Did you ever see the cartoon where the feisty little guy wants to take on the giant, and the giant really wants no part of it? He knows he can knock out the little guy. But the little guy just keeps swinging, roundhouse punch after roundhouse punch, but he's hitting nothing but air. Because the giant has his arm outstretched holding the little guy's head, and the little guy can't reach the giant. But he keeps swinging and swinging.
That was the Bulls and Toronto Raptors Tuesday in Toronto's mostly nonchalant 112-103 victory.
The Bulls basically had no chance in this game with the 52-23 Raptors, who are second in the Eastern Conference and convinced they finally are title contenders (psst, maybe don't let them know yet, but they are not. More on that later). The Bulls, meanwhile, were essentially without their starting five, and that's for a 21-54 team. Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Otto Porter Jr. all were out with injuries, joining Wendell Carter Jr., who would have been a starter had he not been injured in January. Then Lauri Markkanen, the last Bull standing, sat down with illness after getting 10 points and nine rebounds in the first half.
Bulls Raptors recap
"He had some fatigue and he was feeling a little sluggish, so we thought it was a good idea to keep him out the second half," Bulls coach Jim Boylen explained. "He has been practicing hard, playing hard and we felt we should keep him out and see how he feels afterwards."
Wayne Selden Jr. led the Bulls with 20 points, which matched his season high. Seven Bulls scored in double figures with Shaquille Harrison getting 15 points and three steals (Selden also had three steals), Ryan Arcidiacono 13 and two-way player Brandon Sampson with his career high 10 points.
Wayne Selden handles the ball
The last two were added with three tenths of a second left in the game when the Raptors were trying to dribble out the clock after getting a Harrison miss with 21 seconds left and leading 112-101. Selden then snuck up behind Norman Powell to force a jump ball with 7.6 seconds left. Selden got the ball and Sampson the free throws and his first double digit scoring game before presumably joining Windy City Wednesday for its playoff game in Westchester. With Markkanen out, Sampson started the second half along with Harrison, Selden, Arcidiacono and Robin Lopez. The Raptors, leading at the time 56-41, had their regulars in, Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, Danny Green and Kyle Lowry. They were led by Powell off the bench with 20 points. Leonard played a season low 22 minutes and had 14 points and six steals.
Shaquille Harrison looks to move
"We are working at getting better," said Boylen, who called one of his teaching timeouts trailing by 13 with 1:17 left. "We are working at growing no matter who is out there. Competing whether you're the fifteenth guy or the first guy. Bulls across your chest has to mean a lot when you're out there and I thought it did tonight."
It might have helped to have some real bulls considering the mismatch in talent. But these Raptors tend not to be nearly as ferocious as their historic namesakes. It's understandable that a top team like the Raptors might not be particularly motivated when the opponent features four starters from the G-league. So the Raptors loped through much of the game, playing intermittently after leading by eight at the end of the first quarter, never trailing and ahead by 20 late in the third quarter.
But the Bulls kept coming at them, Arcidiacono with a pullup jumper and a pair of floaters around an Antonio Blakeney three to get within 87-77 with 10 minutes left. The Bulls with that offensively challenged lineup would score 62 second half points.
Ryan Arcidiacono dribbles
"One of our points of emphasis was we cannot turn the ball over against the Raptors, and obviously we turned the ball over (for 25 Toronto points) and it hurt us," said Boylen. "We won the boards, we won the second half and those are things we talked about at halftime. It is no secret we're shorthanded, but we hung in there. It is fun to see guys get a chance. I thought Brandon competed, AB."
The Raptors did compete, though only at times, which certainly was enough to beat the remnants of this Bulls team. If you can remember opening day in October, the starting lineup was Bobby Portis, Justin Holiday, Cameron Payne, Carter and LaVine. The Bulls got a peak at their future with the lineup of Dunn, LaVine, Porter and Markkanen winning seven of 12 after the trade for Porter. But it's uncertain who plays again with seven games left and Toronto in the United Center Saturday. They've beaten the Bulls eight straight.
But there's something about this Toronto team. They're on a great run, averaging 53 wins the last five years, but have made it past the second round of the playoffs once.
It's not a particularly good sign when players compete indifferently even against weaker competition. It's one thing if it's the champion Golden State Warriors. But this is a Toronto team that has a disappointing playoff history. It's a team that often seems unprepared for the playoff effort needed. Doing just enough to win games, no matter the opponent, doesn't particularly bode well for a long playoff run. Perhaps it's just confidence now that they have Leonard, whose pace often belies his intensity. Though the Raptors did buckle in enough to stop Cristiano Felicio's double digit scoring streak at three straight.
As an aside, I once saw Tom Meschery, a ruggedly passionate and borderline crazed Warriors player from the 1960s chase after and start swinging at Wilt Chamberlain, whom many still regard as the strongest NBA player ever. Tom started swinging at Wilt, and Wilt had Tom's lead in his giant hand asking Tom just what he was doing. Tom continued to swing away without any chance of success. He didn't land any punches, not unlike the Bulls Tuesday, But he declared whom he intended to be. That appears to at least be the Bulls game plan for now. It did help Tom when he got better teammates.