“MVP” chants echoed through the United Center on Saturday night, as Derrick Rose led the Bulls with 36 points and 10 assists en route to a 113-106 win over Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless and the scrappy Raptors (20-55), who were without Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.
A taste of the youth influx. Toronto certainly does not yet have a core together to develop into a postseason contender, but Saturday offered some optimism for the beginnings of that core coming together. Not only did Davis (17 points on 7-8 shooting and 11 rebounds) and Bayless (26 points, eight assists and four rebounds) have terrific outings in Chicago, but the Raptors’ starters – a unit of Davis, Bayless, DeMar DeRozan and Amir and James Johnson with an average age of 22 – actually outscored the top unit for the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls (albeit without Joakim Noah) 88-78.
Coming out flat. That the Raptors kept things close in the second half despite heading into the break down 10 points can be looked at in one of two ways: they either showed determination and a belief in themselves for staying in the game, or they had no business getting out to a slow start anyway. I think both are somewhat true. Regarding the slow start that saw Toronto make just five field goals in the opening quarter and none in the final 4:47 of the first frame, it’s hard to justify Chicago having more energy when they had played the previous night in Detroit, while the Raps had been off since Wednesday.
Back to the future for a bit (yes, that was intentional): an encouraging day for a Toronto sports fan base that doesn’t seem to get too many of those. In addition to the contributions of Bayless (22) and Davis (21), Kyle Drabek (23) got his first major league win after allowing just one run and one hit over 7.0 innings against the Twins, while Nazem Kadri (20), Tyler Bozak (25), Nikolai Kulemin (24) and Phil Kessel (23) scored for the Leafs against Ottawa, while being backed by a strong outing from goaltender James Reimer (23)… Sorry for the non-Raptors tangent … I’m not ready to call the tandem of Bayless and DeRozan the Raptors’ backcourt of the future yet (not with the possibility of drafting Kyrie Irving or adding other pieces still out there), but the duo did look good with twin 26-point performances and strong chemistry on Saturday … The loss of Bargnani (sore right ankle) and Jose Calderon (strained left hamstring) were really felt in terms of bench depth, where Leandro Barbosa was effectively a one-man unit and put up all 18 points from the team’s reserves … Speaking of the bench, I was stunned to see Julian Wright get into the game, especially when Joey Dorsey was stuck with the DNP-CD and Sonny Weems could always have gotten more burn than his 13 minutes on the floor … “Keep an eye on” fallout: 1) It certainly wasn’t his 10-turnover mess against Philadelphia, but Bayless and co. pressured Rose into four turnovers, offering a bit of a downside to his otherwise phenomenal night; 2) Nothing wrong with a seven-point, six-assist, five rebounding outing for Johnson, but with guys like Bargnani and Calderon out, you’d like to see him take on a bigger role in the team’s offence to see if he has scoring potential.
The tail end of the Raptors’ back-to-back set will see them head home to take on another Eastern Conference title contender and potential second round Bulls’ foe in the Orlando Magic (6:00pm, TSN2).
Keep an eye on:
1) … Who wins the bench battle. I’ve already pointed out the vulnerability of the Raptors’ back-ups, but the Magic aren’t much better off, with Gilbert Arenas, Chris Duhon and J.J. Redick are all out. At least Orlando still has their go-to starting five intact.
2) … Pizza Pizza madness. Okay, so this isn’t so much for Sunday’s game as it is for Monday’s fallout, but it could be blue Monday for the Canadian pizza chain, that could have upwards of 100,000 coupons for free pizza capable of being used on Monday. That’s because the company’s promotional deal with the Blue Jays sees seven-strikeout performances rewarded with a free slice on the Monday following a weekend series, while their deal with the Raptors sees 100-point efforts result in the ability to cash in one’s ticket for a free slice the following day. The Jays have already had two such performances, meaning all tickets from Friday night’s sold-out opener and Saturday’s game are good for a free slice, and more could be coming today with the Jays and Raptors still eligible to add to the freebies.
The Pick: Magic 94, Raptors 90 (51-18 on the season)