On the second night of a back-to-back, the new-look Toronto Raptors played with an exceptional effort level yet again, as they defeated the Chicago Bulls 99-77. The Raptors now sit at 9-13 on the season (and 3-1 since making the Rudy Gay trade) after tonight’s win in Chicago. There’s plenty of positives to take away from this one— despite the fact that some may have preferred a losing outcome for “tanking” purposes.
Who would’ve thought “amazing ball movement” and “Toronto Raptors” would be used in the same sentence, factoring in the way that things have gone so far this year? I’d assume not very many people. Tonight’s concerted effort to spread the ball around has to be applauded. I know that tonight’s game was against a Bulls team that is going through a rough time, but the post-trade Raptors may actually be a more balanced, dare I say, better team than their predecessor. Toronto’s balanced scoring effort in the 22-point win was fueled by a season-high 26 team assists. Against the defensive-minded Bulls, the Raptors knack for giving up bad shots in exchange for good ones was what pushed the team to victory.
Kyle Lowry led the way in the scoring department with 16 points, but what’s more important is that the inside-out style of play was emphasized by the team. Isolation sets followed by late shot clock heaves from 20 feet out were more exception than norm in this game. Jonas Valanciunas is getting his touches now, and it’s a beautiful thing to see. The big man finished the game with 15 points on 11 shots, and he was the beneficiary of numerous post-up plays and several pick-and-rolls. This simply was not happening before the trade that occurred last week. Greivis Vasquez looked exceptional in his bench role as well— really looking to set up the bigs on the floor whenever he could. In watching this game, one could notice the chemistry developing between Vasquez and the players who make a living in the paint. Amir Johnson really benefited from Vasquez’s presence on the floor— as he received a flurry of passes from the point guard, which helped him on his way to 14 points tonight. Hopefully this continues. This is what the Raptors have lacked since Jose Calderon left town nearly a year ago.
Masterful effort on this side of the floor tonight. Again, I’m aware that Toronto played a Chicago team with more questions than answers right now, but still— the Raptors gave arguably their best defensive performance of the year in this matchup. Raptor-killer Carlos Boozer was absolutely horrid from the field for the now 9-13 Bulls, as he only managed to hit 4 of his 18 shot attempts. As a team, the Bulls shot a dismal 36% in their 77-point effort against Toronto. The Raptors also forced 15 turnovers against a team that is greatly missing the days where Derrick Rose could play without fear of injury, or better yet play at all.
The communication was quite amazing tonight too. Players rotated when their teammates lost the opponent they were defending, and Chicago was constantly pressured into taking shots they seemed uncomfortable in hoisting up. Amid all the talk of throwing away the season, Toronto hustled for loose balls, blocked 11 shots, and played at a level higher than a struggling Chicago team.
The 43-41 battle on the boards went Toronto’s way in this one too. Joakim Noah brought his usual workhorse effort in tonight’s matchup, pulling down a game high 12 rebounds, but Valanciunas combated this with 11 rebounds of his own. Amir Johnson was solid on the glass as well with his 8 rebounds. One minor gripe with the Raptors performance in this aspect of the game during tonight’s matchup was the 10 offensive rebounds they allowed the Bulls to grab, but fortunately Toronto’s defense stood strong and stopped Chicago from taking advantage of second chance opportunities.
The Lithuanian center had one of his more solid outings of the season thus far in this second half of a back-to-back set. In 31 minutes of PT, Valanciunas got himself a double-double of 15 and 11, got to the charity stripe four times, and swatted four shots. With team making more of an effort to keep JVal involved, the big man should have more games like this in the future.