The bench and the back-up point guards were the story for the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night.
Toronto outlasted the Chicago Bulls and is now 20-5 over their last 25 games, ending a six-game road losing streak in Chicago, to boot.
The Raptors’ last win at the United Center was Dec. 31, 2013. The game was so long ago, Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson and John Salmons were the Raptors who made plays in crunch time down the stretch. The Raptors have now beat the Bulls three times this season, while Chicago has now suffered three straight losses after they had won 10 of their last 14.
Toronto improves to 26-10 and 12-9 on the road. The Bulls fall to 13-25.
Here are a few takeaways from another dominant performance by the Raptors’ depth players.
DeRozan continues to rain from three
Earlier this season DeMar DeRozan had a dreadful 11-game stretch that included 16 straight misfires in which he shot 1-for-18 from three-point range. However, the Raptors all-star continues to find his stroke, taking and making more three-pointers.
His two-point field goal attempts per game this year is 13.9 which is the fourth fewest in his career. DeRozan’s three-point field goal attempts per game this season is five which is the second most in his career. Last season, the only top-30 guard who made fewer three-point shots than DeRozan was Derrick Rose. DeRozan now has five three-pointers for the second straight game.
In his last eight games DeRozan is 25-for-46 from three. Four of DeRozan’s nine career four-or-more-three-pointers-attempted games have come in his last eight outings.
DeRozan turned it on late against the Bulls with 18 points in the third quarter and scoring 26 of his 35 points in the second half including a couple clutch triples to ice the game. Despite the deep shooting, DeRozan remains incredibly efficient shooting 10-for-20 from the field and 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
The Compton native has now passed Vince Carter for the second-most road games of 25 or more points and five or more assists in franchise history with 29.
Back up guards play big
The game was a homecoming of sorts for Fred VanVleet who is from nearby Rockford. VanVleet finished with 13 points on 71.4 per cent shooting from the floor. The contest was also a coming-out party for Wright who started hot in the first half with 15 points, 6-of-9 field goals, 2-for-3 from deep, five rebounds and two assists in the first half. By halftime Wright already had a season high in points in 11 minutes.
Wright went on to top his previous career high of 19 with new career benchmarks in both points and rebounds with a 25-point, 13-rebound, five-assist performance for his first career double-double.
The 25-year-old played so well that he closed the game in a dual point guard line up alongside Kyle Lowry, a role normally reserved for VanVleet. It’s not a stretch to say Wright was the best player on the floor and showed glimpses of what the Raptors saw in him when they traded fan-favourite Cory Joseph to open up more playing time for him.
Bench bails starters out again
It was another slow Raptors start as the starting five started off shooting 33 per cent from the floor, committing six turnovers and trailing by 10 after the first quarter. Luckily, the bench got the team back in the game scoring 29 first-half points.
To exemplify the difference between the bench and starting units, in the first half, VanVleet was plus-12 and DeRozan was minus-15. Every starter except Serge Ibaka finished the game with a negative plus/minus rating.
By comparison, the Raptors’ five-man, second-unit contributors were all positive in their plus/minus scales, ranging from C.J. Miles, who was plus-10, to Delon Wright, plus-26.
After keeping the game close early the bench showed its real worth late, extending the lead. The Raptors’ bench went on a 16-4 run to start the fourth quarter, extending the Raptors’ lead to 12 after the game was tied to start the quarter.
Defensively they were active, holding the Bulls to just 1-of-8 shooting with a turnover in that span. Toronto went on to hold the Bulls to 7-of-20 shooting with three turnovers in the final frame.
Lowry injury scare
The Raptors were given a scare when Lowry was holding his wrist and grimacing in pain early in the second half after a badly missed corner three.
Casey tried to sub Lowry out for Wright but Lowry refused and waved him off so OG Anunoby was taken out instead for Wright who had already made his way to the scorer’ table to check into the game.
The Raptors all-star point guard was clearly bothered as he shot 0-for-5 in the third quarter. However, like only he can, Lowry shook the pain off and hit two big threes in the fourth after previously being 0-for-5 from deep prior to.
The contest was the Raptors’ 21st road game of the season. Only the Orlando Magic have played as many road games as Toronto.
The Raptors improved to 12-9 on the road Wednesday and are one of just eight teams above .500 away from from home.
Toronto plays two more road games on Friday against the Milwaukee Bucks and Monday versus the Brooklyn Nets before heading home for a three-game home stand starting on Tuesday beginning against the Miami Heat.