10 observations: DeRozan, LaVine, Vučević lead win over Raptors

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10 observations: Bulls’ Big 3 leads win over Raptors originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bulls won’t want to make a habit of turning big early-game leads in down-to-the-wire finishes.

But Wednesday’s 111-105 win over the Toronto Raptors – in a makeup game for one postponed due to COVID-19 earlier in the season – is one they’ll take and run. The result moves the Bulls to 30-17 on the season, and keeps them within half a game of the Miami Heat for the Eastern Conference’s top seed.

Here are 10 observations:

1. The Bulls got off to a torrid offensive start, making their first eight field-goal attempts, and assisting on their first 11 makes. They finished the first quarter with 31 points, and shooting 66.7 percent, but five turnovers – and five Raptors 3s – helped Toronto trim a 14-point deficit to four entering the second.

2. By halftime, the Bulls’ advantage swelled to 67-50, the shooting percentage had dipped only to 62.2 percent, and they had 22 assists on 28 made field goals. And the beauty was, that shooting percentage featured only 4-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. With cuts (leading to 44 points in the paint), transition run-outs (leading to nine fastbreak points) and crisp passing, the Bulls diced up a Raptors defense that entered play 20th in defensive rating – but second in opponent turnover rate.

3. In that half, the Bulls’ “Big Three” of DeMar DeRozan (21 points, four assists, four rebounds), Zach LaVine (14 points, six assists, seven rebounds) and Nikola Vučević (10 points, six assists, 10 rebounds) combined for 45 points, 16 assists and 21 rebounds on cumulative 19-for-27 shooting. A recipe for success, though Vučević and LaVine’s respective triple-double watches didn’t ultimately come to fruition.

4. But the Raptors’ impressive length and physicality caught up as the game wore on. They won the third quarter 32-24, forcing six Bulls turnovers, scoring 10 fastbreak points, and slicing their 17-point halftime deficit to nine entering the fourth.

Toronto forced three more turnovers in the final frame, at one point holding the Bulls scoreless over a three-minute stretch from 7:06 to 3:07, and eventually taking their only lead of the game on an OG Anunoby dunk with 3:11 to play.

5. While that aforementioned “Big “Three” wasn’t infallible down the stretch, they carried the Bulls home. After Anunoby’s dunk, LaVine immediately drove and finished a layup through contact for an old fashioned three-point play; then, after a Gary Trent Jr. miss, DeRozan drew free throws to put the Bulls ahead 107-103. A handful of strained possessions later, Vučević dealt the final blow with an off-one-dribble 3 to make the score 111-105 with 13.9 seconds left.

“Those are the shots, when you grow up and dream of playing basketball at a high level, those are the shots you dream of,” Vučević said. “It felt good to make it.”

DeRozan finished with 29 points, seven rebounds and seven assists; LaVine 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists; and Vučević 17 points, 15 rebounds (his 25th double-double) and eight assists. Add that they shot a balanced 11-for-19 (DeRozan), 9-for-16 (LaVine) and 8-for-11 (Vučević), respectively, and combined for 23 assists, and it was one of their best combined efforts of the season.

6. A win is a win, and the Bulls, having lost seven of their last 10 entering play, can’t afford to be picky as they brace for an extended, severely shorthanded stretch. But it’s the second game in a row they’ve built a double-digit lead and watched it drip away in the second half. Discombobulation in the face of ball pressure was a common theme of both affairs.

“A lot of times when that happens, it's hard to get into anything (offensively), and then next thing you know you're up against the (shot) clock and you're taking really difficult challenged shots. We've gotta be able to be better,” Donovan said. “One of the things we didn't do a good enough job is, I think when teams pick up like that, there is no offense. Just go. Just attack it and go and touch the paint and generally you're gonna generate a pretty good shot.”

That will be more difficult moving forward without Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, two of the team’s better decision-makers and pace-pushers. But Donovan added it will be a good learning experience for Ayo Dosunmu (who was guarded by Scottie Barnes most of the night, but didn’t commit a turnover in 38 minutes) and Coby White.

7. DeRozan’s efficient performance, which also included seven free throw attempts, came two nights after taking a rare rest game in Oklahoma City. His legs looked noticeably fresh.

“It did everything for me,” DeRozan said with a smile when asked about the night off. “I ain't 23 no more.”

DeRozan did add that rest nights are a rarity for him and that he “probably won't do it again for a while.”

8. Javonte Green played 24 minutes – he remains on a strict 22-to-25-minute limit – in his second game back from a groin strain and again looked bouncy, scoring 12 points and pulling down six rebounds. He also played solid defense on Pascal Siakam (3-for-12 shooting) down the stretch, and made six of his seven shots inside the arc, including a handful of crowd-pleasing slams:

“He’s big, man. He don’t get a lot of credit,” DeRozan said. “You look at the stat sheet, you won’t see a bunch of points. But the effort, the energy, the spirit. He do a lot of little things on that court that get us in a lot of good positions to be us. Defensively and offensively. His knack for the game is incredible.”

Considering he and Tyler Cook are the Bulls’ only power forwards left standing, those types of contributions will be needed moving forward.

9. The Bulls were whistled for five more fouls than the Raptors, and the Raptors out-attempted the Bulls 28-16 at the charity stripe. But Toronto made just 60.7 percent (17) of those attempts – a massive swing statistic in the game.

10. DeRozan picked up two technicals in the last two minutes of the third quarter, but, because of a rules quirk, he was not ejected from the game. His first tech – at the 1:56 mark – came for grabbing the net while attempting to block a Chris Boucher layup. The second came after he slammed the ball into the floor arguing an offensive foul call with 8.1 seconds remaining in the period.

The reason he wasn’t ejected? DeRozan’s first technical was not deemed an “unsportsmanlike” tech. Two “unsportsmanlike” techs are required for ejection.

In all, officials whistled for six technical fouls in the game, which featured a lot of barking from both sides. Raptors guard Gary Trent Jr., who led Toronto in scoring with 32 points, was ejected for a second one with 2:02 to play. His first came four minutes earlier for jawing with Vučević after tying him up for a jump-ball.

Next up for the Bulls: At the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.

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