Five thoughts on Game 36: Raptors 124, Bulls 115

The Toronto Raptors took their game to Chicago last night, where—after 3 back-and-forth quarters—they finally put the Bulls away 124-115. Here are my thoughts.

New Year’s Eve, 2013… the memories

Remember last year when the Raptors broke that 11-game losing streak agains the Bulls? That was great to finally see. But do you remember the last time the Raptors won in Chicago? Yep, December 31, 2013. That’s… pretty unbelievable. That means the best Toronto Raptors teams of all time—the 49, 56 and 51-win teams—had never won here. That’s insane. John Salmons played 31 minutes in that game! Jonas Valanciunas (one of three current Raptors on the roster then, along with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan) led the Raptors with 15 points.

The win makes it four in a row overall for the Raptors against the Bulls. I’m glad to report that monkey is finally off Toronto’s back.

It looked like more of the same early

It didn’t look like any monkeys were getting shown the door in the first half. The Raptors came out pretty lacklustre, with sloppy D and poor shooting from the starting unit. They let the Bulls score 20 points in the paint, and shoot 13-24, to fall behind by 10 after after one quarter. And although the bench led a turnaround in the second, an 8-0 Bulls run to close the half gave Chicago a 3-point lead. At the least the Raptors’ offense woke up in the second—they scored 35 on 59% shooting and won the quarter by 7.

Quick shout-out here to Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls rookie finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds, and looked fantastic throughout. He struggled from 3-point range (2-8) but he’s shown he can hit that shot as well. The kid’s a keeper.

It was the Toronto Raptors bench to the rescue again

The backup backcourt led the second-quarter turnaround, with Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet combining for 21 points to give the Raptors a 1-point lead with 7:30 remaining.

In the fourth, they went to work again, with a five-man bench unit uncorking a 13-4 lead over the quarter’s first five minutes to break a 90-90 tie and give the Raptors a lead they’d never relinquish.

Funny how the two Raptors’ units work; the starters were sleepy tonight, and the bench picked it up. We’ve seen that story before… but we’ve also seen the reverse, where the bench doesn’t have it and the starters are balling.

On the one hand, that’s the beauty of a deep team; you don’t need everyone firing on all cylinders every night, and you can be confident that enough guys will step up that the Raptors will always have a chance to win.

And yet, on the other… how awesome would the Raptors be if the two units could both be strong on the same night more often? That’s the sweet spot.

Wait, was this the Delon Wright Game?

A few weeks back Delon played out of his mind and led the Raptors back from 22 down to beat the Sixers. I declared it The Delon Wright Game.

Is that game null and void now? Was this The Delon Wright Game II? Is every night The Delon Wright Game?

I don’t have words for this. Holly, please take it away:

OK, I have a few words. That’s a career high in points and rebounds for Delon. And so many highlight plays. He fought for and grabbed 2 offensive rebounds off his own misses and finished with a 3-point play in the second—and followed it up a few plays later with another offensive rebound and putback. In the same quarter he had a beautiful spin move off a pick and roll switch to get to the rack. He was everywhere.

(Another great play: In the fourth Delon had a steal and went coast-to-coast, and euro-stepped his way to the cup; he couldn’t finishing but Lowry chased the play and put it back in for two. How great is that, when your starter doesn’t give up on the play while his backup leads the break?)

But wait! Was Delon even the best player in this game?

Oh, did you not notice that DeMar DeRozan scored 35? On 20 shots? 10-10 from the free throw line? Six assists? Two nights after scoring 52?

What about dropping 18 in the third alone?

Tell me you didn’t miss him shooting 5-8 from behind the arc?

DeMar is lights out and bombing away, and I love it. That’s 12-21 from deep (and 37-67, or 55% overall) on this three-game winning streak. When DeMar is shooting like that this team is tough to beat.

That said my favourite play of the game came with about 2 minutes left; Kyle gave the ball to DeMar on the left wing and then screened for him. DeMar drove middle, Kyle popped (to the exact spot DeMar just drove from), DeMar found him, and Kyle nailed the triple, and that sealed the win. I love the Kyle-DeMar pick-and-roll, and I wish the Raptors used it more in clutch situations.

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Three straight wins after two disappointing losses: that’s the way to quiet any panic. Now it’s off to Milwaukee on Friday, for the rematch from Monday night’s overtime thriller!

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