CHICAGO - With both teams playing for the fifth time in six nights there was no shortage of effort on display at the United Center on Saturday night.
Execution, on the other hand, was lacking, as one would expect.
The ability of both sides to convert from the field was sorely lacking until reigning league MVP Derrick Rose went to work in the fourth quarter, erasing any hope of a Raptors win and leading the league-best 12-2 Bulls to a 77-64 victory.
Rose finished with 18 points and 11 assists and was sublime in the deciding frame, dishing out five of his assists and scoring a ridiculous hang in the air masterpiece reminiscent of Michael Jordan in his heyday.
“If he is not the toughest (player in the NBA to contain), he’s one of the toughest,” an admiring Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said of Rose after the game.
Taj Gibson also terrorized the Raptors in the fourth, scoring nine of his 11 points along with five rebounds (three at the offensive end).
The Raptors, now 4-9, looked dead and buried against the powerhouse, 12-2 Bulls when Chicago opened the game on a 21-10 run, but the bench and DeMar DeRozan kept Toronto within range.
DeRozan had his second strong start in a row and ex-Bull James Johnson scored 10 points in the half before later leaving with a right ankle injury. Gary Forbes added five points, five assists and eight rebounds.
DeRozan ended up with 15, the same as Leandro Barbosa to lead the Raptors. Amir Johnson had a typically gritty 13-rebound effort.
Toronto rallied in the second by holding Chicago’s lineup of mostly reserves to 30.4% shooting to get into the break even at 37. Yes, 37.
It was another at-times brutal display of post-lockout basketball. Oddly, neither team attempted a free throw until Rose went to the line nearly halfway through the third quarter. Toronto didn’t head to the line until Linas Kleiza shot two about a full quarter after Rose.
Both teams continued to struggle in the third quarter (29.2% shooting for the visitors, 36.8% for the Bulls who led by four after three).
But then Rose worked his magic, the Bulls hit three-of-six attempts from three (after starting the game 1-for-9 and that was all for the plucky Raptors.
“Without many of our players (we) competed against one of the best teams in the NBA,” Casey summarized.
“Our guys fought well, but there were just not enough bullets to fight this well coached and run team … I am very happy with our play being able to hold them down to 40% in their scoring.”
Now if only the Raptors could get something going at the other end.
THE FORBES EXPERIMENT
With Jerryd Bayless sidelined, Casey is looking for options behind Jose Calderon.
Enter Forbes. The free agent signing got the nod against Indiana on Friday and on Saturday ahead of veteran Anthony Carter and Casey said that would continue.
“It’s an experiment that we’re going to look at and continue to look at. He’s one of our better ball-handlers … He knows where everybody should be, he knows how to create his shot, use screens, but it’s more so running the team (that he needs to work on).”.
Forbes said he feels comfortable at the position, but needs time to pick up the defensive side of things.
“I played backup point guard in college (UMass), during the FIBA Americas and also overseas a little bit and last year in Denver when Ty (Lawson) or Chauncey (Billups) would go out of the lineup” … DeRozan hit a three to tie the game in the third quarter, his first make from outside in seven games, ending an 0-11 stretch.
Casey said Andrea Bargnani (calf strain) remains day-to-day, but that the injury was: “Not as serious as we first thought, but still has a few days probably to get it back going again.” Translation? Don’t expect him Monday in Atlanta … Bayless said his ankle is getting better and Casey said he can put more weight on it, but the coach said the club will err on the side of caution and wait a little bit longer … Centre Aaron Gray’s heart issues appear to be a thing of the past, but Casey said Gray’s leg is still healing from the procedure to fix his heart ablation. Johnson said he expects to be able to play against the Hawks.
The Bulls recently brought veteran Mike James back to the league for the first time since a four-game stint in 2009-10 with Washington. James had a career season in his lone campaign for the Raptors back in 2005-06 and was backed up by a rookie Calderon. Calderon struggled then, but James said he could tell Calderon would be solid. “Back in Spain, he was a top player and that’s not a league where it’s easy to have success in,” James told the Sun. He’s playing with a whole lot of confidence. When you add confidence to talent, the sky’s the limit for you.