Bulls cruise past Raptors as Donovan tries new starting lineup

Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White came off the bench in place for veterans Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky
by Sam Smith
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Coach Donovan inserted veterans Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky into the starting lineup in place of Wendell Carter Jr. and Coby White - and it worked, as the Bulls blew out the Toronto Raptors 118-95. Nine players scored double-figures, including Carter Jr who notched a 12-point, 11 rebound double-double. The Bulls improve to 17-20 and next play the San Antonio Spurs (19-16) at home on Wednesday.

The Bulls with Sunday's 118-95 victory over the Toronto Raptors remained undefeated in every game veterans Thad Young and Tomas Satoransky have started this season.

C'mon, just a little smile.

The Bulls sure needed one the way they began this NBA second half schedule with two losses. And not only was this win what they call a laugher around the NBA with a Bulls double digit lead throughout the fourth quarter, but Wendell Carter was smiling on the court—yes, really—and Coby White, who was replaced by Satoransky, was mugging with Satoransky and provoking him to break down laughing during Satoransky's post game interview session.

These guys sure don't know how to handle being demoted the NBA way.

"I'm going to be honest with you," said Carter, who came off the bench for the first time in this NBA career with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 19 minutes. "After the third game of how I've been playing, I would have benched myself if I was the coach. We had the worst plus-minus in the league for the starting unit; he understood he had to shake the table, he had to change some things around. Me and Coby had to sacrifice."

And so Young and Satoransky made their first starts of the 2020-21 season. And if it wasn't aesthetic on the scoreboard as Toronto led 14-10 midway through the first quarter, it produced the appropriate results as the wily, old veterans got the ball moving for 35 assists, 31-11 Bulls on fat breaks and a 60-37 edge in rebounding, nine Bulls scoring in double figures in a game for the first time in 50 years.

What in the name of Chet Walker was that about?

Highlights of Chicago's blow out victory vs. Toronto.

"Obviously, we weren't getting off to a good start with that unit," agreed White, who had 13 points and a team best plus-24 rating. "We're halfway through the season now and we still weren't getting off to a good start. He had to make a change. As a coach, he has to make those tough decisions. I was all for it. I just want to win. It was fun just mixing the lineups up. It was a great team win, especially against a good Toronto team. So it was fun being out there."

We told you these are really nice guys.

Perhaps that's been part of the problem sometimes that someone doesn't get angrier, at least at other than themselves. But as lineups changes—or demotions—go, they generally don't go much like this.

"It has nothing to do with Coby and or Wendell. It really doesn't," insisted Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "It has more to do with how that group was playing. Before we sub (the first time) we had the worst net rating in the league. It's not anybody's fault or any particular guy's fault. I look at maybe development a little bit different. These guys need to learn how to win. The number one component that goes into winning is sacrifice. This was a situation where Coby and Wendell were put in situations to sacrifice. This is good for their development, to be quite honest with you, because obviously we're trying to win. And they're going through real life experiences that will help them grow and get better as players.

"I didn't feel like the group was really helping each other," Donovan said. "I figured we've got to kind of shake it up and maybe look at some other things. I wasn't necessarily convinced that this was the right thing in terms of this lineup, but I felt very, very convinced we needed to do something. They were like, ‘Listen Billy, if you feel that this is the best thing, that's fine. We'll go along with it.' I didn't ask anybody their opinion on it. I gave everybody an opportunity to talk.

Coach Donovan spoke to the media after the Bulls victory over the Raptors.

"This is not set in stone for the rest of the year," said Donovan. "We'll see how it works and what this looks like."

It looked about as good as it could with Patrick Williams the leading scorer with a career-high 23 points, mostly cutting and diving to the basket to receive deliveries from Satoransky and Young with a team high seven assists each. They were so good Williams was signaling thumbs up, delivered with care.

Zach LaVine had just 15 points, his second lowest total of the season. But he was second to White in plus/minus, mostly playing decoy and facilitator with Toronto overloading and double teaming, which most teams now do against LaVine.

"I really respected and appreciated the way he played," said Donovan. "He played the right way. He scored some points late, but sometimes you've got to give yourself up to the team. They really made a conscientious effort to triangle-and-two him and Lauri (Markkanen with 13 points), which was fine because it was leaving other guys open. Other guys got shots; different things were open for us. I think what would have been bad for us tonight if Zach would try to force it."

The Bulls moved back into a tie for ninth place in the Eastern Conference at 17-20 while the Raptors dropped to 17-22.

Patrick Williams

Patrick Williams rises up for a slam over the Toronto Raptors.

And this wasn't your recent championship Raptors, or even much resembling any of the Raptors teams that had won the last 12 straight against the Bulls. This, literally, was a bunch of guys named Stanley, Norman and Henry with Kyle Lowry, who eventually got so disgusted he got himself kicked out late in the fourth quarter. Three of the Raptors starters and several reserves remained out with Covid virus issues not long after most of the coaches previously were out. Hey, we warned them about trying to spend the season in Florida. But Canada wouldn't let them in. Now seeing them play, they might not for other reasons.

But this wasn't a time for the Bulls to make excuses for any victory. Especially after losing to the 76ers without their two best players and the Heat without its best big man. The Bulls, so hopeful coming into the All-Star break with six wins in nine games, seemed so hopeless out of it with consecutive double digit losses.

So Donovan tried something different.

Donovan is no Einstein, but he surely knows, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

To be accurate, Einstein never actually said that, though it sounded like something he should have said.

Playing the kids because this is a season of evaluation and analysis is what the Bulls were supposed to be doing. Play the kids as they are the future. Sort of the let them eat cake thing, even if Marie Antoinette never actually said that. But it became off with their heads, as it were, as Donovan continued his mad scientist experiments.

Rookie Patrick Williams scores a new career-high with 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting.

It's actually what coaches are supposed to do. And Donovan has been clear all season that he would change rotations and lineups and closing groups regularly depending on matchups, analytics as offensive as that might be, and the more trusted eye test of game films.

"I just didn't want time to keep going by without trying to do everything I could do to try to help the team," said Donovan. "I would worry about their development if I told you, ‘Hey, Coby and Wendell didn't play and we took them out of the rotation.' They're still playing. They're still going to be out there.

"Am I perfect? No," said Donovan, who does risk the wrath of the coach's association with that admission. "Am I going to make mistakes? Absolutely. Have I made plenty of mistakes already? Yes, absolutely. But I want them to know that my intention is to help them. I can't tell you how unbelievable Coby and Wendell were when I met with them. It just speaks volumes of them in terms of their character and who they are and how they feel about the organization and their teammates and the fact that they really want to win."

They did need this one.

It actually turned late in the first quarter when Donovan brought in Carter for the first time. He responded with actual shots, scoring seven straight points in a minute for a 28-22 Bulls lead after one quarter.

"It kind of happened to me when I was in college," said Carter. "I think it was halfway through the season I came off the bench, for I think, two games. It humbles you. It lets you know you can't be taking things like that for granted. I see myself as a starter. I trust Billy a lot. He's been a part of winning teams and he knows what it takes to win. I wasn't playing well for like the past five or six games, so I understood that he had to switch some things up and it happened to be changing the lineup. I'm here for him and I'm going to do whatever he tells me to do.

Wendell Carter Jr

Wendell Carter Jr. bounced back from a tough game on Friday, finishing with a double-double.

"Me and Coby talked about it," said Carter, "and he's like, 'Man, we've got to come out and play as hard as we can when we get in; just show them we're capable of being starters on this team.' We're capable of doing whatever is needed to win in the minutes that we play in. It kind of lights a fire underneath you. Not in a bad way."

They were smokin' this time. Not just hot afterward.

It was the Raptors who mostly were in a bad way after Young with back to back scores on rolls to the basket and Satoransky with a three and a loose ball score led the Bulls to a 9-2 close to the half and 58-49 lead. With Otto Porter Jr. coming back to life with seven straight points early in the third quarter, the Bulls went on a 13-7 run. Williams then scored seven straight to close the third quarter for an 85-73 Bulls lead. Denzel Valentine made three straight threes accompanied by ardent expressions of joy and 11 points in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter that enabled the Bulls this time to charitably be the ones not trying to score at the end.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, "The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of the nature of the substitutions when we change starting lineups." Didn't really say that? Oh well, Bulls win, Bulls win.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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