Toronto Raptors v Chicago Bulls

The Raptors scored 100 points for the first time in 10 games and barely hung on against a severely shorthanded Bulls team to reach the 30-win plateau for the first time in three years.

Hooray for slightly less futile futility!

The Raps were in cruise control for the majority of the night before narrowly escaping an all too familiar fourth quarter meltdown in what was a pretty ugly finish.

Now here are some thoughts on the game…

Raptors 101, Bulls 98

- First and foremost, if you’re concerned about Jonas Valanciunas after he was looking pretty woozy at the final buzzer, here’s the latest update:

Valanciunas finished with eight points, three rebounds, a block and five fouls in 23 minutes of action, marking the first time in 13 games that Valanciunas was held under 10 points. JV was solid defensively, but Carlos Boozer out-muscled him more than a few times and he seemed more frustrated than usual with some of the ticky-tack fouls called on him.

- The Raptors took advantage of the undermanned Bulls early, jumping out to an 18-3 lead to start the game. Toronto extended that lead to 16 a few times and led wire-to-wire, but things got unnecessarily tense in the final minute when the Bulls actually got the last possession down just three.

- Amir Johnson bounced back from a string of disappointing performances with a double-double of 13 points and 11 rebounds in over 45 minutes of action. Those aforementioned disappointing performances were most likely a case of Amir just slowing down after a grueling season that has seen him fight and play through pain all year. Case in point, there was a play in the second half where Johnson clearly tweaked either his knee or ankle on an offensive possession, hit the deck in pain, got up, ran the floor while wincing and limping, then proceeded to actually get involved on the defensive end without missing a beat.

He also did this tonight.

The guy just doesn’t let up, and it’s been particularly encouraging this season after he seemed to lose some of that energy and flare last season.

- Kyle Lowry played the kind of game the Raptors need him to play, toeing the line between looking for his own offence and looking for his teammates. Lowry attempted 11 field goals and was more aggressive in attacking the Bulls than we’ve seen in a while, but he was also still looking to get teammates involved and was responsible on the defensive end. The result was the type of balanced line fans have been looking for from Lowry – 13 points, 10 assists, two steals, two turnovers.

I’d still like to see Lowry be even more aggressive when need be (the guy is more than capable of dropping 20-25 points on any given night) next season, but 11 shots is better than the always deferring guard we’ve seen too much of this season.

- While Valanciunas may not have stood out tonight the way he has over the last few weeks, the Raptors’ other two rookies were impressive. Terrence Ross scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting (including 2-of-3 three-point shooting) in 18:26 of playing time while Quincy Acy posted a solid stat line of eight points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one block in 27 minutes.

Acy’s offence is obviously far from a finished product, but it’s also more polished than most assumed it would be at this point and his defence and rebounding are beyond NBA-ready. I really don’t see a reason why Quincy can’t log some regular minutes off the bench for a hopefully more competitive Raptors team in 2013-14. Not major minutes, but minutes as the team’s ninth or 10th man and fourth big man or combo forward.

- DeMar DeRozan scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, but the real story for DeRozan should be that his seven free throw attempts represented his highest total since attempting eight in a game on March 15. After going to the line at least six times in 12 of 15 games, DeMar did it just once in his next 11 games before tonight, averaging 3.1 free throw attempts per game in an 11-game stretch. That’s simply unacceptable for a player like DeRozan.

DeMar needs to work on his ball handling and developing a three-point stroke that is even semi-reliable heading into next season, but he also needs to ensure that he stays consistent with his aggressive approach.

- Rudy Gay’s 6-of-14 shooting night obviously wasn’t great, but I continue to be encouraged by the fact that Gay appears to have found his three-point stroke after looking lost from behind the arc for the majority of the last two years. With his 3-of-5 shooting display from downtown on Tuesday night, Rudy is now shooting over 42 per cent from deep over his last 10 games. Remember, Gay was a 35 per cent three-point shooter for the first five years of his NBA career and actually shot 39.6 per cent from behind the arc in 2010-11, so there is reason to believe he can be an effective long range weapon again next season.

- I know the Derrick Rose situation must be frustrating, but Bulls fans must also be pretty excited about the team’s potential next season with a healthy Rose and a developing Jimmy Butler. The 30th overall pick from the 2011 Draft has looked very promising lately, especially in his 28-point performance tonight that saw him play all 48 minutes.

Raptors Player Of the Game: Amir Johnson – 13 Pts (5/8 FG, 3/3 FT), 11 Reb, 2 Ast, 1 Blk in 45:28

Bulls Player Of the Game: Jimmy Butler – 28 Pts (10/12 FG, 3/3 3PT, 5/6 FT), 7 Reb, 2 Ast, 2 Stl, 2 TO in 48:00

It’s hard to take anything from the results of these quite meaningless games as the Raptors play out the string, but we can look for small beads of development in the rookies’ games and look at things like an improved three-point shot from Gay. All in all, we just ask that you bear with us over these final five games of the season. I’m not sure how much we’ll have to talk about after the games or how many of the games we’ll even have postgame thoughts for, but you can be sure that RaptorBlog will have a ton of its usual content again once the season ends and we can officially start looking ahead to the off-season and next season.

In addition, for those asking, we’re working on trying to get another couple of podcasts in before the end of the season.

Until next time…