Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 122-113 loss to the Chicago Bulls.
One — Exhausted: The Raptors came into this game with a skeleton crew of eight players, and they gave their best effort under the circumstances. The Bulls moved the ball brilliantly and scored almost at will, yet the Raptors didn’t quit and pressed all game to force a tight game into the final minutes. However, that’s where their luck and energy ran out, as Zach LaVine nailed a three and a driving layup to clinch the win, while the Raptors added yet another participation ribbon to their collection in this cursed season.
Two — Circumstance: Nick Nurse is trying to remain upbeat, so the word he used for the circumstances this season was “funky” instead of something stronger and perhaps more accurate. This is the game that the Raptors were forced to reschedule when an outbreak left them with one assistant coach and less than the minimum number of players required to host a game. But it wasn’t much better in the makeup game, as the Raptors had eight players due to yet another set of inexplicable circumstances. Five players are out with injuries all at once, another was suspended, and while one signing was announced and another is scheduled for the weekend, those reinforcements weren’t able to be cleared in time to play. And so the Raptors trudged on to fight another battle they could not win.
Three — Tireless: Chris Boucher seized the opportunity and tried to carry the team on his back, as he finished with an absurd statline of 38 points and 19 rebounds, both of which are career highs. Boucher got the start at center even with an All-Star post player in Nikola Vucevic as his matchup, and he was more than up to the challenge on both ends of the floor. He opened the game with a fading jumper in the midrange, which seemed like an aberration given that he’s usually not making Kevin Durant shots, but it was really just the first of many warning shots. Boucher was ultra aggressive, working non-stop on the offensive glass and finishing with nine, and his aggression naturally fuelled his confidence. Boucher had more latitude on offense with half of the team out, and so he could expand his role, which included some impressive drives to the rim against closeouts, while also knocking down his usual assortment of looping jumpers.
Four — Continue: Boucher should obviously continue to start after monstrous showings like this one, but he should also be in the starting five because he’s a great fit with Pascal Siakam. Boucher stretches the floor so Siakam has more opportunities to drive against an uncluttered lane, Siakam is a good kickout passer when the crowd comes, and Boucher is an active offensive rebounder who can profit off Siakam’s short misses around the rim. They scored the first 16 points for the Raptors in the third quarter, and this was against a jumbo Bulls frontcourt. Lineups including Boucher and Siakam are plus-151 in 615 minutes this season, which is just shy of Boucher’s mark, with Fred VanVleet at plus-152 points. In short, play Boucher more with the starters.
Five — Tenacious: Siakam was single-minded in his will to get to the basket, and that is when he’s at his best. The Bulls tried everything against him, matching Siakam with a 7-footer in Vucevic, switching to the veteran Thaddeus Young onto Siakam, and finally settling with standout rookie Pat Williams, but Siakam had them all beat. Siakam just kept engineering new and more acrobatic ways of getting to the basket, and while it didn’t carry over to the fourth quarter, it was absolutely the right mindset. His handle was much tighter than usual which allowed him to navigate and swivel through multiple defenders, and with his ability to finish with either hand, the Bulls were mostly powerless against Siakam until they started sending hard double teams. Outside of his quiet fourth quarter, there is very little to criticize in this showing by Siakam.
Six — Lacking: The Raptors needed more from OG Anunoby, who shot 5-of-17 for 13 points. It was an inefficient night, which is rare, but this is typical of a sharp change in role. Anunoby is mostly used as a play finisher, getting to his spot with an advantage and either hitting threes or using his size to score at the basket, but the Raptors mostly asked him to create for himself. Anunoby had shown good progress on this front in limited doses, but he struggled in a featured role and was unable to create efficient shots. The Bulls smartly assigned Williams to guard Anunoby, which is pretty much like looking in the mirror as Williams is another long 6-foot-8 forward with great feet and a strong base, which took away any advantages that Anunoby would typically have.
Seven — Solid: Malachi Flynn was passable in his first career start. It wasn’t all that exciting outside of his confident pull-up three and a slashing layup that he left short in crunch time, but his role was mostly to run the offense through Siakam, Anunoby, and Boucher. Flynn was fine in that regard outside of two errant passes while trying to connect with Siakam, and he finished with seven assists, which is respectable. Flynn’s best pass of the night came on a baseline drive, where he drew two defenders to him before kicking it to the corner for an open three for Anunoby. That’s one area of growth for Flynn, who mostly looks to create for himself when he drives, but he would be much more efficient if he were able to keep his dribble alive and be patient in looking for the next pass.
Eight — Misfire: The boxscore wasn’t kind to Gary Trent Jr., who finished with six points on 2-of-14 shooting, but there wasn’t much to pick at in terms of shot selection. Trent Jr. had to handle the ball a lot more, and was asked to create more for himself, and the majority of his looks were open and in rhythm. One area where Trent Jr. could improve is his handle, as he doesn’t seem to be all that confident in getting all the way to the basket when he drives, opting instead for midrange pull-ups or floaters. If he were able to put more pressure on the basket, he would get to the foul line more, which would bring his efficiency up. Taking 14 shots with only one free throw isn’t ideal.
Nine — Innovative: Nurse reached into his bag of tricks, and used his patented box-and-one defense to slow down LaVine in the second half. He assigned Yuta Watanabe as the one up top guarding LaVine, and Watanabe held his own in that matchup despite LaVine’s advantage in quickness and athleticism. Credit to the Bulls, and to LaVine in particular, as they moved the ball beautifully to beat the Raptors’ zone coverages. That’s one of the advantages of having multiple playmaking bigs on the floor at all times, and with an improving playmaker like LaVine who was unselfish in his willingness to make the right pass.
Ten — Envious: The Bulls are hardly world beaters, but their frontcourt depth is impressive. Bringing Lauri Markkanen off the bench as their fourth big is an embarrassment of riches in comparison to the patchwork crew at center for the Raptors this season. Bringing in Khem Birch off waivers should give the Raptors a credible alternative to Baynes, but it might be too little, too late. The Raptors keep insisting that they want to make the playoffs, but they’re 2.5 games from the fourth-best lottery odds in the league, while also being 3 games behind the Bulls for 10th in the conference.
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