After a back-and-forth start, with the Bulls in the game through the first half, the Raptors pulled away in the second half to claim a comfortable win at the United Center. Coach Boylen felt the Bulls young team lacked the experience (that the Raptors clearly have) to understand the moment and fight through adversity.
It felt for the Bulls Saturday night in the United Center like coming home to one of those disastrous Airbnb rentals. You were so excited to be back in comfortable surroundings, but everywhere you looked it was messy.
To start, there was Otto Porter Jr., stretched out on the floor bleeding badly.
And then it really got bad as the Toronto Raptors broke just about everything in sight, seemingly hearts, spirits and desire in a runaway 108-84 Toronto victory. It was a disappointment less in losing to the defending championship team even minus All-Star Kawhi Leonard than the way the Raptors made it look so easy against a Bulls team that isn't as inexperienced anymore.
It was supposed to be a joyous and hopeful debut for a remade Bulls team with considerable promise, and the promise of better things at home after being tied for the poorest home record last season. Home, sweet home, right? Not so much.
With Wendell Carter Jr. the Bulls leading scorer with 12 points and the Bulls shooting 29.9 percent for the game — 25.7 percent on threes and yet to shoot better than 30 percent on threes in any of the three games this season in the 1-2 start — the Bulls also were reeling from the Raptors stuffing 12 shots back at them with those dozen blocks and nine steals.
After briefly leading 36-31 midway through the second quarter with some spirited defense, the Bulls collapsed under the weight of the Raptors' savvy experience and clever strategies. Toronto pulled out to a 48-40 halftime lead and then buried the Bulls after halftime to lead by 22 points after three.
Zach LaVine was the only other Bulls player in double figures with 11 points on four of 13 shooting. Lauri Markkanen after his 35 points and 17 rebounds in the season opening game had his second consecutive game of nine points. Rookie Coby White, who drew the most enthusiastic response from the home crowd, had eight points on three of 14 shooting. The three veterans the Bulls were counting on to carry the youngsters through the uncertain times, Porter, Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky, all were limited again. Only Young with 17 points in the opening loss in Charlotte has scored in double figures in any of the three games.
This was the game of a team that's never been to the playoffs and the team that won it and got a deep playoff run; that's the difference. They understand those moments. I'm disappointed we didn't sustain it for 48, but I'm not discouraged
"I think sometimes we get distracted the ball's not going in," said Bulls coach Jim Boylen. "Then instead of, "That's part of it and I have to do the other things better, it will come back to me….' That's what a young team has to learn. Maybe shots weren't going in, but we still were competing at the defensive end and we have to fight through those moments when it's not going our way. For some reason, we stopped doing what we were supposed to do.
Boylen's approach is understandable. It's just the third game for a team with a half dozen new players and several more with new roles and responsibilities. So Boylen appears to be taking the supportive parent approach to urge them and encourage them and trust that the next experience will be better.
"Just move on," said White, mature beyond his years. "Tonight is one of the worst games I've played in a long time; just move on from it. When I was entering the draft, whenever I asked people what to expect they just said, ‘You are going to hit a lot of adversity. There are going to be a lot of ups and downs your rookie season. You have to learn how to move on from it and move onto the next game.'"
Like a good martini, the message is perhaps to be shaken but not too stirred up.
But the Raptors seemed a step ahead in being prepared for the Bulls.
The Bulls lack of size is an issue they face, and both Memphis and the Raptors adjusted to Markkanen's big game against the smaller Hornets. Memphis used the long armed Jaren Jackson Jr. against Markkanen and Toronto Serge Ibaka, thus pushing Markkanen away from the basket more and thwarting his finishing. He's now three for 21 on threes for the season. Carter recorded his first double/double of the season with 11 rebounds, but he had difficulty finishing plays like several other Bulls. White, Young and Shaquille Harrison all had shots blocked well into the stands by the active Raptors. On one, Ibaka literally just caught a White driving layup attempt before it reached the backboard.
When LaVine is not getting to the basket, it hasn't been a strong point for the team. The Bulls again seemed to focus on the three-point shot. Boylen noted the Bulls attempted 35 and he would have preferred 40. Though the Raptors seemed to anticipate well by getting in the lanes for the Bulls penetration off their middle pick and roll that would lead to a kick out pass for a three. The Raptors players were anticipating those passes as the Bulls didn't try much in the post even though the Raptors started two guards, Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet, listed at about six foot.
"They were deep drops, so that kind of gives you open looks with the midrange shots," noted Satoransky. "We don't want to settle for that. We tried to get to the rim. We missed some easy ones even when we were aggressive. We settled for the jump shot and they stopped us from sharing the ball."
Toronto was ready, and true they are a stable group which had an exceptional record even when Leonard didn't play last season. As Satoransky noted, they dropped their big men toward the basket and then challenged the three-point line, which seemed to flummox the Bulls as they stayed away from those mid range shot attempts as they'd promised in preseason. Of course, so do a lot of teams these days.
The Bulls in Memphis survived with some extraordinary individual offense from LaVine and White. But it's also difficult to sustain that when a team isn't getting many easy points. Toronto Saturday had a 25-7 advantage in fast break points thanks to those blocks and steals. The Bulls also had nine steals and forced 24 turnovers, but they were thwarted by that failure to finish strong at the basket.
"They brought physicality, they threw the first punch," said Porter, who absorbed the literal worst punch when he was laid out with an errant elbow to the jaw early in the second quarter. Though Porter would return to play 12 minutes and score his nine points in the second half with six stitches.
"They lost (Friday) night on national TV to Boston, so we knew they were going to come with an edge," Porter said. "We can't let three-point shots dictate our game. Our defense is what dictates our plays, and we have to rely on our defense to get our offense going. We get steals, run-out fast break points; that's where we are best."
The Bulls committed three turnovers after securing that five-point second quarter lead. But the Raptors weren't a 60s offense, either. They attempted 42 three-pointers, but they also finished numerous slam dunks off back door cuts and had heir big men rolling hard to the basket for scores. It's a balance still for this Bulls team.
"I thought we had a lot of good moments (to) start the season with three in four (days). We have a young, developing team that I believe in; and we're going to keep working," said Boylen. "It's not that they're bad players or bad kids or they don't want to do a good job; that's the learning moment. You have to trust more when things aren't going your way. There are times in the last 12 quarters where we have and times where we haven't. They (Raptors) did a good job and we didn't respond very well."
So you just shrug, fix the damage and move on. It's also about trust.