The Raptors’ plan game-in and game-out is to win the ‘possession battle’ and take more shots by dominating the offensive glass and forcing more turnovers than they give up, something they’ve been very successful at:
But they’ve needed to be: The Raptors are 27th in effective field goal percentage on the season. If they don’t shoot more shots, they’re unlikely to win.
The plan didn’t work on Monday night. The teams were even in offensive rebounds at 14 each, while Chicago won the turnover category 12-5. Add in that Toronto shot 6-of-32 from three to the Bulls’ 11-of-28 and the seeds of a blowout were sown.
Siakam led Toronto with 22 points on 14 shots, while Fred VanVleet shot 7-of-22 and 3-of-12 from deep for his 19 points. Former Raptor DeMar DeRozan had 26 points on 14 shots for Chicago.
VanVleet is shooting just 35.5 per cent from the floor and 28.4 per cent from three since the all-star break while having missed seven of the Raptors 15 starts nursing what has been described only as a bruised knee. The rest is affecting his rhythm, but doesn’t seem to be paying off by healing up his knee.
“Yeah, it’s not doing much. It’s not doing much,” said VanVleet. “I understand the concept … I probably would have been even less effective than I was tonight if I would have played [Sunday against Philadelphia]. … It’s just one of those things where it’s got to kind of take it day by day and figure it out as you go. Certainly hard to gain a rhythm … It’s a difficult situation. [But] it’s what I get paid to do, so I got to figure it out. I certainly take ownership and responsibility for my poor performance and I’m looking forward to getting back on track.”
It’s concerning, but outside of health there is plenty of room for optimism for Toronto. The Raptors are a young team getting better. The same club that had the NBA’s 30th-ranked defence in November was eighth in March as it arrived in Chicago for a key contest with the Bulls.
“You always hear me saying that if we’re gonna be able to execute the game plan and the schemes that we’re trying to execute, and we do it at a super hard and intense level, then we’re gonna be OK defensively,” said Nurse. “… It took us some time this year. The start of this year, we weren’t able to go out and execute much of anything. We were playing hard, and we were deflecting the ball, and we were creating turnovers and stuff, but it just wasn’t very cohesive and not in line with the schemes we were trying to run. But the coaching staff and the players have stayed with it and kept drilling and working and polishing and all those kinds of things, and it’s kind of a time and chemistry thing, a cohesive thing”.
And after months recovering from a wrist injury, Williams made his return back to the court. He got a standing ovation from the fans in the United Center and looked good all things considered. He played only 19 minutes but was effective in those minutes. He was active defensively and looked like he belonged.
Like Dosunmu, Williams was aggressive at the right times when he had the ball. There weren’t many moments of hesitation from him when he had the rock, which was nice given we saw many instances in the past where he would hesitate for a second and allow the defense to recover. He went 3-of-8 from the field for seven points and two rebounds. Williams even splashed a 3-pointer in the corner, and those shots will be much-needed for a Bulls offense that doesn’t take many of those shots to begin with.
The best play of the night came when he deflected a pass on the perimeter, went on the fast break, and scored a layup despite having a defender all over him:
It’s these type of flash plays that give Williams a very high ceiling moving forward. It was a nice return back, and the Bulls will need him as he gets eased back into the rotation.
Toronto was led by the 22 of Pascal Siakam along with 19 from both Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher. Scottie Barnes had just eight points but added five assists and six rebounds. The Raptors were ice cold from deep, shooting just 18.8 percent from distance. Chicago’s defense also made things hard on Toronto, forcing 14 turnovers en route to 29 points. We saw this earlier in the season with a healthy Bulls squad. When their defense is playing well, they can force turnovers and get on the break for easy buckets. On the flip side, Chicago did a good job taking career of the ball with just six turnovers, leading to five points for Toronto.
This was a huge win for Chicago in the standings and emotionally. They were in a sort of spiral before this game as the West Coast road trip was a disaster. At home against a team that is also fighting for playoff contention, the Bulls woke up in the third quarter and took care of business. They got the lead and didn’t relinquish it for a second.
Playing about 21 hours after their last game ended, the Toronto Raptors ran out of gas in the second half tonight, losing to the Chicago Bulls 113-99.
For the first two-and-a-half quarters, it looked like we were headed to another nail biter, as the teams went back and forth like a tennis match, with 19 lead changes and six ties.
But the Raptors hit one of their cold spells, and the Bulls took full advantage, using a 29-10 run that straddled the third and fourth quarters to blow the game open. The Raptors continued fighting in the fourth, but never got the lead back to single digits, eventually sending in the reserves with four minutes to play, down 20.
Pascal Siakam paced the Raptors with 22 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Fred VanVleet and Chris Boucher added 19 apiece. Boucher also led The Raptors surely missed the backcourt scoring and spacing provided by Gary Trent Jr., who missed the game with a sore two.
The Bulls were led by DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine, who scored 26 points each, and combined to shoot 20-for-32 from the floor.
It was a missed opportunity for the Raptors, as the Cleveland Cavaliers also lost; instead of being tied with the Cavs and just a half-game back of the Bulls, the Raptors are now a full game back of the Cavs and 2.5 games behind the Bulls in the race to avoid the play-in; since the Bulls and Cavs both own the tie-breakers over the Raptors, it’s a real uphill climb from here.
Despite playing with a rested VanVleet — who hadn’t played since Friday — the legs just weren’t there for the Raptors. Although they still crashed the glass, out-rebounding the Bulls by seven and finishing with a 21-10 advantage in second chance points, lackadaisical passing and poor court awareness led to 14 Raptors turnovers — and thanks a subpar effort in transition D, the Bulls turned those turnovers into 29 points. (For contrast, the Raptors forced just six Bulls turnovers, and scored only five points off of them). Cold shooting didn’t help, either; the Raptors were a miserable 19% from downtown with even fresh-legged VanVleet struggling (3-for-12 from deep) and Precious Achiuwa’s hot streak finally ending (0-for-5 from three-point range).
Nick Nurse opted to once again go with Khem Birch and Precious Achiuwa in the starting lineup, an odd choice, since that lineup was dominated in the first period last night. Last night, of course, the Raptors didn’t have Fred VanVleet, who scored the team’s first five points.
The Raptors will come home to play eight of their final 10 games at the Scotiabank Arena, starting with a crucial matchup with the Cavaliers on Thursday.
They have not clinched a spot in the play-in portion of the post-season, although they are closing in on it. For Nurse, that’s a vital part of his team’s development.
“I haven’t heard anybody mention (avoiding a seventh-place finish and a spot in the play-in) at all,” the coach said before the game. “For me I’m really hopeful we can get in the playoffs one way or another. I think we really need to experience that with our young group.
“That’s all I’m trying to do, get in as many playoff games as we can play just so our guys can experience the level of prep and intensity and all the stuff that goes with it.”
Home, however, has hardly been a benefit to Toronto this season. The Raptors are only 17-16 at home this season, the worst record of any of the top seven Eastern Conference teams.
The Raptors played without guard Gary Trent Jr., who suffered a hyperextended big toe on his left foot in the dying seconds of Sunday’s win in Philadelphia.
“It’s sore, it’s going to be re-evaluated as soon as we get back to Toronto,” Nurse said. “(He) just planted and went the other direction and had an injury there on his toe.”
Trent’s absence gave Nurse a second look at a new starting lineup that included both Khem Birch and Achiuwa.
The coach had said Sunday that he didn’t like the look of the two big men on the court at the same time but, after some tinkering with spacing and defensive assignments, they looked a bit more comfortable against the Bulls.
“I thought it was OK,” Nurse said. “We like to be able to be flexible, depending on who we’re playing.”
Birch had a solid game with 11 points, seven rebounds and a series of solid screens that created mismatches for Siakam and VanVleet to attack.
It would have been easy for the Raptors to move away from Khem Birch earlier in the year and just leave the 29-year-old big man whithering away on the bench. Frankly, most teams would have, Birch admitted as much. But for whatever reason, Raptors coach Nick Nurse kept running the 6-foot-9 Canadian out there night after night, hoping for change.
Lately, it has.
Birch is still a little up-and-down, but Monday’s game was all up. He made savvy passes, moved the ball to open scorers, and looked sturdy and mobile as he worked the two-man game to free up Fred VanVleet in the halfcourt.
“I think he just helps the whole team with his screening, his rolling, he’s got the short roll, he’s got the floater, he can pass, he’s just a really smart player offensively,” VanVleet said of Birch who finished the night with 11 points, seven rebounds and four assists. “He knows how to play, he’s a very complimentary piece to play off of myself, Pascal, Scottie, Gary, other threats with the way he screens and he can find that short roll and the long roll.”
His offensive rebounding remains strong and his defense helped Toronto limit Nikola Vucevic who he somehow blocked in deep paint position early in the third quarter.
While Precious Achiuwa may be the future of the center position for Toronto with his thrilling potential and developing offensive skills, Birch remains solid. He’s not going to put up gaudy numbers, but, when healthy, he’s a difference-maker when surrounded with talent.
Toronto got got Fred VanVleet back after resting him Sunday, but his backcourt mate Gary Trent Jr. was a scratch and OG Anunoby remained sidelined. Nick Nurse somewhat surprisingly started Khem Birch with the red-hot Precious Achiuwa just a day after saying he didn’t like how they played together in Sunday’s win at Philadelphia.
That wasn’t really an issue – Birch played one of his best games of the season and Achiuwa was OK, but what did in the Raptors was the third quarter.
Leading 55-54 at halftime, the Raptors allowed Chicago’s other star scorer, Zach LaVine, to catch fire. LaVine scored six straight points along with a helper for a three-pointer.
With Toronto’s offence drying up, the result was an 18-2 Bulls run and an 84-73 lead for the home side. The Raptors went more than six minutes without a field goal, putting the game out of reach.
Usually the Raptors are the more aggressive team and use it to their advantage. But not in this one.
“Give Chicago credit, they were really physical. They pushed us off the line, off our spots a little bit,” VanVleet said. “They really asserted themselves and got out in transition and we just never closed the gap after that little 10-0 run or whatever that was.”
Nurse said the issues reared their head at the other end too.
“We just weren’t ourselves defensively at all tonight,” Nurse said. “We were out of schemes quickly and we were just not moving.”
The Bulls were thrilled to see promising youngster Patrick Williams in the lineup. Williams, like Scottie Barnes, attended Florida State and was the fourth pick of his draft (Williams is somehow 25 days younger than Barnes, though he played at the school a year earlier). Expected to be Chicago’s defensive stopper, Williams had not played since Oct. 28, five games into the season. His return allowed the Bulls to throw out a formidable defensive lineup in the game-changing third.
This week: 15
Last week: 14
Friday’s last-second loss to the Lakers aside, Toronto is back to flying along again, winning six of seven with Fred VanVleet in and out of the lineup and OG Anunoby not playing at all. The Raptors have a team full of long, rangy players led by rookie Scottie Barnes, and they are looking like a tough first-round opponent in the East. — Bontemps
This week: 9
Last week: 20
Big week for the Raptors, who finished their Western Conference road trip at 5-0 after wins over the Suns, Nuggets, Lakers and Clippers this week. It’s a huge boost in both the standings and morale, as OG Anunoby gets closer to a return. In the meantime, Pascal Siakam has been an absolute animal, averaging 29 points, 8.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game for the week on 53 percent 3-point shooting. Rookie Scottie Barnes has been excellent as well, putting up 19 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.3 steals per game this week.