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How the Bulls put themselves in position for the Raptors to blow that game
Some highlights and notable performances beyond an epic opponent choke-job
Well, not the free throw shooting, that was truly bizarre. And it truly was a different game after the Bulls went down 19 three minutes into the second half.
But ultimately the Raptors only hit 11 threes in this game (2 after the lead reached its apex). The Bulls had even fewer, with 7 three-point makes…and they won.
Beat them at their own game - possessions
They won because they did not lose the possession battle, against a Toronto group that was pretty elite at it. The Raptors were league-best at forcing turnovers from their opponents, yet the Bulls - despite a few extra frustrating unforced errors like stepping out of bounds - only turned it over on 9.5% of their possessions. That’d be a mark number one in the league, with the regular season league leader being…the Raptors. They did their average when it came to their own offensive turnovers when looking at this single game versus their Poeltl-era play.
But in the collapse (again, from 9:07 onwards) the Raps had 9 turnovers.
When it came to the other big possession-gaining advantage the Raptors were looking to press in this game, offensive rebounds, that played out. 36.4% Offensive Rebound percentage for Toronto.
But because the turnovers were not being forced, it meant fewer shots for the Raptors offense and more importantly fewer transition opportunities, making them use their awful half-court offense.
Alex Caruso da deflection gawd
The Bulls defense was great in this game, as even though their team was noticeably shorter than their counterparts it was still effective. So you had several times where Pascal Siakam or Scottie Barnes would literally shoot over a smaller Bull, and as mentioned above they dominated the offensive glass, but that looked worse than it was.
It was a team effort. Nikola Vucevic did well not getting beat when switched out on Fred VanVleet. Patrick Williams was a menace at the point of attack on the big Toronto forwards. DeMar DeRozan had 2 blocks(?). Patrick Beverley was ABYSMAL to start the game but had some key defensive plays in the big comeback.
But it started and was led by Alex Caruso.
Listen, I don’t like the overall aesthetics (as it’s less skilled and relies on referee interpretation too much) but it’s so effective. It’s almost alarming how much of the Bulls success relies on Caruso running into opponents trying to play basketball.
Caruso was a huge help in keeping the Bulls alive in the first half, even while Toronto was, as predicted, ignoring him on offense.
Then he was on the floor for much of that huge 2nd half comeback, playing two long stints including the final ten and a half minutes of the game. He came into this game nursing a foot injury that didn’t seem to bother him, even after taking a shot to the legs (unclear what exactly) early in the game.
Despite my inherent misgivings about fully embracing his style, I can admit Alex Caruso is clearly above and beyond some corny floor-slapper. He also offered this truly badass quote post-game:
"I compete at a high level. This is kind of my time of year. This is why I play basketball in the NBA, for games late in the year where details and discipline matter. I just didn't want to lose. When you have that edge, you tend to make plays."
Bulls bench had two guys, which beat Toronto’s zero guys
Bulls technically played ten different players in the game, but only Patrick Williams and Coby White were real contributors. I mentioned PWill’s defense, but he also shook off some early misses and stayed shooting to go 2-5 for 5 points in the comeback.
Coby, weirdly, didn’t score at all in the comeback. But he was the main reason offensively that the Bulls weren’t down 25-30 points early in this game. First half, Coby was perfect from the field, 4-4, for 9 points and 3 assists.
Meanwhile, the Raptors bench, which had been mostly ignored by their own head coach all season, unsurprisingly did not show up out of nowhere in this critical game. 4 players combined to go 3-13 from the field for 8 points total. Gary Trent Jr. missed all 5 three point attempts he took. He’s going to be a free agent this summer, it’ll be interesting to see if he gets a bigger contract than Coby.
A ‘signature’ Zach LaVine game, until they actually won it
No, a play-in game against the Trashtors will not be any kind of referendum on Zach LaVine’s career or his level of NBA star.
As I said in the quick recap, being brutal until the Bulls are hopelessly out of it is not new for LaVine. The difference here in this game was that the rally wasn’t “fake”, because the Raptors were choking all night, first failing to press the lead then giving it up at the end. If they were not the Trashtors, the Bulls were buried and LaVine’s performance would’ve been too late.
BUT, what was new for LaVine in this game was that he didn’t melt down in the clutch himself. Final five minutes, LaVine went 2-4 for 6 points, only one headscratch-inducing shot choice, and zero turnovers to 1 assist.
And it wasn’t because he just went on a lucky heater. In the 19 minutes that constituted this Bulls comeback, LaVine went to the free throw line THIRTEEN times. The Raptors have long defenders, but they could not stay in front of him, especially in transition situations.
You would be able to see a convenient highlight below, but Twitter embedding is blocked. Link instead.
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