In their last road game of 2015 the house of horrors that has been the United Centre continued for the Toronto Raptors on Monday night. The last time Toronto beat Chicago was Dec. 31, 2013 as they now have dropped five straight to the Bulls.
Out since Nov. 20, Jonas Valanciunas made his return coming off the bench. Despite this only being his 15th game this year, Valanciunas was effective early, going 4-for-6 from the field in the first half while the rest of the bench was just 4-for-16 after two quarters.
That, in a nutshell, was the story of the game.
The positive sign was Valanciunas looked ready to resume his starting role. The bad news was the bench that was so vital in his absence and when DeMarre Carroll missed nine games, was once again non-existent.
Terrence Ross’ six straight games with 10 or more points while shooting 47 per cent from three came to a screeching halt. Ross was 0-for-4 from downtown and had just six points. Despite the fact he played starters minutes he only managed to register two rebounds, and a block for a minus-16.
The other three-point shooter off the bench is Patrick Patterson. The Raptors’ stretch four struggled behind the arc, going 1-for-5 from three and 3-of-13, overall, finishing with a minus-20
Patterson and Ross were just 6-of-22 combined.
“We gotta have some pluses from our second unit,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey told reporters after the game. “Jonas was the only positive off the bench at five. So whatever we gotta get ourselves mentally ready to play off the bench we got to have that. The starters can’t go the whole time, we have to have a plus and boost off the bench.”
Every member of the bench outside their usual starting centre Valanciunas had a negative plus-minus. Every starter except Bismack Biyombo, who normally is a bench player, had a positive plus-minus. Excluding Valancuinas, the bench made just 8-of-29 shots.
It was that black and white. When Casey went to his bench the Raptors were in the red. Toronto won’t be able to bank on its starters to carry it deep in the spring if its bench doesn’t start to cash in on its opportunities.
As bad as the bench was shooting the ball, the team's defensive effort is just as concerning for Casey.
“We knew their second unit was an offensive unit, and we told our guys that and we didn’t come with any force whatsoever with our second unit defence,” said the Raptors coach.
When the Raptors hold teams to under 100 points they are 17-3. With this 107-94 loss, they move to 2-10 when they don’t. Their defence is connected to and catapults their offence. In the second half they shot just 38 per cent from the field.
Toronto had great flow offensively to start the game with eight assists on 13 made field goals in the first quarter. The biggest beneficiary was Luis Scola, who had 12 points on 6-for-6 field goals in the first quarter.
But when the Bulls' bench came in the game changed entirely. Fred Hoiberg only played four players off the bench but all but one of them played 27 minutes.
The bench performance Raptors fans will bemoan the most is that of Bobby Portis.
The 22nd pick in the 2015 draft that went two picks after the Raptors took Delon Wright just missed a double-double with 12 points, nine rebounds and a plus-16. As Patterson struggled and Wright didn’t play, you can’t blame Raptors fans if they were dreaming of Portis in Raptors red like many mock drafts predicted rather than suiting up for the Bulls.
Also off the bench was Tony Snell who hit four three-pointers and grabbed seven rebounds to go with 22 points and a plus-13.
The first man off the Bulls bench was Aaron Brooks. Brooks alone had three and-one baskets in the second quarter to keep Chicago within striking distance. The perennial Raptors killer finished with 17 points and five assists.
Brooks’ performance in the backcourt along with Derrick Rose continued a troubling trend of Toronto struggling defensively against scoring point guards. Derrick Rose has struggled with his health and his shot all year but found his form against Toronto with 20 points on 7-of-17 shooting in 29 minutes.
The Raptors’ bench was bullied by the Bulls. A team they will be fighting with for playoff positioning and they might have to go through once they get there. The benchmark for this team’s success will be set by how well their subs are able to prop up their starters.