Raptors show they still aren’t right in ugly win over Bulls

Marc-Gasol

Toronto Raptors' Marc Gasol, right, pressures Chicago Bulls' Wendell Carter Jr. during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Dec. 9, 2019, in Chicago. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)

The Toronto Raptors hung on to defeat the Chicago Bulls 93-92 on Monday night, avoiding the team’s first four-game losing streak since LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers swept them out of the playoffs in May 2018.

Toronto is surely happy to be adding another notch to the win column, but Monday night’s affair was an ugly one – even for two teams playing on the second night of a back-to-back – that shows the Raptors are still far from being right again.

Here are a few takeaways from yet another poor showing from the Raptors, despite walking away with the win in Chicago:

Gasol saves the day

Beginning with some positive news from what was a pretty dreadful game overall, Marc Gasol was brilliant, and probably the biggest reason why the Raptors managed to pull this one out.

Take a look at the two GIFs you see above. These were Chicago’s final two possessions of the game, and with Toronto desperately clinging to a one-point lead, it was Gasol who held the fort on the backline, first rotating over and blocking Lauri Markkanen, and then stepping up against Zach LaVine’s drive and absolutely cutting off any hope of a floater.

These were the most apparent plays by Gasol that directly sealed the game for the Raptors, but he was playing defence like this all night as he finished with four blocks and two steals.

No, he once again didn’t score much in this one – finishing with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting – but that’s not where his value lies.

As Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of Gasol earlier this week, “I can’t imagine a much better defensive centre in the league. I can’t.”

Monday was yet another pointed reminder of just how great Gasol actually is, regardless of if he’s getting buckets or not.

Concerning trends continue

And now for the bad news.

It’s nice that the Raptors managed to secure a win and snap the losing streak right before Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto with his new squad and all, but regardless of the result, this Toronto team that showed up Monday looked more like the squad that had lost three straight.

The major difference being, those three teams — the Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers — are all good teams and taking a loss against them isn’t all that bad. Chicago, however, is a team the Raptors should be able to put away by at least midway through the third quarter with their reserves alone.

That obviously didn’t happen, and the Raptors found themselves in a dogfight because, once again, they struggled shooting the basketball, going 37.8 per cent from the field and, even more alarmingly, a dismal 7-for-29 from deep.

Over the Raptors’ last four games now, they’re only shooting 40.6 per cent from the field and are 41-for-144 from three-point range, going from the most accurate three-point shooting team to one of the worst.

This is turning into a disastrous-looking trend for Toronto as this is a team that ranks among the top-10 in three-point attempts per game. If the three-ball isn’t falling then this club’s offence basically falls apart.

And this really has been the case for Raptors star Pascal Siakam, who was shooting only 14.3 per cent from deep coming into Monday’s game and ended up with a 2-of-6 mark from outside the arc. Sure, he scored 22 points – and he was averaging over 18 per game in the three prior to Monday’s – but it hasn’t been very efficient as it appears as if teams have begun to figure out how to contain him and, thus, a large chunk of Toronto’s offensive game plan.

Just about the only positive for the Raptors on Monday was that their downward trend on defence took a turn for the better as they held the Bulls to 39.3 per cent shooting from the floor and 26.1 per cent from beyond the arc.

This comes with the caveat that, like the Raptors, the Bulls were playing on the second end of a back-to-back and, as the clearly inferior team, poorer results on such evenings should be expected.

The Raptors shouldn’t get, nor deserve, that kind of benefit of the doubt. The level of defence they showed is what we expect of them now, but, as they showed all of last week, if their offence can’t regain form soon, that level of defence will be rendered moot against stiffer competition.

Powell fills in nicely (again) as a starter

With word that Fred VanVleet would be missing from the game with a knee injury he suffered the other night in Philly, Norman Powell was given the starting job again.

You may recall that the last time Powell get some run as a starter – 11 games when Lowry was out – he played very well, averaging 15.8 points and shooting 41.4 per cent from three-point range.

He didn’t exactly have that kind of performance Monday, as he went 1-for-6 from outside, but he did manage 17 points, scoring six in the fourth quarter alone.

Powell has always performed better as a starter and this season has been no different. He just seems to look more aggressive and confident in his abilities when he’s able to start a game, which gets him into the flow of the game quicker.

On Monday, his momentum carried into the fourth quarter, where he scored a couple of clutch go-ahead baskets.

If you’re looking for another Raptors positive to take away from Monday besides Gasol, then Powell is probably your best bet.

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