CHICAGO — “Where’s Jordan when we need him,” asked a Bulls fan seated close to press row late in Toronto’s 122-83 blowout on Saturday night.
Even Air Jordan might not have been able to keep this one close as a short-handed, but determined group of Raptors avoided losing four straight games for the first time in nearly two full years.
Kawhi Leonard was rested, OG Anunoby, C.J. Miles and Norman Powell were injured and Kyle Lowry left in the third quarter with an ankle injury, but Toronto was never threatened by a Chicago team missing top players Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen, as well as other key players. A 13-point halftime edge ballooned thanks to a 9-0 Raptors run to start the third quarter spurred by Serge Ibaka’s shot-blocking and scoring.
It was the fourth-largest margin of victory in a win in franchise history.
A night after allowing Boston to go off for that team’s season high for field goal percentage, Toronto held the Bulls to just 33% shooting while shooting better than 50% themselves. Toronto played all 12 dressed players, including Montreal’s Chris Boucher who has been dominant for Raptors 905 of the G League.
Illinois native Fred VanVleet broke out for 18 points, Danny Green had 17, hitting all seven of his shot attempts, Ibaka had 16, Pascal Siakam 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists. No Chicago player scored more than 12 points.
FRED GETS GOING
Fred VanVleet drew the start with so many wings absent, shifting Danny Green to small forward.
“Here’s what I’m hoping: Freddie hasn’t been playing up to his standards, so we’re hoping maybe this start will give him a little shot in the arm and get him going a little bit,” Nurse had explained pre-game.
That’s exactly what happened in the first quarter, when VanVleet scored eight points in the first nine minutes.
“He’s a tremendous player, he’s been battling a bunch of little niggling things, but he’s super tough and wants to get out there,” Nurse said.
In Boston Nurse had said the ailments were preventing VanVleet from playing the way he’d like to.
VanVleet finished with a season-best 18 points in his first NBA start (not including the playoffs).
THE GREAT DEBATE
Isolation basketball is ugly, it’s usually boring and it defeats the purpose of the game — to work as a team in order to score baskets.
Yet it’s still what teams with superstars tend to do in crunch time and it’s what the Raptors, like the rest of the league, appear hell-bent on continuing with moving forward. Give the ball to Kawhi and get out of the way.
So far they’re 0-for-2 with the strategy. It didn’t work so well when DeMar DeRozan was the beneficiary of Dwane Casey’s calls either. On the final play in Boston everybody in the building knew what was coming, in part because Kyle Lowry walked from centre court to the corner with his head bowed, totally out of the play.
Nurse said making sure Toronto gets the last shot and doesn’t give the opponent any chance to win the game is the key.
“It’s just man on man and you hope your guy can make the basket and we have a lot of faith in him that he can,” Nurse said.
Green certainly didn’t have a problem with it.
“It’s a pretty damn good shot if you ask me, depending on who you’re isolating,” Green said.
“We have a guy who is very good at it. Whether it’s coming off a screen or not, he’s isolated and he got a good look at it. We’ll live with those chances.” As we’ve said here before, and granted we aren’t NBA head coach, so what do we know? If you want to go the safe route and go ISO with a great player like Leonard, at least get a bit of movement or action before the play instead of having everybody standing around.
Toronto improved to 4-0 in the second games of back-to-backs this season, an uncommonly strong record in those tough contests.
“We think we’re pretty deep. We’ve been tested on our depth when we have three, four guys out. But other teams have that, too. Look at these guys. There are teams that have (players) out to. There are no excuses. You have 17 players, and they’re all NBA players, and you’ve got to try to get them to play good when they go out there.”
AROUND THE RIM OG
Anunoby sat out for precautionary reasons after spraining his wrist on a fall a night earlier. It’s the same right wrist Anunoby broke in high school, but he said he’s fine. Nurse expects Anunoby to return for Tuesday’s game in Orlando. C.J. Miles said his status will be determined after Monday’s practice and Tuesday’s shootaorund …A few more things from the Boston game: That was the best the Celtics have shot from the floor this season; That was Kyrie Irving’s first career 40-point, 10-assist performance and he could have had about 15 helpers had his teammates not bricked a boatload of first half chances. No Celtic player had posted 40 and 10 numbers since 2001. It was the first time Leonard has lost a game against Boston in his career.