When the Chicago Bulls were up 20 points with four and a half minutes left in the third quarter, it looked as if they were headed for a comfortable win on the road against the Toronto Raptors. But the fourth quarter saw Chicago let the lead nearly slip away as the home team clawed their way back into it.
However, when Chicago needed him the most, DeMar DeRozan stepped up to the plate. In his return back to Toronto, DeRozan scored a team-high 26 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter and two clutch isolation buckets to keep Toronto at bay. DeRozan’s efforts were nearly thwarted thanks to some sloppy turnovers to get the Raptors within striking distance with 14.4 seconds left. Nikola Vucevic split a pair of free throws (Chicago’s only miss from the charity stripe in this game) to make it a three-point lead. They elected not to foul, and Vucevic did his best to force Fred VanVleet into a contested fadeaway triple to try to send the game to overtime. His shot was too long and the Bulls survived a 111-108 scare, moving to 4-0 for the first time in 25 years. Zach LaVine also won four straight regular-season games for the first time in his NBA career.
Other than his scoring, DeRozan also added six assists while going a perfect 10-of-10 from the free-throw line. LaVine once again started the game quietly but picked it up in the second half, finishing with 22 points and five assists on 7-of-16 shooting. Overall, Chicago had a pretty solid offensive game with five guys scoring in double figures. They shot 48.1 percent from the field (61.2 TS%) and knocked down 44 percent of their 3-point attempts. They did have 12 turnovers, with most of those coming late, but they did a much better job forcing the Raptors into mistakes. Chicago had 27 points off 21 Toronto turnovers, once again showing their ability to wreak havoc on opponents who give them chances to take away the basketball.
Just like the first three games, the Bulls started out slow slowly on offense, but the Raptors couldn’t take advantage. DeRozan was the only player who did much of anything for the Bulls early, scoring 11 points to help make it a 24-24 game after one.
The second was much better for the Bulls. They shot 14-of-22 overall and 4-of-7 from 3-point range to pour in 37 points in the frame. Lonzo Ball had nine points in the quarter, all of them off 3-point makes. Chicago was able to take advantage of some offensive mistakes by Toronto and cashed in on them. They finished the half strong by going on a 7-0 run in the final 1:33 to make it a double-digit lead (61-51) going into the break.
Third quarters don’t seem to be a problem for the Bulls anymore, as they once again started off a second half brilliantly. The deadly combination of the Bulls forcing turnovers and getting into transition quickly was on display. Within the first three minutes they had gone on a 12-2 run, with a LaVine and-1 dunk being the top highlight. In the blink of an eye it was a 20-point game and Chicago looked to be in control.
But Toronto responded and began to chip away at the lead. Slowly but steadily the Raptors would make mini-runs and started to make the game tense for the Bulls. Even during stretches where Chicago was up big, it still felt like the game was hanging in the balance as one big Toronto run could flip things on its head. Each time the Bulls looked like they were pulling away, the Raptors would fight back. They were able to get the deficit to within striking distance, 12 points, as we entered the fourth quarter.
Toronto was able to get the game within single digits with 9:07 left as Goran Dragic knocked down a couple of free throws. From then on it was a tense battle as the Raptors clearly had all of the momentum and the Bulls were trying to keep them at a distance.
Chicago’s offense in the fourth quarter didn’t help.
There were a lot of bad shots and panicked passes. That in turn gave Toronto ample opportunities to further cut into the lead. The Bulls’ sudden looseness with the ball against physical full-court pressure was problematic, resulting in multiple live-ball turnovers and points on the other end. Things got really tense with 4:49 left when OG Anunoby’s layup made it a 97-95 game. It felt like another one of those nightmare games we have seen in recent years from the Bulls where they build a big lead only for it to slip away in the final moments.
But this is where DeRozan stepped in and delivered for Chicago. He knocked down some big shots to help extend the Bulls lead and quiet the crowd. LaVine then splashed a 3 of his own with 2:45 left to make it a double-digit lead again. But the turnovers kept costing Chicago. Toronto kept making shots on their end and the Bulls gifted them some free points, including a bad pass by Lonzo Ball on an inbounds play, which Scottie Barnes converted into a dunk to make it a 110-108 game.
However, the Bulls were able to make free throws when needed and walked out of Toronto with a big road victory. Chicago is now the only undefeated team in the Eastern Conference.
Other than LaVine and DeRozan, both Ball and Vucevic scored in double digits. Ball scored 15 points and added five assists. He was also a threat from 3-land, hitting five of his nine attempts. If Lonzo can keep shooting like this from downtown, it will only add to Chicago’s firepower on offense. Vucevic, who was questionable with an illness before the game, scored 17 points and grabbed eight boards.
Patrick Williams once again had a quiet night on offense with only four points and took just three attempts from the field. Williams did have a pair of highlight-reel blocks, but he simply needs to be more ready to do more offensively when given the opportunity.
Billy Donovan stuck with nine guys in this game, playing only four guys off the bench. Alex Caruso had eight points and was active all night defensively, coming up with four steals, including one huge one late in the game. Troy Brown Jr. led the reserves in scoring with 11 points, going 5-of-9 from the field. Javonte Green played 13 minutes and scored two points but did add three rebounds. Alize Johnson scored six points but only had two boards as Chicago got smoked on the boards, 48-28.
The Raptors had all five starters score in double figures, led by the 22 of Anunoby. Illinois native Fred VanVleet had a double-double of 15 points and 17 assists while giving Chicago’s defense fits in the second half, though the Bulls did force him into eight turnovers. Gary Trent Jr. had 18 points with four makes from 3-point land. Khem Birch had 11 points off the bench for Toronto and logged the most minutes out of the reserves.
This was almost a really rough loss for the Bulls. Thanks to DeRozan’s late-game heroics, they were still able to pull out the big win. A victory is a victory, but the performance in the fourth quarter left much to be desired, which LaVine acknowledged immediately on the court after the buzzer sounded. With the schedule really ramping up over the next month, Chicago is going to have to step up in terms of performance.
The next game should be a fun one. It will be Joakim Noah night at the UC as the Bulls welcome the New York Knicks into town on Thursday night. Get your popcorn ready.