasol got his 6th straight start, and may be the full-time starter at this point. It’s good to find some stability there and get him comfortable with the other members of that lineup if that is the plan, and the team just needs to finish out this stretch to close the season.