Tonight marked the return of Andrea Bargnani, so while there was some optimism surrounding the 11-22 Raptors, most still understood the team would be picked apart by the superior, well-coached Bulls.
The game pretty much went to script.
The Raptors played well to open the game, got Bargnani involved early, and seemed to be a focused team through much of the first half. Good starts are becoming a habit for this team; it’s what happens in the middle, and usually the end of ball games that’s killing them.
As I was saying, the Raps showed up in the first quarter, and ended the period down just two. They continued to hang around for much of the second as well. However, slowly but surely, the better team pulled away. An ugly scoring drought to close the half had the Raptors down 18 at the break.
The second half was more of the same. It’s not that the effort wasn’t there in Chicago, or that the Raptors were shooting themselves in the foot (though they did commit too many turnovers…again). But over the course of 48 minutes, as the Bulls simply pulled away, you could tell the Raptors slowly began to concede that they had no business in this game.
Credit the Raps for finishing the third quarter on a high note and making one final run to cut the lead to 10. It actually made the first two-to-three minutes of the fourth quarter interesting.
Then it just got ugly.
In the blink of an eye, with most of the Bulls’ stars enjoying the view from the bench, Chicago opened up a 22-point lead. In the end, that’s really the story of the ball game. The Raptors played the Bulls tough, but when it came down to the benches, the Raptors reserves were outscored 52-22.
Of course, we have to mention Andrea Bargnani on the night of his Great Return. He played better than I expected in 32 minutes. He missed some shots he’d usually make, and looked pretty Bargnani-like on defence, but all in all, it was a fine effort for his first game back.
DeMar DeRozan had another solid night at the office, and my only issue with DeMar’s game tonight was that he wasn’t more involved. With Bargnani back, it’s up to DeMar to stay involved in the game and not shy away from taking over, and it’s up to Jay Triano to keep DeRozan a focal point in the offence.
On a negative note, Linas Kleiza seems to have hit a rough patch again over the last two games, while Leandro Barbosa continues to disappoint. Kleiza needs to get back to what he was doing last week and just before the Christmas break. As for Barbosa, he needs to stop chucking foolish shots and start attacking the basket. Though lately, even his layups have been sporadic. He finished a semi-respectable 6-of-15 tonight, but that’s largely thanks to hitting his last four shots. He was 2-of-11 until late in the fourth.
A question I have after tonight’s game is what’s going on with Jose Calderon? I was liking his game this season after two disappointing and frustrating years, but he seems to have turned into glass again. My main question is why is Jerryd Bayless playing on a sprained ankle, while Calderon seems to sit out every time he gets a little banged up. As someone who is unfortunately considered a leader of this team, Jose needs to do a better job of toughing it out and playing through some of these nagging injuries. Unless he has suffered a serious injury, in which case I admit that I am un-informed.
Lastly tonight, on a Bulls note, how about some love for Tom Thibodeau? The Bulls have rarely had Boozer and Noah healthy at the same time, have a lot of new faces to acclimate into the lineup, and yet here they are at 23-10, sitting in the East’s third spot. Thibodeau deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with the Bulls thus far, especially on the defensive end. Now there is an assistant coach who deserved a head coaching gig, and is proving it.
Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 32 Min, 23 Pts, 7-17 FG, 1-4 3Pt, 8-8 FT, 6 Reb, 1 Ast, 2 Blk
Bulls Player of the Game: Taj Gibson – 25 Min, 16 Pts, 8-11 FG, 0-2 FT, 14 Reb
Goat of the Game: Leandro Barbosa – 29 Min, 15 Pts, 6-15 FG, 3-4 3Pt, 0-1 FT, 1 Reb, 5 Ast, 1 Stl, 1 TO