Eight — Anunoby continues to be the unsung hero of the team. His impact was felt across the board, as he collected three steals, four offensive rebounds, and 22 points while being the primary defender on DeRozan. Anunoby was in the right spot at the right time to capitalize on broken sequences where the initial shot simply wouldn’t drop, and was reliable as always on catch-and-shoot threes. The only trend to watch is how often he comes up empty on drives. He’s strong and quick enough to get deep into the paint, but still lacks the creativity and dexterity to finish strong or kickout for the next player.
Obviously, VanVleet is going to play a big part in making up for Siakam in the half-court offence, and his 30 points and 11 assists more than answered the call Sunday. Barnes’ leap in responsibility is going to have to be just as big. He scored 19 points on 19 field-goal attempts against the Bulls, and it was an uneven performance.
Early in the fourth quarter, Barnes took a screen and floated out to the corner. The ball didn’t move at all, and Barnes took a contested 18-footer. With VanVleet on the bench, the Raptors needed to create some offence to allow him to sit every possible minute, as he was coming off a three-game absence caused by a stiff lower back. There was little room for wasted possessions. VanVleet ended up playing more than 39 minutes, which is not ideal.
With VanVleet out there, Barnes was better. Two of his four assists were to VanVleet — one out of the post, and another at the end of the shot clock with a beautiful cross-court pass.
After Barnes and VanVleet, the Raptors don’t have many proven creators. Trent and Anunoby are young veterans in this league, in their fifth and sixth seasons, but they remain in their nascent stages as playmakers. When Trent comes off screens, he is largely looking for ways to get his own shot off. Defences can play him very aggressively as a result, and Trent’s willingness or ability to move the ball in such moments wavers.
Anunoby, meanwhile, has decent vision but not necessarily the handle to make the most of it. He is turnover-prone when he gets to the paint against a set defence. He’s capable of some impressive finishes and dishes, but he’s also liable to start a few breaks going the other way if he drives into too much help. When things slow down, such as when he has the ball in the post, he is a more reliable distributor, or when the defence is scrambling to recover in semi-transition. He also can create for himself in the post, as he did when he sent DeMar DeRozan flying backward before a layup.
Anunoby is such a force on defence that it likely isn’t fair to ask him to also carry a big playmaking role.
In the end, the Raptors had 28 assists on 44 buckets. At times, the offence was painful to watch, and there will be stagnant nights to come in the next few weeks. The experience is great for Barnes in particular, though. Plus, the Raptors already know they can play much less than perfect on offence and find paths to victory.
Without Siakam the Raptors didn’t exactly shine in the half-court – they were 13-of-33 from the floor – but they worked around it. Toronto got a put-back off a scramble by Chris Boucher, another lay-up out of a scramble, this time by O.G. Anunoby, an old-fashioned three-point play by VanVleet on a wild, off-balance two-point shot before Scottie Barnes put things to bed with a yet another putback, this time off a missed three by Anunoby.
The big Raptors forward finished things off with a steal on DeRozan — the third of the night for the NBA leader in the category — that he took the other way for a crowd-pleasing double-pump reverse dunk.
VanVleet led all scorers with 30 points and 11 assists in his first game back after missing three with a back strain. Anunoby had 22 and Barnes had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. It was a career night for rookie Christian Koloko, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots. The Raptors had a 23-15 edge on the offensive boards and a 17-9 advantage in turnovers.
DeRozan? The Raptors held Toronto’s all-time leading scorer to a respectable 20 points, limiting him to just nine field-goal attempts, although he converted seven of them. However, his five turnovers may have been the most telling number.
The Raptors benefitted hugely from the return to the lineup of VanVleet. And if there were any concerns about role definition given that Barnes had looked pretty good as the point guard or primary ball-handler in VanVleet’s absence, the all-star showed early that wasn’t going to be an issue.
On the Raptors’ first possession, VanVleet started off the ball and sprinted around a series of screes before taking a hand-off from Barnes and pulling up for a short jumper.
The pair worked in concert all night. The had a great sequence in the second quarter as Toronto worked reverse a 30-21 Chicago leader after 12 minutes. First it was VanVleet driving the lane and finding Barnes for an open three while a moment later it was Barnes getting a paint touch down on the block on a pass from VanVleet, only to pitch it out so the point guard could knock own an open three of his own — one of three by him in second quarter. His last of the period put Toronto up by three with a 1:40 left in the half as Toronto took a 55-49 lead into the intermission.
Chicago and Toronto traded buckets to start off the fourth quarter. Aggressive play courtesy of OG Anonuby, Scottie Barnes and Rockford native Fred VanVleet helped the Raptors pull away on an 8-0 run late. With 2:16 remaining, Billy Donovan opted to hold off on requesting a timeout, hoping that the Bulls would get back into the game with some fast break offense. But it was not to be, and he finally called for a break with Toronto leading 111-02 and 1:30 remaining.
It proved to be too little, too late, and Toronto held on to win, 113-104. Vucevic notched an 18-point, 12-rebound double-double and had six assists. Caruso had a very Carusocore double-double of his own, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out 11 assists, while scoring just four points on 1-of-11 shooting from the field. Among the Bulls’ starters, AC Fresh registered the only positive plus-minus on the night, managing a +15.
Goran Dragic again scored with incredible efficiency, pouring in 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting (including 4-of-6 from deep) across just 20:47. The guy is just a bucket, even as an NBA senior citizen (he’s 36).
DeRozan finished with 20 points on 7-of-9 field goal shooting and 6-of-6 free throw shooting. With Zach out, Toronto made a point of trapping DDR early and often, forcing the ball out of his hands and letting Chicago’s other players try to beat them.
Patrick Williams at least looked aggressive for the fourth straight contest, taking 16 shots. He made merely five of them, finishing with 13 points and seven boards. Though he had a few cool takes, including this one —
— seeing him play against the lengthy, switchable, engaged Toronto Raptors felt like a stark reminder that he’s still got a long way to go until he can be a consistent, reliable two-way pro.
We also got a brief Dalen Terry appearance. He played enough to notch his first-even NBA regular season points, finishing with four on 2-of-2 shooting!
Beyond struggling to contain the younger, longer Raptors (Fred VanVleet excluded), the big problem for Chicago tonight was protecting the ball. The team collectively had 17 turnovers (DeMar contributed five), compared to just nine for Toronto. The Raptors scored a whopping 23 points over those Bulls cough-ups. Toronto also led Chicago 11-5 in steals.
The Raptors were too energetic with too much length for the Bulls to handle. The Bulls were off to a fast start, but the Raptors ended the first half on a 32-13 run.
VanVleet caught fire, scoring 15 points with five assists, while the Raptors’ defense limited DeRozan to just six points in the first half and forced the Bulls to turn the ball over nine times (six in the second quarter).
The Bulls battled back by making quick reads/decisions against the defense, but the Raptors played well down the stretch and secured the win. Chicago finished the game with 17 turnovers, which proved to be a big problem this game.
The Raptors outrebounded the Bulls 54-46; they had 23 offensive rebounds and outscored them 62-38 in the paint. Christian Koloko was the X-factor for the Raptors with seven rebounds and six blocks to go along with 11 points.
Raptors’ double-teams did their job against DeRozan
DeRozan scored his 20 points on 7-of-9 shooting, tying his single-game low for field goal attempts since joining the Bulls (he also attempted nine field goals against the Cavaliers on October 22).
O.G. Anunoby played out of his mind. He had 22 points with six rebounds, three assists, and three steals, and he was everywhere defensively. Anunoby had help, but he did a great job as the primary defender on DeRozan.
After the half, the Raptors looked a lot more like, well, the Raptors. The length and aggressiveness finally started to get to the Bulls, and perhaps a little frustration showed as they picked up three team fouls in the first 2.5 minutes of the third. Alex Caruso then blew a 2-on-1 layup that led to a GTJ and-1 the other way, which put the Raps up 10.
GTJ then had a slam, and the Raps looked like they were gonna blow things wide open… but the Bulls weren’t ready to quit yet.
A three from Nikola Vucevic and two threes from Ayo Dosunmu cut the lead to 1. But the Raptors went right back to spamming that FVV-Koloko PnR, and Barnes and Boucher both scored on layups out of the action (Barnes on a rocket assist from Fred, Boucher on a dish from Koloko).
DeRozan definitely let some frustration show after that; with Anunoby draped all over him on the one end, he got a little aggressive guarding VanVleet on the other, and picked up a tech after fouling Freddy on a three. VanVleet hit the tech and all four FTs to push Toronto’s lead back to 7.
The Bulls had an opportunity before the quarter ended to cut into the lead, with VanVleet on the bench and DeRozan still on the floor. It looked like the Raptors would withstand the lead — Precious Achiuwa had a dunk in the post, DeRozan tuned it over and GTJ hit a free throw to make it 10-point lead — but Dragic and DeRozan went on an 11-2 run to close the quarter, giving the Raps a slim 83-82 lead heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter didn’t look like it was going to go Toronto’s way, not early; the Bulls, trailing by 1, opened the frame on a 7-2 run. But VanVleet returned, Barnes settled things down with a slam, and O.G. followed it up with a three off a Thad Young offensive rebound. A Dragic travel gave the Raptors the ball back and — following a scramble after a Barnes miss — Boucher slammed home a loose ball to put the Raptors back on top, 90-89.
The teams traded buckets before Young’s baby hook gave the Raptors a 98-97 lead with 5:46 to go; the Raptors never trailed again.
These two teams are back it again tomorrow night, when they’ll meet in Chicago for a rematch.
Nurse’s biggest concern, sans Siakam, was how his team would fare late in close games. Well, on Sunday, after Chicago went up by six points early in the fourth quarter, Toronto closed out the contest on a 30-15 run.
With five minutes left, VanVleet drove to the bucket and had a layup rim out. Young followed the shot but missed a couple put-back attempts; Boucher also tipped the ball before their relentless effort on the boards paid off, with Anunoby finally converting and finishing the play.
Toronto spent the night aggressively doubling DeMar DeRozan on the catch, leading to a frustrating night for the former Raptor. With 90 seconds remaining, three Raptors players got a hand on the ball, knocking it away from DeRozan and freeing Anunoby for the dagger – a reverse slam dunk in transition, putting the home team up by nine points.
“This is the NBA,” VanVleet said afterwards. “I know that we dramatize every day, but every year I’ve been in the league there have been guys [who get] hurt for periods of time. So, next man up and everybody just stay ready and stay prepared, and there’s gonna be opportunities [across] the board.”
For reference, Siakam was sidelined for three and a half weeks and missed 11 games with a similar groin injury in 2019. The hope is for a speedier recovery this time around, but a late-November or early-December return seems realistic.
Without him in the lineup, there are 36 minutes and nearly 20 shots up for grabs each night, but it’s going to take more than one or two guys to fill that void.
VanVleet’s role will have to look more like it did on Sunday – when he attempted 22 shots, including 13 threes – than it did earlier in the season, when he was playing off the ball more often and intentionally ceding some scoring and playmaking duties to Siakam and others.
With VanVleet out this past week, Barnes served as the starting point guard and got some valuable reps initiating the offence, which should help in Siakam’s absence. They’ll continue to lean on the talented sophomore in that role.
Anunoby, who’s been fantastic defensively to open the season, has been clamouring for more responsibility on the offensive end. He averaged 20.6 points and looked like an all-star during the 10 contests Siakam missed to start last season, so he’s capable of taking his game to another level as a focal point of the offence. This is his chance to show that he’s ready for it on a nightly basis.
It appears Koloko will continue to start for as long as Siakam’s out. This most recent performance showed how his length and ability to protect the rim could help create offence through defence. Young, who had only logged 17 minutes in the previous six games, should be able to help starter-heavy units with his passing and cutting. They’ll also be more opportunities for Boucher, Porter and Precious Achiuwa to make an impact off the bench.
Not unlike Sunday, there will be nights when scoring won’t come easy. Without Siakam on the floor to take pressure off VanVleet, expect teams to blitz the Raptors’ point guard and try to take the ball out of his hands. If he’s not getting good looks and the other guys aren’t knocking down their shots, you’ll feel the weight of Siakam’s absence.
The DeRozan line
Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan became just the 50th player in NBA history to eclipse 20,000 career points last week. The Raptors, with a variety of defences to throw at the veteran, held him to 7-for-9 shooting from the field and only six free-throw attempts.
DeRozan’s frustration showed in the third quarter when he was called for a foul on VanVleet, who was taking a three-point shot. VanVleet made all four free throws.
Coming out swinging
The Raptors have wanted Christian Koloko to go after shots to block more aggressively — “We want him to swing at more of them,” coach Nick Nurse has said — and the point seems to be sinking in. The rookie had three blocks in the first five minutes and finished with six on the night. He also finished off three lobs at the rim as part of a season-high 11-point effort.
Koloko seems destined to assume Pascal Siakam’s starting role for as long as the star forward is sidelined by injury. And while Koloko did finish a nice roll-lob-dunk on a pass from VanVleet early in the game, his offence remains a work in progress.
Be ready, contribute
Thad Young — who hadn’t played at all in three of Toronto’s first nine games, and never more than 11 minutes in any of the other six — got an extended run and made the most of it.
Young, also expected to fill some of the void created by Siakam’s absence, entered the game with 9:17 left in the first half and Toronto down 11, and left with the Raptors up six at halftime. He also played about six minutes of the fourth quarter when the Raptors rallied.
Barnes doesn’t necessarily have to carry Toronto’s offense. He’s such a skilled passer that his aggressiveness can create opportunities for others. In the second quarter, for example, he drew a double team while posting up Patrick Williams and then found Fred VanVleet behind the arc for three. He then put the Raptors ahead in the fourth quarter with a skip pass to VanVleet for another catch-and-shoot three-pointer.
VanVleet will be there for the Raptors as he was on Sunday. The notion floating around that Toronto is better off without its All-Star point guard was quickly discredited against Chicago as the 28-year-old led Toronto with 30 points and 11 assists. He was masterful in his return from a back injury, taking advantage of his off-ball skills to nail five three-pointers.
Then, in crunch time, VanVleet nailed an off-balanced jumper and connected on the and-1 foul to put Toronto up four with less than four minutes to play. He sealed the deal minutes later, finding Barnes and O.G. Anunoby for a pair of dunks to put the Raptors up nine.
Koloko Hosts Block Party
Christian Koloko has been nothing shy of remarkable to start this season. He’s stepped into a starting role for Toronto and become a defensive difference-maker almost on a nightly basis.
Against Chicago, he nearly out-blocked the Bulls on his own, recording four blocks in the first quarter and six in the game, one shy of the Raptors’ rookie record. That kind of shot-blocking prowess allows Toronto to get extra aggressive defensively, double-teaming players like DeMar DeRozan, knowing that Koloko can clean up mistakes inside.
On the offensive end, Koloko is coming along too. VanVleet found him three times for alley-oop finishes as he finished the night with 11 points and seven rebounds to go with his game-high six blocks.
“He’s given us that lob thread in the screen and roll which we haven’t had for a while,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “That’s important because it does start freeing up other things, especially the ball handler a little bit more, right, coming off there to do something and he played good.”
Trailing by 13 points in the first half, the Raptors chipped away at the deficit to go up by 10 in the third quarter. But the Bulls grabbed hold of the momentum, pulling to within 83-82 to start the fourth, and opening the quarter with a 7-0 run for a six-point lead.
But VanVleet connected on a pair of consecutive three-pointers to orchestrate a comeback, and when Anunoby got his hands on an Alex Caruso pass, and sprinted downcourt, deking around DeRozan for a basket, it put Toronto up by six with 3:47 to play, and brought the Scotiabank Arena crowd to its feet.
The fans barely had time to sit down when VanVleet snatched the ball off DeRozan and tossed it to Anunoby for a wide-open basket and nine-point lead with 1:30 left.
Siakam is expected to be out at least two weeks with a strained right adductor muscle, a big blow to the team after his blistering start to the season. He’d been averaging team highs of 24.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists and recorded six double-doubles — including a pair of triple-doubles — through the first nine games before slipping and injuring his groin Friday in Dallas.
“It’s certainly a bummer that it happens,” coach Nick Nurse said. “He’d been playing great, and how it happens, on a slip on a wet floor, is disappointing. You’ve got to play another game, so what happens? We need some guys to step up. They’re going to get opportunities to possibly do more things. They’re going to need to. And here it is, upon them. We’ll see what happens.”