The Toronto Raptors overcame a shaky fourth quarter to defeat the Chicago Bulls 119-114 at home on Tuesday night.
Jonas Valanciunas scored 21 points to go along with 10 rebounds, DeMar DeRozan finished with 24 points, four rebounds, and four assists, and Kyle Lowry was steady with 17 points, six rebounds, and six assists.
The usual suspects were good, but the bench was the catalyst of a second quarter run that ensured their stumbles in the final period weren’t fatal.
First, Delon Wright surveyed the floor from the weak side. Lucas Nogueira came over to set a screen as C.J. Miles, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet waited their turn to set the play in motion. As Wright rejected the Nogueira screen and cannoned towards the basket, VanVleet displaced Siakam from the arc elbow while the Cameroonian slipped towards the basket. Bobby Portis paid no attention to the action between the two men, choosing instead to keep his eyes on the ball. Before he knew it, said ball was served on a platter to Siakam for a lay-in.
On their very next offensive possession, the Raptors ran similar actions off the ball, with OG Anunoby having entered the game for Siakam, and Wright now receiving the ball from Nogueira courtesy of a screen hand-off. The Brazilian set the perfect roadblock, forcing two Chicago defenders to collapse onto him, and leaving Wright two open choices to fire away from deep. Anunoby obliged from the corner.
Wright furthered the advantage with an and-1 followed by a three-pointer from the corner to push the lead to 44-32. With the momentum firmly secured, the starters built on the advantage, for a change, and took a 67-47 lead into the halftime break.
The Raptors led by as many as 19 with under 10 minutes remaining in the game, and arguably coasted the rest of the way when the Bulls mounted their run. Chicago is now 2-7 in the early season, and for all their effort, they just lack the NBA-caliber talent and experience required to compete with teams in the upper echelon of the league.
Portis gives them a slight boost on that front has he returned after serving a suspension for fighting teammate Nikola Mirotic. He made a stellar start to his season with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, 13 rebounds, and four assists.
For all the talent across the Raptors roster, it’s evident through the opening 10 games that the skill of outside shooting is sorely lacking. Currently second-worst in the NBA in three-point percentage, the law of averages worked in their favour on this night as they finished 13-for-25 from deep.
Surprisingly, Valanciunas and DeRozan combined to go a perfect 3-for-3.
Valanciunas will have his work more than cut out for him on Thursday night, when the Raptors take on Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, and the New Orleans Pelicans.