In the saddening end to a six-game winning streak, the Toronto Raptors fell to their Eastern Conference rival Chicago Bulls 129-120 at the United Center. Despite strong performances from Jonas Valanciunas and Kyle Lowry, the visiting squad fell cold in the second half and could not stave off a surging Bulls team. The season’s third battle between conference heavyweights came down to poor shooting and lack of execution down the stretch on Toronto’s part. Lowry notched 34 points on 12-22 shooting while JV added 20 points and nine rebounds. The Bulls proved their legitimacy through impressing outings from the emerging tandem of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. The young guards combined for 35 points which proved crucial for their team’s victory. It was simply another night of promising basketball through 36 minutes and a final quarter of disappointment, Chalk it up to whatever you like- biased officiating, the absence of Demar DeRozan or weak offensive strategies. In the end, the Raps themselves are to blame for this loss and look ahead to the remaining five games on their road trip. The team is now 22- 7 on the season and still sits atop the Eastern Conference standings. Let’s get into our post-game report card.
As mentioned before, Toronto came off to a solid start on the offensive end of the floor. Valanciunas made a living off the deep-post hook shot against Pau Gasol and majorly contributed to his team’s 66-60 halftime lead. Lowry put on a tremendous shooting performance as per usual. James Johnson added 12 points in 16 minutes while Terrence Ross 12 points on 4-4 shooting from beyond the arc. So what was the problem on offense tonight? To put it briefly, puzzling shot selection and a gap in bench scoring were key contributors to Toronto’s loss. The Raptors headed into the final frame with an 83-80 advantage. However, despite a monstrous 18-point effort in from Lowry in the fourth, nobody else was able to aid in maintaining the lead. Chicago’s bench outscored Toronto’s 42-31 for the game. The visiting team’s label “We The Fourth” is beginning to fade, especially in outings against the NBA’s elite. Additionally, the Raps shot just 1-9 from three point range in the fourth quarter. It became a showing of frantic desperation rather than strategic competition- we all expect better from the best team in the East.
While Toronto’s offense was undoubtedly disappointing in the closing minutes, its defense was even more bewildering. Why?
The 49 points by the Bulls in the 4th is the most by a Raptors opponent in any quarter. Old: 46, 3rd, vs. Phoenix, 1/30/05.
— RaptorsMR (@RaptorsMR) December 23, 2014
Absolutely inexcusable. Sure, defensive specialist Landry Fields sat out, but that gives little justification to the surrender of 49 points in 12 minutes to any team in the NBA. Rose continually exploded to the basket with minimal difficulty. Noah recorded nine points on 2-2 shooting. There is no question that coach Dwane Casey is furious after this dismal performance on the defensive end. Look for significant improvement in the coming games.
The Bulls won the battle of the boards 41-37 tonight. Notable contributors include Gasol and Jimmy Butler, who combined for 20 boards. On the Canadian end, JV pulled down four offensive rebounds and key reserve Patrick Patterson had nine total. Rebounding wasn’t a huge area of concern during this one. Overall it was great performances from Valanciunas and Patterson on the glass that kept the teams close.
Game Ball: Jonas Valanciunas
I know it’s standard protocol to award the game ball to the best player on the winning side. But tonight, “Big Science” deserves this prestigious recognition for his incredible start and post dominance. It’s what Raptor fans have been waiting to see since the day he was drafted, and hopefully we see games like this on a regular basis.
Closing comments: The Raps head into Christmas as the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference and Atlantic Divsion. What else could you ask Santa for?
On behalf of everyone here at Raptors Cage, have a great holiday season and a happy new year!