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What do you get when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
A 104-98 basketball game in the year 2023.
That’s not to say the Raptors are an unstoppable force and the Bulls are certainly not an immovable object, but their strengths do clash.
Bulls strengths: getting to the free throw line, defensive rebounding, not turning the ball over.
Raptors strengths: not fouling, offensive rebounding, forcing turnovers.
Something had to give.
What gave, in Tuesday night’s 104-98 loss to the Toronto Raptors, was the Bulls. They completely fell victim to the Raptors’ suffocating defense and couldn’t calm themselves down. The Raptors strengths were stronger than the Bulls strengths. And that translated to 15 points on 19 offensive rebounds, 19 Bulls turnovers and 17 free throw attempts compared to the Raptors 19.
The Bulls are tied for the sixth best defense in the league this year, and are first since January 1. The Bulls did their job again against the Raptors holding them to 102 points, a lowly 110.6 offensive rating. Pascal Siakam went 7-of-18 for 20 points, Fred VanVleet went 1-of-11 for three points and Scottie Barnes went 4-of-12 for 11 points.
The Raptors are a miserable half court offense, but the Bulls held their primary options well below their averages. That’s what you want to see from the defense.
But as well as they’ve played on that end, the offense continues to be a complete nightmare.
Nikola Vucevic (23 points, 9-of-14 shooting, 4-of-6 threes, seven rebounds, four assists) was the closest thing to an offensive hub with Zach LaVine (17 points, 6-of-12 shooting, 1-of-5 threes, 4-of-4 free throws) struggling to get his offense going, and DeMar DeRozan (13 points, 5-of-11 shooting, 3-of-5 threes) succumbing to the swarm of length, strength, athleticism, activity and physicality.
Given the Bulls lack of three-point shooting, they have to get those things right if they want to give themselves a chance. It’s nearly impossible to win games when you score only 98 points.
More, the Raptors pushed all the right buttons. Forcing Vucevic onto the perimeter to defend Siakam isolations removed the Bulls lone defensive rebounding presence from the paint and forced the lineup of LaVine, DeRozan, Patrick Beverley and Alex Caruso to hold the Raptors farel offensive rebounders off the glass.
Spoiler: they could not.
The Raptors now own the first and third highest offensive rebounding performances against the Bulls, 23 on November 6th and 19 on Tuesday night.
The Bulls have re-oriented their direction closer to being “on track” with good wins against Brooklyn and Washington coming out of the break. Tuesday night’s 104-98 loss to the Toronto Raptors was a good reminder that they aren’t quite there yet.
Play in drama
With a Bulls loss and a Pacers, Raptors and Wizards win, the Bulls play in positioning is getting more precarious by the day. Surely, a lot can change with 20 games remaining in the season, but the aforementioned teams aren’t going anywhere. The Hawks can’t seem to get themselves sorted out in the midst of a late-season coaching hire. Even the Orlando Magic are making a push.
This thing could come down to the wire.
To keep you up to date, here are the criteria for what determines the winner of a tiebreaker, should the Bulls finish with the same record as any other teams.
- Head-to-head record
- Division record (Only if the teams are in the same division)
- Conference record
- Winning percentage against playoff teams in its own conference
- Winning percentage against playoff teams in the opposing conference
- Point differential in all games
If three or more teams tie, any division leaders are given higher seeds regardless of any other criteria.
With that in mind, here’s a matrix of where the Bulls stand in terms of tiebreak criteria against the other teams in the race for the 9th and 10th spots.
Losing tough (dumb) games to the Magic and Pacers hasn’t bitten the Bulls yet, but it surely could. After a good win against the Wizards, they secured the tie break for that matchup, but lose the tiebreaker against the Raptors with Tuesday night’s loss. They still have games against the Pacers (March 5) and the Hawks (April 4) to go, which loom large.
Up next: The Bulls will get their first look at Kevin Durant’s Suns on Friday night. Gulp.
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