@Raptors X #MurdochMysteries 🇨🇦 The Canadian collab you never knew you needed… until now! 🏀 Tune-in THIS MONDAY at 8/8:30 NT to see Nick Nurse trade in sidelines for script lines. Only on @cbc and @cbcgem. pic.twitter.com/Xa68EHEldN
— Murdoch Mysteries (@CBCMurdoch) January 26, 2022
Toronto will be able to lick their wounds in the sun as they get to enjoy a pair of off days before they take on Kyle Lowry and the Miami Heat – provided the former Raptors star is back with his new team after being out due to personal reasons.
DeRozan finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists – one of them to wide-open Vucevic who hit the game-sealing three with 14 seconds to play.
Ending the game with a pass was fitting. In the early going DeRozan was weaving his way in and out of the Raptors’ paint before either finding his way to a comfortable 15-footer or helping find an open look for his teammates. In the fourth, as the Raptors began sending a second defender his way, he either found his way to the line or found a teammate.
It was vintage.
The Raptors struggled to contain DeRozan, and for long stretches had a hard time finding an answer for any of the Bulls’ other top two scorers – Zach Lavine and Nikola Vucevic, who finished with 23 and 17 points.
Combined the Bulls’ three key players shot 59 per cent.
The Raptors – without Fred VanVleet who missed his second game with a sore knee – shot 48 per cent and got 16 points, five rebounds and seven assists from Scottie Barnes, who returned after missing Tuesday’s game with a sore wrist, while OG Anunoby had 23 points and four assists.
But they did go only 17-of-28 from the line, which was as big a factor as anything else on the night.
Siakam struggled to score – he was 3-of-12 from the floor for 12 points, or about half his average for the past seven weeks – but added seven assists and made three steals. The Bulls were sending multiple defenders at him and from all corners of the floor, proof of the respect he’s gaining as he’s combined his scoring and playmaking at peak levels going back to the start of December.
Unlocking those riddles is still a work in progress but Siakam’s made loads of it of late.
DeRozan, his old teammate, provides a potential template.
“He’s always been one of my favourite players, just the way he plays the game,” said Siakam. “I love his mid-range game and his patience. And I think his passing you know, has been on another level just making reads and, and understanding the double team.
“So yeah, he’s definitely one of those guys that you watch. He’s been in the league for a while and I think one of the things that he does is getting to his spots, which is something I’m learning to do and he does it at a high, very high level. So if I can even get close to that, I think I’ll be in good shape.”
The fourth quarter was mostly ugly for the Bulls. They continued to struggled against the pressure and all that length and athleticism the Raptors can throw out there, and this was without Fred VanVleet on the court. Toronto kept chipping away and chipping away before finally taking its first lead of the game with 3:11 left on an OG Anunoby dunk. LaVine responded with an and-1 after being really quiet all second half, and not long after that was when Trent picked up his second technical and got ejected for clapping in the face of an official.
Trent felt he should have received an and-1 call on a basket that made it 107-105 with just over two minutes left, and he had a bit of a gripe given Ayo seemed to make contact. The Raptors had gotten a pretty favorable whistle all night, though, so the Bulls were happy to get this one. Toronto shot 28 free throws to just 16 for Chicago, but luckily the visitors made just 17 of those freebies.
The Bulls dodged some bullets after that Trent ejection, with the Raptors missing several good looks on 3-pointers and a pair of free throws. A horrific Vooch turnover with just under a minute to play gave the Raptors another chance to cut down the 108-105 deficit, but some strong defense by Javonte Green forced a Pascal Siakam miss, with Vooch grabbing the rebound and then hitting the dagger triple on the other end.
Vucevic finished the game with 17/15/8 while shooting 8-of-11 from the field and 1-of-2 from 3-point range. He also tied Ayo Dosunmu (not a good shooting game for him, but he did have zero turnovers in 38 minutes) with a game-high plus-20 in plus/minus. While Vooch did have four turnovers and struggled a bit against the pressure, this was a second straight strong game for him. The Bulls were a train wreck when he was on the bench (Cook was a minus-15), with the offense stagnating and the lack of sizing proving problematic.
DeRozan led the Bulls with 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting to go along with seven boards and seven dimes. LaVine put up a similar stat line of 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting with eight rebounds and eight dimes. Both guys were relatively quiet in the second half, with DDR even falling victim to some of that pressure a few times. LaVine was frankly pretty awful in the second half, but the clutch and-1 helped prove to be just enough.
Also, shoutout to JaVonte Green, who had 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including a couple huge buckets in the fourth quarter as the Bulls were struggling. In fact, Green’s eight second-half points tied him for second-most on the team. Billy Donovan went with Green over Coby White in the closing unit, as White struggled through much of this game with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting and 1-of-4 from 3-point range while not providing much else.
The Bulls did still wind up shooting 54.8% from the field despite their ragged second half, though they were only 7-of-26 from 3-point range. The Bulls owned in points in the paint (68-46), the boards (45-34) and second chance points (12-7), but the Raptors outscoring them by 15 points from 3 and five points from the line nearly offset that.
Luckily, it did not, and the Bulls won again after nearly collapsing again. The Bulls now have 30 wins on the season, and they remain a half-game back of the first-place Heat. A Friday night road game in San Antonio against the Spurs awaits.
The last two games really saw the version of the two-time All-Star center, Nikola Vucevic, that Bulls fans thought they were getting when the front office gave up so much to get him from the Orlando Magic at the trade deadline last season. Vucevic really showed up to play in the last two games, helping to put some of the concerns that arose from his previous struggles to rest.
If Vucevic can keep up the type of production he’s shown in the last two games, the Bulls are going to be in a great spot down the stretch this season. In the Bulls’ win over the Thunder back on Jan. 24, Vucevic had an impressive night with 26 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, one steal, and three blocks.
Vucevic didn’t have that type of night in this win over the Raptors on the defensive end of the floor. But he was still very solid when it mattered most for the Bulls. He came up with 17 points on a solid 8-of-11 shooting from the field, 1-of-2 from beyond the arc, and he didn’t have any attempts from the free-throw line against the Raptors.
The Bulls also got a game-high 15 rebounds, eight assists, no steals, no blocks, and four turnovers out of Vucevic in this contest. This should go down as one of the better performances at this point of the regular season for Vucevic. It only helps his cause that he hit the three-pointer that really put this game away for the Bulls in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter.
The Raptors, playing again without Fred VanVleet, took a 103-102 lead with just over three minutes to go before the Bulls put it away with a 9-2 run.
Boucher’s numbers this season tell the story well. He wasn’t himself, the juice was out of his game, there was no energy, no spark and no discernible impact.
“He was struggling this year, there’s no doubt about it,” Nurse said. “There were a lot of what I would consider below-his-potential performances. A lot of them.”
There aren’t as many poor performances now because Boucher has his head on right — more pre-game meditation and film study certainly helped — and he’s a consistent producer.
“I felt like I grew as a player a lot this year, more than any other year just because I started bad and then I had to figure out my way,” he said. “There was a lot of stuff I had to learn, just playing different positions so that’s all happened in one year and I feel like this is the reason why my routine had to change because I’m doing a lot more on the floor now.”
He learned it not by incessant work on the court but by finding a routine away from the game and with the support of family and friends.
“I knew I was a better player than what I was showing,” he said. “I wasn’t playing my best basketball and I was focused on the wrong thing. I think by watching film, doing meditation, freeing up your mind, the game comes a lot easier.
“Sometimes you get too hard on yourself, you need some people that know you outside of basketball to make you realize you’re still doing the right things and things will come around and I think that really helped me out.”
Another thing that got Boucher back on track was a return to what he had done so well early in his career. He became an energy guy off the bench, more able to influence the game with effort than scoring, a trait Nurse knew Boucher had but one that had somehow disappeared.
It is to Nurse’s credit that he kept running Boucher out there, maybe not for long stretches but for enough time to make Boucher feel he wasn’t totally forgotten.
“I continued to tell him that I believe in him and I’m going to keep giving him his chance,” Nurse said. “ ‘I think you’ve already proven you can do what you can, but you won’t do anything if you don’t stay to your core, which is energy: run, rebound, block shots.’ It’s funny how we’re seeing this over the year, the guys who play better on defence play better on offence.”
The starts may be problematic, but at this point, nobody can question the heart of the Toronto Raptors.
It’s become the trademark of the Raptors these days. They’ll start slow, fall behind early, and look lost on both sides of the court. On Wednesday night, the Chicago Bulls drubbed them in the first half, jumping up 14 in the first quarter alone.
But all season, the Raptors have — for better or for worse — been a second half team. That defense that couldn’t stop the Bulls from getting inside suddenly wouldn’t let anyone take advantage of dribble penetration. Those easy buckets for Chicago became turnovers and transition opportunities for Toronto. It’s how the Raptors climbed out of a 19-point hole to pull ahead for the first time all night with 3:12 to go in the fourth.
Those massive deficits are just proving a little too costly right now. Missed free throws, an ejection from Gary Trent Jr., and eventually a Nikola Vucevic three-pointer in the final seconds did Toronto in 111-105 on Wednesday night in Chicago.
“I think there’s a positive to it. We’re gonna keep fighting. We’re a team that scraps and is not gonna lay down,” said Pascal Siakam who had a rough 3-for-12 shooting night with 12 points. “We’re gonna keep fighting till the end of the game.”
The good news is the Raptors are learning from these situations. Both Dalano Banton and Scottie Barnes played crunch-time minutes for Toronto and looked good doing it.
Now it’s about putting together a complete game so that the mountain becomes a little less tough to climb.
“We can’t get ourselves in those situations where we’re down 17 and have to fight all the way and take that much energy,” Siakam said. “We gotta be focused from the jump.”
Finding a way to get back-to-back wins without VanVleet AND with Pascal Siakam playing through a tough shooting night is another level of resilience.
The Raptors almost pulled it off but DeMar DeRozan wasn’t going to let it happen.
Playing against the team that drafted him and developed him and eventually traded him, DeRozan always has a little more to play for when facing the Raptors and that was evident again last night as he went off for 29 points, seven assists and seven rebounds to secure the 111-105 win for his Chicago Bulls.
And it was DeRozan who swung the ball to an open Nikola Vucevic just beyond the three-point line for the the dagger three that basically ended the game.
Gary Trent Jr. was having himself another outstanding night but in the excitement of the final minutes of the game got a little too direct with one of the referees as he complained about the lack of a call. He received his second and disqualifying technical of the night taking him out of the game with the outcome still very much in doubt.
Siakam, who carried the team a night earlier without VanVleet and Scottie Barnes, who was back in for this one, was limited to just 12 points as the Bulls successfully game-planned to take the ball out of his hands. The shots he did get up that normally fall for him were rolling out on this night.
“I don’t think they did anything crazy,” Siakam said of Chicago’s defence. “I just think that every time I drove by somebody there was people there. I don’t think it’s like, rocket science. Like I think I could have stopped a little bit more like, you know, not getting all the way we were still getting my mid-range shots. I think I didn’t do that well enough tonight.
“I mean it felt like I took 25 shots just because I was missing a lot but I only took 12 shots and it’s like, you know, every time I got there like I had to pass it so I have to figure out a way to have that in between and just not getting all the way to rim all the time. But it’s just about (the) help coming in. And like I said earlier, I can’t I can’t miss those floaters that I make 90% of the time.”
Siakam only wound up attempting 12 shots and made just three.
Down 30 at the break, the next 24 minutes would be spent whittling away at the deficit. With under 90 seconds to play the Raptors pulled within four, and while the comeback fell short in a 114-105 loss, the fact they even had a shot in the waning moments spoke to the team’s grit and some outside-the-box thinking from the head coach.
The turning point came at the half when a desperate Nick Nurse started using a full-court press. It’s a strategy that’s often limited to the amateur ranks — rarely seen at the pro level in anything but short bursts — but once the Raptors put it on, they didn’t take it off, and bit by bit the increased pressure eroded the Blazers’ lead.
In the first half, the Blazers shot 56.8 per cent from the field and committed 10 turnovers. They almost matched that total in a frenetic third quarter alone with seven turnovers, while shooting just 42 per cent. By the end of the quarter, the deficit was trimmed by 11 as the Raptors gave themselves an outside shot at a historic comeback.
The press worked so well over the final 24 minutes that some casual observers might be wondering why they don’t see more of it from Nurse and the Raptors. If a defensive scheme can be that effective, why not turn to it earlier? Why wouldn’t it become a key element of how this team plays? Well, it’s not that simple.
“We’ve toyed around with some of that stuff before,” said Nurse, whose team took the day off Monday following the tough loss.
“I think that it’s a possible change of rhythm. It’s a second-unit thing. Maybe it’s a ‘start to quarter’ thing you could do in the course of the game. I mean, usually teams will attack and go down and beat a lot of that stuff. But they were trying to protect a big lead and playing pretty tentatively against it and all those things.”
In the amateur ranks, the press is effective at creating disarray and making teams uncomfortable. Opposing guards can be rushed into making ill-advised passes out of double teams that lead to turnovers and easy buckets. NCAA coach Bob Huggins built an entire career off it, first at Cincinnati, then at Kansas State and now at West Virginia. It’s a staple at every March Madness.
The press is a chaotic, beautiful thing when it works, and it can be an absolute disaster when it doesn’t. Once teams start double-teaming players 91 feet away from the basket, all it takes is a cool-headed point guard and proper spacing to get a wide-open look almost every time down the floor.
NBA players are too good for that. The press might work if you catch a team off-guard every now and then, but use it enough and effective guards will slice through with surgical precision. The Blazers managed to do that, too, even without the services of injured guard Damian Lillard. They just weren’t effective at finishing off the plays once they did.
Over the past seven months, the 76ers have discussed deals around players like Fox, Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam, but organizationally they have felt that those players were not championship-altering, perfect fits on the roster. The 76ers believe in Tyrese Maxey’s long-term ability at point guard, have Harris as their starting power forward and Joel Embiid manning the center position.
This trade is rather similar for the Bulls to the last proposal on the list. But this one seems more realistic for all the teams included here. In this hypothetical trade deal, the Bulls and Raptors get the Indiana Pacers involved to move the deal along to eventually get Siakam to Chicago.
The main reason here for including the Pacers is the fact that there are a few key trade chips from Indy that would fit well in Toronto. Two that really stick out are the standout two-way center Myles Turner and potent wing Caris LeVert.
LeVert, in particular, is a trade chip from the Pacers that is a really intriguing fit with the Raptors. He could add another potent scorer and lengthy defender to the Raptors to give the top unit some punch alongside the likes of OG Anunoby, star Fred VanFleet, Scottie Barnes, etc.
It also looks like LeVert could really use a change of scenery after having a rough time with head coach Rick Carlisle and the Pacers so far this season. The traction was just never really there between LeVert and the Pacers. Turner is just a bonus for the Raptors to get some versatility and rim protection in the starting unit.