Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Raptors (05.13.21)

The Bulls look to stay alive in the playoff hunt by sweeping the season series against the Toronto Raptors tonight at the United Center. Chicago enters with a 29-40 record, hanging by a thread in the Eastern Conference play-in race. Trailing the 10th-place Washington Wizards by 2.5 games with three to play, one more Bulls loss or Wizards win would officially eliminate them.

Plagued by injuries, Toronto will likely take the floor without any of its regular starting five while hoping to end a four-game losing skid. In their last outing, the Raptors lost to the LA Clippers 115-96, eliminating them from the postseason.

Chris Boucher had 16 points and seven rebounds for Toronto. Boucher started and played 38 minutes after missing nine games with a sprained left knee. He's been listed out of action tonight, as well as Pascal Siakam (strained left shoulder), Rodney Hood (fractured finger), Kyle Lowry (rest), Fred VanVleet (left hip flexor strain) and OG Anunoby (left calf strain).

The Bulls also lost in their last game, 115-107 to Brooklyn, as the Nets, behind Kevin Durant, jumped out to an early lead and led comfortably for most of the night as Chicago struggled to hit shots.

Down 93-74 entering the 4th quarter, All-Star Zach LaVine directed a furious Chicago rally to bring the Bulls within shouting distance, but Durant and veteran forward Jeff Green posted key baskets down the stretch to thwart Chicago's late charge. LaVine was spectacular all night long, recording a game-high 41 points. It was his fifth this season with 40+ points and moved him into sole possession of second place in franchise history with 14 40+-point games, one ahead of Chicago's first-ever star player from the 1970s, Bob Love, who had 13 games of 40+ points. However, the franchise record will likely stand for many more years as LaVine is far behind Hall of Famer Michael Jordan, who, including the playoffs, scored 40+ points an eye-popping 203 times while wearing a Bulls uniform.

Besides LaVine, Coby White chipped in 16 points against Brooklyn, while Nikola Vučević recorded his ninth consecutive double-double with 12 points/12 rebounds.

Chicago comes into tonight looking to post its fourth win in its last five games. In spite of the Nets scoring 115 points the other night, Chicago has been playing very solid defense of late, having recently held Charlotte, Boston, and Detroit under 100 points each. To come out on top tonight, the Bulls cannot afford to look past the banged-up Raptors for even a minute. Chicago will have to defend the 3-point arc as if its life depends on it, as well as win the battle of the boards while continuing to do a great job of helping each other out defensively. Open communication, rotating when needed and staying in front of their assigned man whenever the Raptors possess the ball are vital keys to winning tonight's contest.

Offensively, the Bulls have done a fantastic job this season of freely passing the ball from player-to-player and skipping it from side-to-side. Unrelenting passing, coupled with continuous player movement places an inordinate amount of pressure on the defense to answer the challenge, and if that answerability goes on long enough, defenses tend to break and fall apart. Non-stop passing also helps to keep everyone involved and invested in the game while also freeing up driving lanes through the paint for high percentage shots at the rim.

For the Bulls to post their 30th victory on the season and sweep the Raptors, 3-0, they will need to be aggressive and carry that attitude for all 48 minutes of the game. Chicago has to commit to going all out at both ends of the floor. They have to stay focused, poised, and tenaciously defend their basket. As a team, Chicago must fight its way through and over screens and stop with shortcutting them by looking to slip under. They really need to deliver a hardnosed effort in every way from here on out. Including tonight there are just three games left on the schedule. Longshot or not, the Bulls are in the hunt for the postseason for the first time since 2017. If they use this approach, they should be able to keep their playoff hopes alive for at least another day.