Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for February 28th, but was postponed after a COVID-19 outbreak within the Raptors organization. Toronto did not have the league-required eight players available to play, leaving the NBA with no choice but to move the matchup to a later date. At the time, it was the 30th postponement this season due to COVID-19 and the first for the Raptors.
From March 10 to May 16, both teams share 19 off days on their schedules. But without moving several other games around, the only possible date they could play without creating a back-to-back-to-back situation was tonight.
The Bulls have won two straight after a six-game skid, and the Raptors are coming off a loss that followed two consecutive wins. This will be the second of three meetings this season for the Bulls and Raptors.
The Bulls have put their new look roster on full display after beating Brooklyn and Indiana in their past two games, with Orlando import Nikola Vucevic averaging 27 points and 15 rebounds in the wins. Rookie Patrick Williams, who had 23 points in the win over the Raptors last month, chipped in with double-figure scoring (11 and 10 points) in the Bulls’ two most recent victories.
Currently, the Bulls and Raptors find themselves dueling for the 10th and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Chicago (22-28) has a leg up on Toronto (20-32) not only in the standings but also in the first tiebreaker, having prevailed 118-95 in a matchup on March 14. The three-game season series is slated to be completed May 13 in Chicago. But with the acquisition of Vucevic and a bolstered bench, the Bulls have larger ambitions than simply sneaking in to the postseason.
While the Bulls welcomed back Daniel Theis (personal reasons), they had the good fortune of drawing another shorthanded opponent with both Kyle Lowry and Fred VanFleet sidelined for Toronto. The Raptors score 40% of their points from downtown and force more turnovers than any team in the league so the game plan was simple; defend the three and take care of the ball. They were able to at least accomplish the former, holding Toronto to 32% shooting from behind the arch. However, despite the win, they did commit 16 turnovers, a problem which has plagued them all season long and something they need to improve if they intend to make a playoff run.
Before tonight, Vucevic scored 136 points through his first six games, which ranks 5th best in franchise history. In addition, the Bulls have outscored their opponent in the paint every game since Vucevic joined the team. Tonight, both he and LaVine finished with 22 points, while Lauri Markkanen and Coby White combined to score 33 off the bench. The team had seven players record at least 11 points with LaVine adding 13 assists, just one shy of tying his career high.
LaVine Takes Charge, Vucevic Follows
The Bulls came out extremely sluggish, missing their first seven shots from the field and were 0-2 from long range. Their defense was also lacking, as the Raptors were given easy layups on three consecutive possessions to start the game. Knowing they needed to compensate with two of their best players in street clothes, Toronto simply exuded more energy and physicality than the visitors. At the eight minute mark, the Bulls were shooting 20% and found themselves down by seven.
The team clearly needed someone to step up and LaVine took it upon himself to lead the charge. With five minutes left in the 1st, LaVine already had 11 of the Bulls 18 points. Chicago took that energy and transferred it to the defensive end, going on a 16-3 run which resulted in a four-point lead. At the 3:30 mark, with LaVine resting on the bench, Vucevic decided it was his time to take over, and the Bulls went on a 24-6 run in the final five minutes to see their lead grow to nine.
As we saw on Tuesday, the Bulls are becoming a more complete team right before our very eyes, putting an emphasis on sharing the ball. This was on full display in the first half, as the team finished with an impressive 17 assists on 24 shots. Their depth has also become a luxury. The bench contributed 27 points, including 10 from Coby White, who seems to be settling into his new role as a reserve quite nicely. In addition, the bench chipped in with 14 rebounds, seven of which came from newcomer Daniel Theis.
Midway through the 2nd quarter, the Bulls went on a 9-0 run to put themselves up by 13. The offense was now running through Vucevic in the post, who carved up Toronto’s defense, finding wide open teammates every time he was doubled. The Bulls increased their lead to 20, highlighted by a beautiful alley-oop from LaVine to Theis on the fast break. However, the Raptors simply refused to fold, ending the half on a 9-2 run to cut their deficit to 13.
Raptors Push Back
The Bulls had their hands full tonight with Pascal Siakam (27/8) and Chris Boucher (38/19), both of whom did everything they possibly could to keep their team in the game. Playing with house money, the Raptors ramped up their energy even more and cut the Bulls lead to 12. Unfortunately for the Raptors, Tomas Satoransky was able to shift the momentum on the next possession when he came around a screen and found Williams from downtown. The Bulls then went on a massive run to end the quarter and enjoyed a 22-point lead after three.
The bench continued their strong performance into the final frame, finishing with 37 points as a group. Markkanen (18/4), White (15/3), and Theis (14/10) all played their roles to perfection as coach Donovan’s rotation is quickly coming into focus. But, once again, Toronto proved hard to put away, winning the 4th quarter 34-25 and, at one point, slicing the Bulls’ lead from 22 to only seven. Nevertheless, with 90 seconds to go, LaVine put the game on ice with five straight points as Chicago went on to win by a final of 122-113.
What’s Next On Tap?
The Bulls travel to Atlanta on Friday night to take on the Hawks. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:00 PM CDT. The game is available on NBC Sports Chicago and 670 The Score. As always, you can check out all the latest Bulls content, articles, podcasts, and more at Bulls On Tap.