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Bulls 77, Raptors 64: One practice since Christmas and it's showing

The Bulls handled the Raptors in a 'was there ever any doubt' fashion at the United Center on Saturday night 77-64. Contrary to your initial assumptions, they didn't play under NCAA clock rules.

But if you were watching, you would have the Bulls opponent look very much like an NCAA team -- full of energy but not very skilled, playing zone defense, and a lot of zone defense. The Bulls' defense was strong, but not as great as the 64 points allowed implies; more like Toronto was as bad as their 13-for-29 (44.6%) at the rim and 2-for-8 (25%) from 3-to-9 feet makes you smack your forehead with your palm.

[For more on the Raptors, Raptors HQ should have plenty to say.]

The Andrea Bargnani-less Raptors zone began very statuesque, as opposed to one that was rotating with the ball. The Bulls countered this by flooding sides of the halfcourt and easily finding open players at all ranges. When Derrick Rose (18 points on 7-for-20, 11 assists, three steals, zero turnovers) made move to get reads, it was clear, the zone was meant to be frozen and ready to collapse on Rose; and he found his teammates in spaces like an elite point guard does.

In the second quarter, Toronto's zone shifted more with the ball to force the ball outside and the Bulls couldn't answer this with anything but jumpers and heavily slowing down the game. This made the game dependent on rebounding and better finishing at the rim. The Bulls' are most dominant on the offensive glass, but were only 4-for-11 on second chance attempts [.pdf] on 12 offensive rebounds, keeping the score as low as it was; but when it worked, the Bulls peeled off a game-clinching 9-2, 7-0, and 9-1 runs between the 6:56 mark of the third quarter and 5:09 of the fourth.

Most important, the Bulls were actualized in their deficiencies, as Tom Thibodeau remarked after the game, "We've have one practice since Christmas."

They only had five turnovers and forced the Raptors into a ridiculous 34 shots at 16-to-23 feet from the basket (11-for-34, 32.4%), while only taking 20 themselves (6-for-20, 30%). They stayed patient to allow each other to find the highest percentage space in the Raptors' zone as possible, never quitting on basket cuts. They only shot 52% (13-for-25) at the rim and 6-for-12 at 3-to-9 feet (50%), but didn't let the pace of the game or the Raptors' intentions slip them into foot-self-shooting rhythms of camping out on the perimeter.


  • Carlos Boozer (17 points on 8-for-15, 13 rebounds in 34 minutes) came to play. Boozer was 4-for-7 at the rim. (!!!) His first game this season with more than five attempts there. He shot at least seven at the rim in four games of last year's playoffs; Bulls won all four. His 13 rebounds were all on the defensive end, where he showed frequently and effectively and notched a block. That's a level of aggressiveness on both ends that should be sustainable for Boozer. There are things he can and can't do. This game was what he can do, regardless of the opponent.
  • Ronnie Brewer continues to hold down the fort. One two points on 1-for-5 shooting with three rebounds and two assists, but no fouls or turnovers. This is the worst you're gonna get from Brewer and it'll never hurt you. Richard Hamilton (groin) has been out over a week now. There are whispers of his return to the rotation on monday, but we're waiting and seeing. C.J. Watson (elbow) also sat with an unclear projection for his return.
  • Taj Gibson (11 points on 4-for-9, 12 rebounds in 22 minutes) was perfect for this game. His active feet and ball hawking is the perfect weapon against a zone and a lazy offense. We saw the Boozer-Gibson frontcourt for the last 7:53 of the game we saw in Orlando be very effective. The Bulls were +4 over this span, allowing only six points.

The Bulls next play the Grizzlies (5-6) in Memphis at noon for a special event commemorating the life and immortal impact of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. They're still without Zach Randolph, but are still very equipped to make a sleeping giant look awful. Straight Outta Vancouver has more on the Grizz.

Stats via Hoopdata.