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Bulls fall to Raptors in overtime 127-120

This time the Bulls couldn't beat the Rap, a 127-120 overtime loss Thursday in Toronto.

But there may be no escaping punishment again as Zach LaVine scuffled through back spasms that could keep him out Friday when the Bulls are in Indiana in the second game of this uncomfortable stretch of games with four in five days and nine in 14 to the All-Star break.

Who did these nice guys make so angry?

"Played the last two games with back spasms," admitted LaVine, who added a quiet 15 points to 30 for Nikola Vucevic and 28 from DeMar DeRozan. "Just trying to help us win.

Got hit really hard and my back started spasming. Anytime on the court I can spend, even if it's not scoring wise, I thought I would be able to help the team win tonight (seven assists, five rebounds, two steals). It was a tough loss. It (the back) hurts; that's what happens when you play a 42-minute game with back spasms. I'll see how I feel in the morning."

Zach LaVine finishes a one-hand jam in the first-quarter against Toronto.

The wait at customs and the post game plane ride to Indianapolis should help. Yeah, that's the ticket.

It would have felt at least a little better if the Bulls had managed to escape a game even LaVine said they were fortunate to make competitive.

"We got out rebounded, they outphysicaled us throughout the whole game," noticed LaVine. "It should not have been that close of a game."

But with Vucevic playing at an All-Star level, though too late to be added to the team as LaVine was Thursday, and DeRozan continuing his remarkable march to the free throw line for 14 more (hello, he fakes!), the Bulls actually took a 114-112 lead with 8.6 seconds left after trailing by 10 about halfway through the fourth quarter.

And if LaVine's back was a bit stiff, it cleverly almost gave the Bulls a win in a frantic penultimate possession in which on about the fourth pass Vucevic collected a loose ball that bounced off LaVine's back on a sort of pass from Javonte Green and scored point blank.

Talk about getting back at them.

The Raptors, now an unlikely 27-23 and edging their way into the muddled Eastern Conference playoff picture, feature an unusual lineup that is the spread sheet analysts' dream. Other than mini guard Fred VanVleet, who was added to his first All-Star team among the reserves, the Raptors don't play anyone over 6-8. But pretty much everyone is, long armed and athletic players who can defeat most pick and roll mismatches with switches. Against the Bulls smaller lineup that usually offsets height issues with the steals and disruptions of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, both injured, the Raptors outrebounded the Bulls with three players in double-figure rebounds and a stunning 22 offensive rebounds.

The biggest one was with just under a second left in regulation when top Rookie of the Year candidate Scottie Barnes grabbed a VanVleet miss for a score to tie the game. With the NBA League Pass apparently available in Canada, the Raptors appeared to know what DeRozan has done. They denied him the catch and Vucevic heaved a long miss at the regulation buzzer.

Tap to listen to head coach Billy Donovan react to Chicago's overtime loss to Toronto on Thursday night.

"I thought we had a really hard time (against their length)," admitted Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "In particular our second unit (tied in scoring but outrebounded 29-12). The last play was a tough play, Barnes' tip in. The backside was kind of open. One of the areas I didn't think we did a great job when there was help in the post or help on a drive and the shot went up, our rotational blockouts and putting a body on someone were just not good enough with their length. There were some times we were in there and battled and tried but could not come down with it because of their size. And there were some other times we didn't do a good enough job getting to spots and getting into lower bodies."

And then a minute into overtime after a DeRozan driving score, the Bulls were leading and the home fans were so silent you'd think there was no one there.

Oh right, there wasn't. The arena was empty presumably because of the Covid virus or that a new shipment of bacon and mustard rolls with sides of poutine finally had arrived.

O.G. (apparently for Oh God!) Anunoby then made back to back threes, the first with a launch as the shot clock was expiring. DeRozan and Ayo Dosunmu with driving scores matched that, and it was 120-120 with two minutes left, the Bulls with the ball after a VanVleet miss.

And as we recall, it still was 120 for the Bulls when the game ended.

"They play some big lineups and it's difficult because they have guys with a lot of length, agility and move really well and cover a lot of space," noted Vucevic. "With the length they have it was trouble for us at times; we turned the ball over a lot. It's not easy to play against a team like that. You have to be really patient and smart and strong with the ball; at times we struggled. Their pressure we didn't handle that well in Chicago. Turnovers and the offensive glass, we didn't do a good job tonight."

Nikola Vucevic finished with 30 points, 18 rebounds, and four assists in the overtime loss to Toronto.

Though DeRozan scored those 28 points, half came at the free throw line as the Raptors trapped and got the ball out of DeRozan's hands probably more than any opponent this season. At every crucial possession late, they sent doubles at him immediately. So overall the Bulls shot well, 48 percent and 12 of 21 on threes with DeRozan getting seven of the Bulls 30 assists.

But the Raptors late got Dosunmu pinned in the corner for a turnover and then another when Gary Trent Jr. overplayed Dosunmu's outlet pass trying to start a break after a VanVleet turnover. And then Trent came wide open for a three as he had several times during the game. He had missed five of seven with enough time to almost count the grain pebbling on the basketball.

The Bulls had clearly become so concerned with the Raptors on the offensive boards (10-1 in the first half) that it was apparent the Bulls were trying to hold off the long arms of Pascal Siakam, Anunoby, Barnes and Chris Boucher. Though this time Trent didn't miss, his three giving the Raptors a 125-120 lead with 16.5 seconds left.

Everyone said it was merely a miscommunication on a switch, but it seemed apparent with the five tallest guys on the floor being Vucevic and four Canadians the Bulls were going to take their chance with Trent. He finally made one.

Again, Toronto sent their mounties to DeRozan. So LaVine got a lane as wide open as the QEW, eh, so wide Tim Horton couldn't fill it with doughnuts. So you think I don't lobe Canada? You'd be a loon.

Meanwhile, Zach missed. Zach does not miss layups like that.

Now let's go back. Oh, right, the back.

"Just missed a layup," said LaVine. "I don't know how I missed it; just came off the rim. Tried to lay it up and just didn't go in."

Well, Zach, wasn't that you on the bench with a wrap around your chest most of the game and wincing so much after one rebound that Donovan seemed to call a timeout to check?

"Obviously tells us a lot about Zach playing through back spasms," admired Vucevic. "It's not easy. It limits you a lot because you don't have that freedom of movement, especially at the basket. I'm sure it was bothering him a lot, especially on the offensive end trying to score and be aggressive. Speaks a lot about his commitment to winning and this team, trying to still be out there. We appreciate him being out there."

It does measure up impressively for LaVine, especially in this NBA era when many players work in regular rest periods and with back spasms some would require being in traction for weeks. Which could make these last few weeks to the break—and not so much rest with LaVine, DeRozan and Dosunmu in Cleveland and the coaching staff possible with the Bulls now back tied with Miami for first in the East—a delicate balancing act that might even impress the Red Panda.

Tap to watch highlights from Chicago's overtime loss in Toronto.

"Just part of basketball," said LaVine. "Every team goes through these tough stretches with a bunch of games. It's tough right now with a lot of guys out. That's why we've got to band together and play really hard and play really good basketball. Just part of the stretch; we'll get through it."

At 32-19 the Bulls still are in good position in the Eastern Conference, and almost stole one in Toronto.

With the Raptors dedicated to stopping DeRozan, LaVine got going early before things—and the game—began to tighten. Though the Bulls part this time was mostly being done by Vucevic, who seems out of his early season malaise with his eighth double/double in his last nine games and 30 and 18 Thursday with four of six threes. He's averaging 21 points and 13 rebounds the last nine games.

"I feel really good now," Vucevic said. "I feel I've been able to find my rhythm, finally able to find my role on the team and play off my teammates. Figuring that out took early in the season. Maybe it took longer than I wanted it to, but it's part of it. I knew it would come around eventually. I've been feeling much better offensively and my teammates also are getting used to playing with a big like me who can pop and roll and do different things; just want to build off that. It was building our chemistry and figuring each other out. I feel the last couple of weeks I'm playing much better and just want to build on that and help the team win."

Came close to doing so.

The Raptors led 26-24 after one and 54-15 at halftime with Siakam scoring 15 points with six rebounds and five assists while also mostly defending Vucevic. Boucher and Precious Achiuwa were precious on the boards in that second quarter, each with seven rebounds in the half and combining for five offensive and putback scores. Though the Bulls stayed close trailing 54-50 at half and 87-81 going into the fourth quarter after Vucevic had 10 in the third, one on a fancy no look bounce pass from a driving Dosunmu with a team high eight assists for the game. Though four Raptors scoring at least 20 points was too much.

The Bulls seemed like they would be prey for these Raptors after two prior wins, Toronto's big guy reserves running up a 103-93 lead with about six minutes left and still 110-104 with two minutes remaining. But DeRozan reminded them of his nine years here drawing four free throws and making a 10 footer to tie it at 112 with 47.8 seconds left. No one was moving. OK, used that one already. Really, they're still not letting anyone out of their houses there?

Van Vleet messed up a dribble and it went out of bounds to Toronto. Donovan challenged and won, and eschewing the traditional Red River Jig when challenges are won in Canada, Donovan smartly drew up that play with five passes and the ball bouncing off LaVine's back on Green's errant pass to Vucevic for the go ahead score. So maybe he didn't.

"The ball got tipped and ended up in my hands," said Vucevic. "I just tried to throw it at the rim, get a bucket and it went it. It was a little bit of a lucky play; unfortunately we couldn't hold onto the lead to finish the game."

The way this is going the Bulls are just trying to get to the break without another.