TORONTO – All good things come to an end. But the bad things? They tend to linger.
Monday night’s 109-107 win by the Chicago Bulls over the Toronto Raptors was the home team’s last chance to slay the Bulls dragon and they failed, losing to an undermanned Chicago team for the fourth time this season and ninth straight overall.
"They have our number," said Raptors guard Kyle Lowry. "For us to change that whenever we get to play them again we’re going to have to beat them.”
Hopefully they won’t get another chance this season. The Bulls are holding down the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference at the moment. There isn’t a Raptors fan anywhere who is hoping Chicago can catch Detroit for the seventh spot and set up a first-round series with Toronto, who seem locked in at No. 2 in the East.
Do the Bulls have the Raptors’ number? They beat the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre on Jan. 3 and again on Monday night. In between, Toronto won 15-of-16 at home, so maybe.
The loss ended the Raptors’ seven-game homestand, dropping them to 5-2 at the ACC in March. So that’s the good thing that’s over now.
But the Bulls’ mastery over the Raptors? That shows no sign of ending. It might be voodoo. It wasn’t just that Chicago swept the series, it was how.
In January the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler went off for 42 points against the Raptors – 40 of them in the second half. When the two teams met in Chicago, Butler was hurt, but Doug McDermott came off the bench to score a career-high 30 points. On Monday the Bulls were missing Pau Gasol, Derrick Rose and Mike Dunleavy from their starting lineup and it didn’t seem to matter. They started the fourth quarter leading the Raptors 84-77 as Nikola Mirotic, McDermott and E’Twaun Moore combined to shoot 21-of-28 from the floor as Toronto may have misinterpreted their ‘Anyone but Butler’ game plan to mean ‘Everyone but Butler,’ who was held to eight points on 3-of-12 shooting through the first 36 minutes. Butler, the Bulls’ best player, wasn’t a factor as he finished with just 13 points. But McDermott finished with 29 and Moore with 17 on just 11 shots.
That helped offset 33 points from Lowry and 27 from DeMar DeRozan.
Just to make things worse, Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas left the game just 10 minutes in after being hit on his left hand — which he broke earlier this season, keeping him out of the lineup for 17 games. This time X-rays were negative. But still, his hand is bruised, swollen and bandaged. Not good.
In the fourth the Raptors kept gamely trying to come back, but every time they cut Chicago’s lead to six, it seemed, the Bulls would find a way to let some air out of the Raptors’ balloon, usually with a timely offensive rebound or two.
Their best chance came in the final 38 seconds when the Bulls turned it over twice, but a desperate full-court drive by DeRozan as the clock was winding down and Toronto down one didn’t connect with 0.3 seconds left and the comeback fell short.
The crowd? They did their part. The building was full. It was loud. They did what they could to provide the Raptors with the homecourt advantage they’ve enjoyed all season.
The loss was an unpleasant way to end the homestand, but it shouldn’t spoil the big picture, which is that the Raptors have been brilliant at home this season, particularly in the long home stretches, which the schedule has provided in regular doses.
This was the club’s second seven-game homestand in the space of eight weeks – tied for the longest homestands in franchise history. On top of that, Toronto had a six-game run of contests at the ACC in early December.
This season has been a bit of an anomaly for Toronto in that respect. Between hosting the NBA All-Star Game – which limited access to their own building before and after the weekend – and playing a road game in London, England, which blew another six-day hole in their schedule, the NBA had to play catch up when it came to fitting in the Raptors’ 41 home dates.
The players have loved it. The backstage areas of the ACC have been swollen after games with friends and family who have arrived for extended visits – rare occasions during most seasons when a few days here or there are about as long as can be expected.
Valanciunas’ mother, Danute, made the long trip from Lithuania to visit her 24-year-old son, providing some home cooking and an extra set of hands for her grandson and celebrate his first birthday on Sunday.
"She was there for the whole homestand," said Valanciunas. "She helps with the baby. It’s great to see her here."
For Patrick Patterson, who opens his two-bedroom condo to his father Buster and mother Tywanna regularly, spending the past two weeks in Toronto has been one of the high points of the season.
"I’m the only child, so it’s not distracting. It’s always good having my mom and dad around just because of the love, the energy they give me and the feeling of complete home, having them around," said Patterson. "It’s just fun and I appreciate them wanting to spend time with me. It’s never a distraction. It’s more of me being happy."
Logically the long stretches at home would seem to be a good thing but coaches aren’t always logical. Part of their job is to see open manhole covers around every corner, just waiting to swallow their team whole.
As it is with Raptors head coach Dwane Casey, who can dial up the paranoia with the best of them. His team was 26-7 at home before the Bulls arrived. The Raptors went 4-2 on their six-game homestand in December; 7-0 in January and were 5-2 this time.
Still, Casey was wary through the whole thing, even as the wins were piling up.
"I don’t like them. It hurts your rhythm," he said. "Guys get comfortable. I’ve said this all along. Families look at the calendar and see a six-game, seven-game stretch and think: that’s when I’m going to go see Johnny. You have a house full of people, you’re out of your routine. Your concentration may not be totally there.
"And it’s great. Family’s beautiful. I love my family too. But you’re out of your routine and it can mess with you. You get comfortable. But again, the schedule is what it is. Two long homestands, I’d rather they get broken up a little bit, but it is what it is."
Of course with that worry behind him Casey can start rubbing his worry beads to ward off a new set of fears: the Raptors play 10 of their last 17 games on the road beginning Tuesday night in Milwaukee.