Archive for the ‘Chicago Bulls’ Category

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Last night, I said that if the Raptors were still in this game by halftime, it would be considered an accomplishment. I also said that I wasn’t exactly a fan of the James Johnson deal. Johnson and the Raptors made a fool of me on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre, and I assure you, I’m more than ok with it.

Johnson was inserted into the starting lineup for his Raptors debut, which coincidentally came against the team that gave up on him, the Chicago Bulls. Johnson seemed to spark the Raptors early on, as he grabbed some rebounds and blocked a couple of shots. Andrea Bargnani got off to another quick start, and the Raptors, overall, were hanging tough.

But the Bulls received a spark of their own in the return of Joakim Noah after his lengthy layoff, and Noah responded with seven rebounds in his first seven minutes of action, leading the Bulls to a four-point lead after one quarter.

The second quarter was very much a game of runs, as the Raptors briefly took the lead, only to see the Bulls jolt ahead by eight as Carlos Boozer asserted his will in the post. But again, the Raptors responded to close out the half, and went into the break down just three, 58-55.

While most of the 18 105 in attendance at the ACC likely assumed that the Bulls would take over in the second half, it was the Raptors who came out of the break looking like the superior team. The Raptors put together one of their most impressive quarters of the season in the third frame, outscoring the Bulls 30-23, jumping out to a nine-point lead, and actually playing some solid team defence.

DeMar DeRozan got the crowd into it with a couple of big jams and started to shoulder some of the scoring load with Bargnani, as the Raptors looked primed for a big upset.

You had to know that the 38-win Bulls and their MVP candidate wouldn’t go away quietly though, and Derrick Rose put on quite the show in the fourth quarter. Within a couple of minutes, the Bulls had actually regained the lead, and Rose, who had a quiet night up to that point, started feeling it.

Impressively, and surprisingly, the Raptors bent, but never broke against a quality opponent. They got a few defensive stops that stunned even their home crowd, got some clutch buckets from Bargnani and put the ball in DeRozan’s hands down the stretch. In the final five minutes, Rose and DeRozan exchanged baskets and free throw attempts, and it was the Raptors who pulled ahead by a basket.

With 16 seconds remaining, Amir Johnson, who went a perfect 8-for-8 from the field, sealed the upset with a dagger of a layup.

Aside from Jerryd Bayless, who struggled through an ugly night, every Raptor contributed to this win. Jose Calderon piled up 17 assists, Bargnani, DeRozan and Amir Johnson combined for 65 points, Leandro Barbosa went 6-of-8 from the floor, Sonny Weems and Ed Davis gave the team quality minutes, and even Alexis Ajinca was noticeable in his eight minutes of action.

Back to James Johnson. I’m sure it helped that his Raptors debut came against the team he wanted to prove something to, and we can’t judge him based on one night. But you had to enjoy watching his hustle, and his well-rounded game, as the second-year forward finished with nine points, five rebounds and three blocks in 26 minutes. If Johnson can bring that versatility and fight on a consistent basis, he will quickly become a fan favourite in Toronto.

Whether you are solely thinking of the draft and the future, or still looking for some salvation this season, you would have to agree that this was a great team win, in front of a lively crowd, for the young Raptors.

Raptors Player of the Game: Andrea Bargnani – 42 Min, 24 Pts, 7-19 FG, 0-3 3Pt, 10-11 FT, 8 Reb, 4 Ast, 1 Stl

Bulls Player of the Game: Derrick Rose – 38 Min, 32 Pts, 8-22 FG, 2-6 3Pt, 14-16 FT, 1 Reb, 10 Ast, 1 Stl

Goat of the Game: Jerryd Bayless – 8 Min, 0 Pts, 0-1 FG, 1 Ast, 3 TO, -10

Joakim Noah

Joakim Noah hasn’t played since January 4, the last time the Bulls and Raptors met. Tonight, he will reportedly make his return. Coincidence? Yeah, probably.

Anyway, the Bulls have already beaten the Raptors twice this season by a combined 37 points and they outrebounded the Raptors by double figures in both games. If new Raptor James Johnson is in uniform tonight, expect each of his ex-teammates on the Bulls to give him sympathetic hugs before the game.

Injury report

Toronto: Reggie Evans is listed as doubtful for tonight. It’s weird, but I’m actually getting a tiny bit excited for his return.

Chicago: Luol Deng and Joakim Noah will probably both play.

Five questions

1. Did Joakim Noah pick this game to return because he considers a matchup with Andrea Bargnani to be a “non-contact practice”? (This joke is courtesy of @DH_Alvarez.)

2. Did James Johnson decide to pick the number 0 for his Raptors jersey after being reminded that “FML” isn’t a number?

3. Will Raptors fans at the Air Canada Centre boo the future draft pick Toronto just traded to the Bulls?

4. Or will Raptors fans wait until the Bulls use that draft pick and then boo the player when he comes to the ACC?

5. Is it a coincidence that when I saved that Noah photo in Photoshop, the default JPEG resolution preset was “Very High”?

Start time: 7:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet One
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Sonny Weems, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani
Chicago: Derrick Rose, Keith Bogans, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah

Tonight’s pregame song is “Kick Push” by Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco. This is the third Raptors-Bulls game thread I’ve set up this season and today was the first time I remembered that Lupe Fiasco was from Chicago. Weird.

Chicago Bulls and Toronto RaptorsThis is the steaming pile I get to analyze for my first video breakdown of the new year? Even with the return of their “best player” (scare quotes intentional) Andrea Bargnani, the Raptors were outworked and outclassed — only this time, it was the Bulls’ second unit that inflicted the most damage during a dominant second quarter. Not only did they outscore the Raptors 30-16 in the quarter, they also had an 18-6 advantage in points in the paint. That grew into a 58-38 advantage by the end of the game — coincidentally the same margin as the final score.

Whereas Carlos Boozer did the most damage in the previous meeting between these two teams, it was Boozer’s backup, Taj Gibson, who wreaked havoc with 16 points and 14 rebounds in just 25 minutes. Boozer and Gibson combined for nine offensive rebounds, which was one more than the Raptors grabbed as a team. The primary differentiator of these two teams isn’t rebounding, however, it’s defence. The Bulls have a renowned defensive specialist as their coach, and the Raptors quite evidently do not.

Since the second quarter was when the Bulls really asserted their dominance, I’ve picked three examples of great defence by the Bulls that stymied the Raptors in that quarter. Here we see that Raptors unable to penetrate the Bulls’ zone defence, leading to Bargnani forcing up an awkward mid-ranger — with 10 seconds still on the shot clock, I should note.

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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.

Just saying.

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

Ay caramba, this is a tough one for the Raptors. The Bulls have won 13 of their last 15 games and their one loss at home during that period was by a single point. Although they’ve only had Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer in their lineup at the same time for nine of their 32 games, they’re still third in the Eastern Conference with a 22-10 record and they have the second-best defence in the league with just 99.8 points allowed per 100 possessions.

The big news for Raptors fans is that Andrea Bargnani is expected to make his return to the lineup tonight. He’ll probably be guarded primarily by the second-oldest player in the NBA, so maybe he’ll make a big splash in the Windy City.

Injury report

Toronto: Bargnani, Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless are probable, Jose Calderon is questionable, and Sonny Weems is out.

Chicago: No Noah, but the Bulls are otherwise healthy.

Five questions

1. Can the Raptors keep Carlos Boozer in check this time? In his previous game against the Raptors on Dec. 17, he went 13-for-17 for 34 points and 12 rebounds.

2. Did you know that Kurt Thomas is third among active players (behind Shaq and Juwan Howard) with 3,280 career personal fouls?

3. Is Derrick Rose going to commit crimes against humanity tonight while guarded by Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless with their messed-up ankles?

4. When’s the last time a contending team had a worse starting two-guard than Keith Bogans?

5. Have you missed my video breakdowns on the weekdays after Raptors games? I’m back in the office tomorrow so there will be a breakdown of tonight’s game.

Start time: 8:00 PM ET
Channel: Sportsnet
Probable starting lineups
Toronto: Jose Calderon, DeMar DeRozan, Linas Kleiza, Amir Johnson, Andrea Bargnani
Chicago: Derrick Rose, Keith Bogans, Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, Kurt Thomas

Tonight’s pregame song is “Positive Bleeding” by Urge Overkill. I had this cassette in the early ’90s and thought these guys were “rad” or whatever word that version of me would have used for a band I liked. They came from the Chicago rock scene at the same time as Smashing Pumpkins, but it’s safe to say the trajectories of those two bands turned out quite different.