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Lucas and Korver quiet Raptors
by Sam Smith
Posted on Mar 22
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Basketball is a pretty simple game. Figure your team is tired, trailing by eight with about 10 minutes left, a little underwhelmed by the opposition and still without the league MVP and its starting backcourt while playing a league most 26th road game.
So you dig in a bit on defense. And hope John Lucas III and Kyle Korver can bail you out?
As unlikely as it seems, that’s what occurred in Toronto Wednesday. Led by Lucas, who is about five feet tall with the Canadian exchange rate, and Korver, whose secret wish is to be the next Pierre Trudeau, the Bulls came back to defeat the Raptors 94-82.
“Korver got it going,” said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. “He and John Lucas did a heck of a job making their shots. When championship teams are turning up the screws, you’ve got to make every play. There’s no room for negotiations in those situations. They just wore us down, grinded us down. That’s their game. That’s the kind of playoff basketball that you’ve got to play. It’s not an up and down game when you get to the championship level. They know how to win. They’re a championship team.”
That was awfully nice of Casey, a finalist when the Bulls hired Vinny Del Negro, even though these Bulls have yet to play in a Finals.
There are different ways to look at what happened with the Bulls Wednesday. Toronto is 15-32 and 7-15 at home and so far from competing they may as well be in Canada. Oh, yeah. So it’s not like you are playing for anything special, which is how the Bulls starters mostly looked through three quarters.
“I thought low energy on defence (I’m spelling it Canadian in this story as a sign of respect for a really good national anthem) and offence and our passing was way off the mark,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who became the league’s fastest ever to 101 wins. “Even the ones that we completed we were taking guys out of rhythm. We turned the ball over, in the first half I believe we had 10 which put them in the open floor.”
So some ennui is not unreasonable when you lead the league in games played and are playing a team that relies heavily on Aaron Gray, the only living person who wears cement boots.
Also, Toronto is a very fun place to have fun, and the Bulls had a night there to wait for the Raptors, who would be playing the second of a back to back Wednesday.
Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer both has eight points and sat out the fourth quarter. Noah, though, again led the team in assists. Only Luol Deng, who didn’t make a field goal, played more than a minute and a half among the starters in the fourth quarter. He led the Bulls with 17 points.
That fourth quarter was when Lucas and Korver combined for 23 points, Lucas alone equaling the entire scoring of the Raptors in the fourth as the Bulls put an astounding 20-0 run on Toronto and had fans singing, “Oh, my Canada!”
“John Lucas sparked the team in the fourth quarter,” said Korver. “John Lucas, man, he is playing great. This team we have a lot of pieces that fit together really well. We have said all year that we all have different strengths and we try and play to our strengths. I think the fourth quarter was about as well as you can do playing to our strengths. We got on a little roll and we needed it tonight. We didn’t play a real strong game.”
Which is the other side of the loon, as it were, the loon being the national bird of Canada. It can’t be the Canadian goose, as most seem to be around Chicago leaving droppings on the golf courses.
I seem to have digressed here, though you never want to miss an opportunity to say, “Loon.”
The point being if you can have one of those kinds of games when you basically have no business winning and can pull it out and win going away behind reserves, one of whom didn’t figure to be a 10th man on a D-league team, well, then maybe that is a special win as well.
“I just wanted to come in with a lot of energy,” said Lucas. “The first half I felt like I was flat and I wanted to make it up. I said, ‘I’m just going to give it everything I have and just go out there and play my hardest and leave everything on the court.’”
And in the deciding quarter when the Raptors were four of 18 and former No. 1 overall draft Andrea Bargnani attempted just one shot it was Lucas going on his own 7-2 run to open the fourth, sending Toronto into a timeout.
The Raptors came out of the timeout with another of the bad isolation shots they were most fond of, and then Korver hit a three to tie the game at 72 with 7:28 remaining and pretty much sent the Raptors into the fetal position thereafter.
They failed to score in their next seven possessions with the Bulls defense having a bit to do with it. Omer Asik blocked a Linas Kleiza shot, Deng drew a charge on Kleiza and Bargnani bricked another 17 footer. Bargnani was two of 10, but he basically was unguarded.
Taj Gibson, who played the entire fourth quarter and got seven rebounds to eight for the Raptors, stole the ball from Jose Calderon, leading to his own runout for a pair of free throws. DeMar DeRozan, who led everyone with 23 points after a strong start, hoisted up a bad one-on-one shot, his first of three as he began losing it and drew a technical foul as well for screaming at the officials.
While this Toronto icing was going on, the Bulls were in the midst of scoring in 10 straight possessions after that tying Korver shot, Gibson had a slam dunk on a fast break, Lucas drained another over a screen, Korver scored on an off balance fallaway off one foot and then Korver drove for a running bank shot. Yes, Korver was beating them off the dribble. And then when Korver made a pull up 10 footer with just under four minutes left, the Bulls had run away with the game and taken an 84-72 lead.
“We didn’t play with a lot of energy for a while,” Korver agreed. “Sometimes when you start making shots guys play a little harder. You hate to say that but it is the truth. We got some stops, we got out on the break, our defense was really solid and we finally started making our shots.”
Defence! Defence! Defence! They clearly don’t spell it well in Canada.
Actually, the Bulls have a big edge on most teams the way they play defense, especially with their big men. That’s because they are able to employ so much switching late in games. Gibson, Noah, Deng and even Asik are able to guard big men and and smaller guys. Asik also did a terrific job closing off the middle, further inhibiting penetration.
Thus it makes it difficult for teams to run a screen/roll, the basic NBA play, and get anything really open. So players spend a lot of time dribbling around in trying to beat what they feel are mismatches. But because the Bulls players, even the big men, are so good at moving their feet and staying with shooters there often are a lot of late shot clock, forced shots taken.
Former Bull James Johnson, who had a nice line with 16 points and seven rebounds, hoisted up a few bad jumpers to add to the amusement as the Raptors finally decided they should guard Lucas a bit. So Lucas dribbled around, one of his favorite hobbies, and made a long three from on top.
The Raptors started fouling and calling timeouts for little apparent reason with about a minute left and trailing by 11. With the shot clock running out and still about 12 seconds left, Lucas drove and Kleiza threw him to the floor. This is that unwritten rule thing about holding the ball at the end, though you can’t when the shot clock runs out with time left. Maybe it was time zone confusion.
Lucas got up quickly and made one of two free throws. There apparently was no connection to the camouflage jerseys the Raptors were wearing for Canadian Armed Forces day because the Canadian military is considered respectable.
Kleiza then ran down for a last shot and tried to run over Lucas, which isn’t that difficult if you can see him. It seemed frustration for Kleiza, though I tend to believe it’s because he’s named “Linas.”
Lucas is averaging 14.2 points in 21.4 minutes per game and shooting 51.2 percent in the last five games with Rose out. The Bulls are researching whether there is a 15th man of the year award.
“We stuck with it,” said Deng. “We are finding and learning ways to win. I really thought the first three quarters we didn’t play great. In the first half, they got everything they wanted but they just missed some open shots. In the fourth quarter, it was our will to find a way to win the game. The guys coming off of the bench were great.”
It’s not an aberration because it’s been a continuing story this season for this Bulls team, now 39-10 and a league best 20-6 on the road and now six road wins in a row. It’s been their salvation, really. Derrick Rose remained out with his groin injury and is out through Saturday, at least, when the Bulls will play Toronto again. The Bulls now are a remarkable 11-4 without Rose. Richard Hamilton also is out with his shoulder injury, though both are reporting progress. The Bulls are hoping to have both back playing by the start of April to get a good three weeks together and put back both the starting and reserve units. That’s because Ronnie Brewer, who had 11 points, and C.J. Watson, who had 15, remain with the starters.
The Bulls would like to have both units back together functioning for a few weeks to be ready to start the playoffs. Though it is that depth that has enabled the Bulls to maintain the league’s best record despite the plethora of injuries.
“I think it’s hard on the road,” said Bulls coach Thibodeau. “You have to be ready, and you have to take the challenge.”
Which, as we know, means not skipping steps and making sure you get what you deserve.
As much as Thibodeau wants to dismiss it, this is a difficult season. Not even so much with the shoe horned in games, but the relentless travel that simply is wearing. You don’t get jet lagged just from flying across time zones.
And so it was a lethargic Bulls group that set out from the beginning. Deng got off to a quick start thanks to some sloppy play from Johnson. It’s the puzzle with Johnson, who is more athletic than anyone on the Bulls but Rose. He is a much improved player with the Raptors and a starter, though he does lose concentration like when he seemed to try to look cool carrying a ball into the front court late in the third quarter and Brewer just grabbed it away from him.
DeRozan got off quickly with 11 points in the first quarter, though Watson closed the first with a three for a 27-23 Bulls lead. Deng added a three and nice follow layup on a Korver miss early in the second. But the Raptors began to take control with their bench with even Gray getting three baskets and Lucas and Korver ineffective. For now.
The Raptors led 51-43 at halftime as the Bulls seemed to waste their early momentum in a gloomy affair. No wonder they prefer hockey. After all, no one was bleeding.
Boozer, who finished with a quiet eight points, did have a nice driving slam dunk past the immobile Gray, which begged the question about why the Bulls didn’t drive at Gray more. Though the Raptors only once posted up Lucas as neither team was particularly sharp or aware.
The Bulls starters again failed to get much going after halftime as Toronto opened up an early 57-45 lead. The Bulls could be grateful the Raptors mostly reverted to their one-on-one offense, enabling the listless Bulls to stay within 69—62 after three quarters.
And then came Luc and Kyle. As Deng says, whatever it takes.