Bulls hold off Raptors 111-105, earn 30th victory of the season
Nikola Vucevic nailed a clutch three-pointer to ice the victory as Chicago improved to 30-17 on the season.
Remind Me Later •
Vooch will accept your apologies.
"It always feels good to make a big shot," Bulls center Nikola Vucevic—and Wednesday a Big Part of the Bulls Big 3—was saying after his three pointer from the left wing with 14.5 seconds left saved the Bulls from a collapse in the 111-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors. "Those are the kinds of shots when you're growing up and dreaming of playing basketball at a high level, those are the shots you dream of, making big shots and helping your team win. We had a big lead and kind of gave it away and struggled toward the end, so it was good for the shot to go in, felt good for me and felt great it helped us get the win."
It wasn't easy despite near triple doubles from Vucevic, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, but perhaps just a continuing preview of life without the Bulls injured point guards, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso.
After giving up a 28-point lead Monday in Oklahoma City—17 midway through the fourth quarter—and then seeing their 19-point third quarter lead become a one-point Toronto lead with 3:1l left, the Bulls survived with a LaVine driving three-point play, a couple of DeRozan free throws and Vucevic's pressure three after Toronto without its two best scorers pulled within 108-105 with two minutes left in the game.
Effectively pressing and then trapping DeRozan, as they did later in the game, DeRozan describing it like being pinned in a corner in a mixing match, DeRozan squeezed out a bounce pass to Vucevic. This didn't exactly fill the mostly exuberant United Center crowd with excited anticipation.
In trying to reinvent himself this season as a tertiary scoring option, Vucevic continued to put up All-Star numbers in rebounding and assists. But his shooting has been under regular scrutiny, a career low overall and four and five year lows in three-point shooting and overall scoring.
But Vucevic never hesitated, taking one quick dribble in and making the three for the six-point lead. Rookie Scottie Barnes missed a three to effectively end it, Javonte Green with the ball in another everywhere game in his return from injury.
Green had 12 points and six rebounds in his minutes restricted time to support the essence of a Big Three:
DeRozan: 29 points on 11 of 19 with seven rebounds and seven assists.
LaVine: 23 points on nine of 16 with eight rebounds and eight assists.
Vucevic: 17 points on eight of 11 shooting with 15 rebounds and eight assists.
"I don't care how many shots he (Vucevic) misses," said DeRozan. "I don't care if he struggled the game before, the quarter before, the possession before. Every time I see him load it up, I've got the utmost confidence that it's going to go in. Can't make ‘em all; you're going to miss some. But I can live and die with those shots from Vooch every night.
"That's the first time all three of us played together in a while (since LaVine's knee injury Jan. 14 and DeRozan taking a rest day Monday). Just trying to get the rhythm back. Just more so all of us being comfortable, playing off each other, trying to find a sequence with each other, who's scoring, who's moving the ball, breaking down the defense, reading things. It's a good start. We're just going to try to continue to build on it."
It's been a discouraging stretch for the team, which put Derrick Jones Jr. back on the injury list with a fractured finger suffered in practice Tuesday (Grayson Allen was not in attendance).
The Bulls had lost seven of 10, but with the win remain just a half game behind first place Miami in the East at 30-17.
Though the big problem remains the multiple months absences of Caruso and Ball, which is becoming an opponent's plan. The quick and more athletic teams—Toronto plays without a center and was missing point guard Fred VanVleet, their best player—have started to pressure the Bulls young substitute backcourt of Coby White and Ayo Dosunmu.
It's one reason Vucevic, DeRozan and LaVine had so many assists, 32 on 55 percent overall shooting for the team.
But like in the loss to Orlando last weekend and against the Thunder and Raptors, the late pressure has made the Bulls cautious and slow. White had just one turnover in 24 minutes and Dosunmu none in 38. But that's deceiving, as coach Billy Donovan noted, because they become so cautious.
"I didn't think it (handling pressure late) was very good," Donovan admitted. "These are the opportunities for our backcourt guys to recognize some of those things and this in the last two games can give us an opportunity to get better. Guys are going to have to come back and help them when they are in trouble. But then it's hard to get into anything (offensively), and next thing you know you're up against the clock, you're taking really difficult challenged shots.
"As they were pressing, we are just kind of going through stages," Donovan pointed out. "It was getting the ball inbounds, getting it across half court and then trying to get into an offense. There's not enough time to do that. There are a lot of things we can learn from this and get better at. We have to get better from this."
So buckle up.
"God willing our team stays the way it is with no more guys being out with Covid and injuries," said Donovan, adding two assistants were out after testing positive. "This will be one of the things we have to get better at and improve upon."
So thanks for Vooch, Zach and DeMar, the latter expected to be selected as a starting guard among the East players in the All-Star results to be announced on TNT Thursday night (wink, wink, he's in).
And then he almost was out, the rare occasion when DeRozan drew two technical fouls but was not ejected. That's because the first was for touching the net while the shooter still had the ball, which is not considered unsportsmanlike to define the two technicals ouster. Fortunately for the Bulls, Raptors lead scorer Gary Trent Jr. with 32 points with six threes was unsportsmanlike twice, the second time with 2:02 left in the game. So he wasn't available to finish with Toronto down three and with the ball. Toronto went on to miss all three of its threes the remainder of the game and both its free throws.
Easier to beat the Rap like that.
And it did look like it was going to be easy. Without VanVleet, the Raptors really don't have a point guard and the Bulls broke away fast, a 12-2 lead, making their first eight shots, up by 14 late in the quarter before Toronto rallied to get within 31-27 after one.
Toronto nosed into a tie midway through the second quarter, but DeRozan continued to hammer away at his first former team with double figures in both quarters and 21 at the half (the second is Friday in San Antonio). That scoring earned DeRozan the second half traps from the innovative Raptors coach Nick Nurse. Though it didn't seem at the time like it would matter much, DeRozan driving the Bulls up to that 17-point halftime lead with his first three since his New Year's Day winner in Washington and Green scoring on cutbacks and dunking cuts.
"He's big," DeRozan said abut Green. "He don't get a lot of credit. You look at the stat sheet, you won't see a bunch of points. But the effort, the energy, the spirit. He does a lot of little things on the court that get us in a lot of good positions, defensively and offensively. His knack for the game is incredible."
Then Trent got on a run with 16 points in the third quarter and the race was on into the fourth quarter when Toronto got within four with still eight minutes left.
But the Bulls held off every parry, White with a three while up four, DeRozan finding a cutting Green for a dunk while up three, and then LaVine going right back for that three-point play when Toronto took it's first lead of the game with that nudge ahead by a point, and then DeMar and Vooch with the closer.
"It shows how unselfish we are, all three of us and in general as a team," Vucevic said. "The way Toronto plays, they're very aggressive on the ball, they're very aggressive in helping and sending two people a lot of times. They do different things defensively. We knew we would have to share the ball and find the next guy to have a chance to beat them. I thought we did a good job."
And so did Vooch.
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