The Bulls continued their dominance over the Toronto Raptors Monday night. Playing without Mike Dunleavy, Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol, Chicago extended its winning streak against the Raps to nine games and are now gunning for the seven seed.
Doug McDermott was shooting molten lava from his fingertips in the first half of this game. McDermott went into halftime with 24 points on 7/7 shooting, making all three of his triples and 7/8 of his free throws. This wasn’t the first time Doug has shredded the Raptors this year, but unlike the previous game, I don’t think Toronto’s defense was all that bad. McDermott connected on a few contested threes that were taken well beyond the arc and got several kind rolls on his patented flip shot off the dribble. McDermott finished the game with a team-high 29 points.
Jimmy Butler made his second attempt at returning from last month’s knee injury. Butler did not have a great night shooting the ball, making just 5/18 of his field goals. While the percentage isn’t great, he shouldered the load for a team lacking options in the shot creation department.
Butler didn’t have much touch on his shot, but his feel for the game was not an issue. Jimmy finished the game with six assists and zero turnovers in 34 minutes of play.
34 minutes sound familiar? The Bulls just refuse to learn from their mistakes with handling injuries. Fred Hoiberg seemed interested in limiting his shooting guard’s minutes in the first half, yanking him with five minutes left in the first and second quarters. But Fred ended up putting Butler back in to finish the first half, and rode him hard in the second, including all twelve minutes in the fourth quarter.
The Bulls nearly collapsed in the last five minutes of this game as the team abandoned the offensive principles that had put them in a position to win. Butler, perhaps dealing with fatigue, grinded the offense to a halt down the stretch. I don’t have a problem with the Bulls trying to work the full 24 seconds of the shot clock when time is on their side. I do have a problem with the team walking up the ball not getting into any type of offense until half the shot clock has ticked away. Way too many unimaginative isolations led to the Bulls being outscored by six points in the final four minutes.
Thankfully the Bulls had built up enough of a lead that their late game collapse was not big enough to sink them. E’Twaun Moore filled in admirably for Rose in the starting lineup, scoring 17 points on 8/11 shooting. Moore chipped in four assists, grabbed four rebounds and did his best to slow down All-Star Kyle Lowry. E’Twaun has an unorthodox shooting stroke, but he was letting it fly with confidence against Toronto. Moore scored on 5/7 shots taken outside the paint, benefiting from clean looks generated by smart passing and cutting.
Nikola Mirotic chipped in 17 points of his own in his return to the starting lineup. Nikola made a few mental mistakes in the final minutes, turning the ball over once and then nearly turning it over a minute later, but for the majority of the game he was playing with the decisiveness that typically results in his success. Mirotic was 3/8 from three point range and provided valuable spacing for a team in severe need of it.
McDermott had the big game, but it was Justin Holiday who got the start in place of Dunleavy. Holiday found himself in early foul trouble, but he finished 2/4 from the field and was a team high +13 in just 14 minutes.
Taj Gibson finished with a double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Taj logged a crucial 34 minutes as the only credible deterrent at the rim to play Monday night.
The Bulls got lucky when the Raptors lost Jonas Valanciunas to injury in the first quarter. The Lithuanian center was 3/3 before hurting something in his wrist and was going to be a huge issue for the undersized Bulls.
I really like when the Raptors play Kyle Lowry, Cory Joseph and DeMar DeRozan together. Very few teams have a combination of size and skill to punish the Raptors when they trot out this trio. The Raptors are not flush with shooters, but having three players share the floor able to drive, dish or finish inside creates spacing for the offense in a nontraditional way.
Coming up: the Bulls take on Washington tomorrow night.
Jimmy Butler refused to let the Bulls winning streak come to an end Sunday afternoon. After a quiet first half that Butler was forced to leave early after splitting his lip, Jimmy scratched and clawed his way to a big 115-113 win against Toronto.
Butler was just 1/4 from the field going into halftime, but finished the game with 42 points, shooting 15/23. Jimmy did most of his damage from all around the court, finishing off cuts and drives and knocking down shots from both sides of the floor. Butler did not shoot a three pointer until the fourth quarter, where he promptly knocked down two of his three attempts.
Butler’s hot shooting was great to see, but his aggression going to the hoop was what I enjoyed most about this performance. Butler shot a game high 11 free throws in this game, a clear indication of his willingness to challenge defenders in the paint. Butler has been very efficient from midrange this season, but it’s important to avoid falling in love with the shot. Games like today that feature double digit free throw attempts are very encouraging.
Before this recent run of great play, a lot was being made of Jimmy’s leadership skills and whether he was rubbing his teammates the wrong way. Butler has unquestionably changed the way he’s played on the court and his growing responsibility to carry the offense, along with his big contract, had reportedly altered his personality. But after watching their superstar carry the team to victory, the Bulls made it clear that all is well inside the locker room.
Butler didn’t win this game completely on his own. Pau Gasol’s 19 points, and six assists were instrumental in keeping the offense afloat in a game that was painfully short on bench contributions. His 13 rebounds and four blocked shots were crucial in slowing down one of the most aggressive offensive attacks in the league.
Nikola Mirotic chipped in 17 points of his own, knocking down 3/6 of his three point attempts. Toronto dared the struggling sophomore to shoot from deep, where he’s only connected on 34% of his shots. Hopefully solid performances like these will force defenses to respect him more from deep, opening up the floor for his teammates and giving his patented pump fake some much needed credibility.
Kyle Lowry’s 22 points and 10 assists look nice on a box score, but the former All-Star needed 22 field goal attempts to reach that point total. Lowry was hassled all game by Butler and E’Twaun Moore, who led the bench in plus/minus Sunday at +6.
The win against Toronto pulls the Bulls into sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference, and gives them a 2-0 lead in the season series against their conference foe.
I feel like I should begin by giving some credit to those who made the trek to the United Center tonight even in what has been one of the worst winter storms we’ve seen in a while. Those in attendance were treated to a bit of a pleasant surprise of a win, as the Bulls came out victorious, 104-97 and improving to 17-12.
The first quarter got off to a very slow start, as the Bulls went down by nine to start the game, and could not slow a scorching Luis Scola, who started the game 6/6 from the field. From there, it was the surprising energy of Aaron Brooks and Bobby Portis that put the Bulls back in this game. Brooks and Portis combined for 17 of the 26 points the Bulls scored in the second quarter, and as the game progressed, Tony Snell provided a surprising burst of energy as well. Snell went on to lead the scoring with 22.
Is this a return to the “bench mob”? For years, the Bulls were known for a deep bench that could keep them in nearly any game and step up when the starters were off the court or injured, and for possibly the first time this season, we saw them up to their old ways. As mentioned previously, the offense was very much driven by Portis, Brooks, and Snell. This “line,” to borrow a hockey term, won great affection for their play tonight, even earning a nickname: The PBS Line:
If the Bulls were a hockey team, they'd be praising their PBS Telethon line (Portis-Brooks-Snell).
The play of these bench players was especially important, as Jimmy Butler was clearly not his best self. He scored just 5 points against the Raptors and had a +/- of -8 for the night. He’s been on a bit of a rough stretch in that regard, posting a +/- in the positive range just once in his last six games.
Butler is playing like he's just kind of out of gas tonight. 1/6 from the field. Not as active as usual.
Derrick Rose had his second straight excellent game, offering some more encouragement going forward. He finished 7/16 for 20 points and four assists. Two aspects of his night stood out in particular: knocking down 3/5 big three point shots and soundly blocking Kyle Lowry on defense.
The role for Bobby Portis. After a pretty impressive night (12 points, nine rebounds, two assists, +16), the question turns to where Portis will fit in the rotation with the Bulls. He has been somewhat inconsistent in his limited appearances so far, but he has shown the energy and potential for flashes of brilliance like he did tonight. It seems likely that his increase in minutes tonight came largely from his play in the second quarter. He spent 27 minutes on the floor tonight, his most so far this season, and the most since playing 23 against the Knicks over a week ago. If he can continue to provide the kind of energy that he did tonight, he will force his way on to the floor with more and more PT.
Doug McDermott was a late scratch for the night, with soreness in his right knee. He left the game on December 19 against the Knicks with the same problem, but he had played in the three games since then. It doesn’t appear to be serious, but as this is the knee that he had surgery on a year ago, this is something to keep an eye on.
Can I bag on Pau Gasol a bit? He may have tied for the lead among scorers with 22 tonight, but he had a +/- of -4 and at times looked lethargic and even downright indifferent. For instance, on a sequence near the end of the second quarter, Gasol was on the receiving end of a pass that he was not prepared for, which allowed the ball to get stolen and taken to the other end for a dunk. And then, he only continued by loafing back on offense after not even attempting to head to the other end following the turnover. On the return, he took the first shot and missed an easy jumper. Perhaps I’m being overly harsh, but although Gasol can usually score with regularity (he’s scored below double digits just three times all season), it might be that his age is beginning to show. If Portis can continue to show the kind of play that he did tonight, Gasol might benefit from increased breaks on the bench.
Kyle Lowry is having another All-Star season and was easily Toronto’s best player on Monday. He had 28 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals on efficient shooting. The Raptors were +12 in his 40 minutes and -19 in the eight he sat.
Coming up: the Bulls will stay at home to face the Indiana Pacers, who are 2-2 in their last week of play.