The Bulls live to fight another day.
Trailing by 11 at the half and as many as 19 on the night, the Bulls pulled off an improbable comeback in hostile territory, finishing off the Raptors season with a 109-105 Play-In Tournament win on Wednesday night.
The first half was not pretty. The Raptors were aggressive from the jump, gobbling up offensive rebounds, forcing the Bulls into mistakes and missed shots, and making everything from beyond the arc. It was Toronto’s recipe for success.
But credit to the Bulls for sticking to their game plan, trusting the process and slowly getting themselves back into the game.
As predicted, the Raptors tried to hack their way into points on steals and offensive rebounds, but when those sources of offense dried up, the Bulls got stops and had the half-court shot creation juice to close out.
Zach LaVine (39 points) was outrageously good. DeMar DeRozan (23 points) made the right plays. Nikola Vucevic (14 points, 13 rebounds) and Patrick Williams (10 points) supplied scoring support while Alex Caruso and Pat Beverley did their usual menacing on defense.
Here are my takeaways from the game:
Amping up the defense after going down big
The Bulls’ defense is designed to prevent opponents from taking shots at the rim. However, when the team struggles to execute this game plan, everything collapses. Opponents can easily score layups or kick out to open shooters, leading to significant deficits at halftime.
In the first half, the Bulls struggled to contain Fred VanVleet’s penetration and Pascal Siakam’s mid-range game. However, the team tightened up their defense in the second half. As a result, they limited the Raptors to just 40.5 percent shooting from the field, 3-of-12 from beyond the arc, and 10-of-22 from the free throw line. Additionally, the Bulls forced 14 turnovers, nine of which occurred in the second half.
Williams (10 points) had two steals and two blocks and was pressuring Siakam into turnovers and contested shots. Caruso (nine points) had three blocks and three steals and was even more locked in than he typically is.
Credit to the Bulls defense for getting out to contest shooters or just swallowing up the drive and forcing turnovers before the spray-out pass could happen. The Raptors turned the ball over nine times in the second half, on six steals and four Bulls blocks. They also shot just 3-of-12 on threes compared to 8-of-19 in the first half.
Zach LaVine statement game
LaVine just showed up in a huge way in the most important game of his career.
It sounds hyperbolic, but is it? Having played in just four playoff games last year, never scoring more than 24 points, LaVine hasn’t had many high-leverage matchups to this point.
In a do-or-die scenario, LaVine put up 39 points (30 in the second half) on 12-of-22 shooting, including two threes, and 13-of-15 free throws. After starting the game with a few bad turnovers, LaVine went absolutely nuclear, putting his head down and getting to the basket at will. His 15 free throw attempts match the second-highest of his career. His 13 made free throws are the second-highest of his career.
After chipping away at the Raptors lead with layup and free throw after layup and free throw, he put his stamp on the comeback with a pull up three in transition.
Given his few opportunities to show out in meaningful basketball games, this was an awesome performance for LaVine.
Shoutout to Jason Patt and Ricky O’Donnell who addressed this on their podcast, Cash Considerations. LaVine needed a signature game, and he gave us one.
Diar DeRozan, goon of the night
The real winner of this game is Diar DeRozan, DeMar’s daughter, whose piercing screams sent shivers down the spine of the Raptors free throw shooters.
During the game, Matt Peck was driven crazy by the yelling.
Then we found out who it was coming from.
The Raptors finished 18-of-36 at the line, only 50 percent. Over the last 20 seasons, only 11 other times has a team shot 50 percent or worse on 36 or more free throws. Truly incredible.
All because of Diar DeRozan.
“She went viral,” DeRozan said. “I haven’t let it soak in yet. But that’s her. I kept hearing something during the game and somebody missed and I looked back and I was like ‘Damn, that’s my daughter screaming?'”
DeRozan said his daughter (school) won’t travel with the team to Miami…but the game is on Friday night … Let’s make this happen.
The Bulls head to Miami to face the Heat on Friday in the second play-in game. The winner will face the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the Playoffs.