The starts may be problematic, but at this point, nobody can question the heart of the Toronto Raptors.
It's become the trademark of the Raptors these days. They'll start slow, fall behind early, and look lost on both sides of the court. On Wednesday night, the Chicago Bulls drubbed them in the first half, jumping up 14 in the first quarter alone.
But all season, the Raptors have — for better or for worse — been a second half team. That defense that couldn't stop the Bulls from getting inside suddenly wouldn't let anyone take advantage of dribble penetration. Those easy buckets for Chicago became turnovers and transition opportunities for Toronto. It's how the Raptors climbed out of a 19-point hole to pull ahead for the first time all night with 3:12 to go in the fourth.
Those massive deficits are just proving a little too costly right now. Missed free throws, an ejection from Gary Trent Jr., and eventually a Nikola Vucevic three-pointer in the final seconds did Toronto in 111-105 on Wednesday night in Chicago.
"I think there’s a positive to it. We’re gonna keep fighting. We’re a team that scraps and is not gonna lay down," said Pascal Siakam who had a rough 3-for-12 shooting night with 12 points. "We’re gonna keep fighting till the end of the game."
The good news is the Raptors are learning from these situations. Both Dalano Banton and Scottie Barnes played crunch-time minutes for Toronto and looked good doing it.
Now it's about putting together a complete game so that the mountain becomes a little less tough to climb.
"We can’t get ourselves in those situations where we’re down 17 and have to fight all the way and take that much energy," Siakam said. "We gotta be focused from the jump."
Trent Jr. Stays Hot
Gary Trent Jr. has become indispensable for the Raptors. Whether or not he'll be a part of Toronto's long-term plans will be a fascinating decision the team will have to make at some point down the road. But for now, Toronto needs him doing exactly what he did Wednesday night. He again lit up the scoreboard with his three-point shot, following up a 32-point performance Tuesday night with another 32-point night on 11-for-22 shooting against the Bulls.
His only crucial mistake came with two minutes to go when he took his second technical making what Tony Brothers described as an "overt gesture directed toward an official" arguing over a non-call Trent didn't agree with. It led to his ejection in what at the time was a two-point game.
DeRozan Burns Raptors
It was as if Yuta Watanabe hadn't read the scouting report. Late in the first quarter, DeMar DeRozan drew him in with his pesky pump fake, waiting for the 6-foot-9 Raptors wing to leave his feet before leaning in for his killer mid-range jumper. Nobody should have been surprised when the whistle came.
It was the same story Banton who watched DeRozan beat him with mid-range jumpers one after another as OG Anunoby battled foul trouble. In the first half alone, the 32-year-old Bulls forward racked up 21 of his team-high 29 points.
The game-winning bucket, however, came via a DeRozan assist when Toronto doubled him in the corner freeing up Vucevic for an above-the-break three.
Highlight of the Night
Banton accidentally nailed a three-pointer trying to throw a lob inside to OG Anunoby in the first quarter.
Ironically, Raptors coach Nick Nurse said Banton's three-point shooting has taken a big step forward during his pre-game availability.
“He’s just taking them. When it gets swung around to him or it gets kicked to him, there’s no hesitation," Nurse said. "You can see that he’s ready. We always say get your feet and your hands ready. And he’s got all of them ready right now. He’s taking them confidently. It’s always a big plus when you do that.”
Banton played 23 minutes off the bench including the final two when Trent checked out for the final time. His seven points weren't a game-changer, but his up-tempo defensive pressure allowed him to be a plus-16 in a six-point loss.
Up Next: Miami Heat
The Raptors will have a few days off before heading south to see Kyle Lowry and the Miami Heat on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET