The regular season barely ended this Sunday, business resumes without transition with the “play-in” which started on Tuesday evening for the teams concerned. In the Eastern Conference, Toronto And Chicagorespectively 9th and 10th in the standings, are two of these teams, and will therefore cross swords in a “win or go home” match.
Unlike the Heat and the Hawks, 7th and 8th respectively, the Raptors and the Bulls indeed find themselves faced with the obligation to win twice in a row to grab 8th place in the Eastern Conference. The loser will be eliminated and on vacation, when the winner will have to continue against Miami. The whole season of the Raptors and the Bulls, and their survival in this “postseason”, is therefore played on this single match…
On paper, the poster is very indecisive, perhaps the most indecisive of all the games of the “play-in” in the two conferences. Because the two formations are very close in the level of play, after a relatively similar regular season… in disappointment. Both in terms of the visual feeling on the ground and the balance sheet, almost the same (41-41 for Toronto, 40-42 for Chicago).
Holders: F. VanVleet, O. Anunoby, S. Barnes, P. Siakam, J. Poeltl.
The substitutes: G. Trent Jr, P. Achiuwa, W. Barton, C. Boucher.
The absents : none.
The coach: N. Nurse.
Bland. This is how we could sum up the season for the Raptors, who ended the regular season with a record that could not be more representative of the adjective used: 41 wins for as many defeats. A perfect but not particularly reassuring balance, which illustrates well the exercise of the “Jurassic Park” band: never level for the Top 6, but never dropped either. An entire regular season spent in the soft underbelly, in other words.
Between the regular physical glitches among major players (11 games missed by Pascal Siakam, 13 by Fred VanVleet, 15 by OG Anunoby and 16 by Gary Trent Jr.) and the transfer rumors during the first part of the season, until the “trade deadline” which saw the return to the return to the fold of Jakob Poeltl, the season of the Raptors was thus sluggish and laborious for six months.
Clearly, we had the feeling, over the weeks of the regular season, that this group reached a glass ceiling as a collective. In this, this qualification for the “play-in” seems to be more of a last stand before a probable big reshuffle this summer, than a real spark towards an ambitious “run” in the playoffs…
The strong point
– A good balance of forces. Indeed, as sluggish as it was both in terms of the game offered and the results, the Raptors’ season offered at least one certainty: if the collective ceiling of Nick Nurse’s troop is not particularly high, its floor has the deserves it, on both sides of the pitch. Because without being transcendent, the game of the Canadian formation still presents the 11th best offensive evaluation of the league at the end of the regular season (115.5 points scored on 100 possessions), and the 12th best defensive evaluation (114 points against 100 possessions). In other words, the Raptors finished the regular season in the top half of the league standings. What relativize the galleys of the regular season, even if it is certain that a 9th place in the “play-in” is unworthy of a team which presents these averages on both sides of the field. But still, before playing this ax match, Toronto has some certainties about its game. Probably a little more than its opponent…
The weak point
– The offensive contribution of the bench. It’s quite simple: with the exception of Portland, no team in the league had a less effective bench than Toronto in the regular season. With only 28 points scored on average per game by the substitutes, the Raptors are indeed very limited by the contribution of their “second unit”… Nick Nurse, throughout the entire season or almost, has therefore opted for an eight-player rotation, placing a large part of the offensive leaders on the shoulders of its incumbents. Apart from former starter Gary Trent Jr, no one on the Toronto bench can create their own shot or even create at all, and that’s a big problem for the offense, when creators Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam or Scottie Barnes will be on the bench. Even if the Toronto coach often leaves at least one of the three executives with the substitutes.
Holders: P. Beverley, A. Caruso, Z. LaVine, D. DeRozan, N. Vucevic.
The substitutes: C.White, A.Dosunmu, P.Williams, D.Jones Jr.
The absents : L.Ball.
The coach: B.Donovan.
Like the Raptors, and perhaps even in greater proportions, the Bulls offered a particularly disappointing regular season, without relief or flavor, never appearing in a position to fight with the top of the Eastern Conference. to secure a place in the Top 6.
Thus, after a convincing 2021/22 season, Billy Donovan and his men have regressed sharply this season and find themselves in a position to miss the playoffs, in the event of defeat at the end of this ax match…
The main reason for this observation is undoubtedly the injury of Lonzo Ball, whose interminable absence has been terribly felt in attack, an area in which the Bulls have stagnated in the bottom of the league standings. Because without a real playmaker to organize the offensive phases throughout the season, the Bulls have all too often fallen into the predictable, with excessive “hero-ball” for Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, whose agreement on the floor has never really been optimal.
More broadly, the Bulls have never appeared collectively settled, like Billy Donovan who has continued throughout the season to strum with his rotations, in the hope of finding the right formula around the DeRozan trio – LaVine–Vucevic. It was in particular Patrick Williams who first paid the price, the young winger joining the bench during the season, replaced by Alex Caruso. Then Ayo Dosunmu, replaced by Patrick Beverley after the “trade deadline”…
In short, this Chicago team has been sailing on sight for six months, and clearly does not approach the “play-in” in the best psychological conditions.
The strong point
– A big defense… In a disappointing season on many counts, the Bulls’ defense was effectively their lifeline in choppy waters. Collectively, it is perhaps the only real indisputable satisfaction of the exercise, completed with the fifth best defensive evaluation of the entire league (112.5 points conceded out of 100 possessions), under the impetus in particular of the trio of rears Alex Caruso – Patrick Beverley – Ayo Dosunmu who impose the pace on the opposing ball carriers. Without certainty in attack, the Bulls will once again rely on their defense, facing a large and athletic Toronto team.
The weak point
– …spoiled by a random attack. The Bulls’ defense was indeed this season as much a strong point as their attack was a weak point (113.5 points scored on 100 possessions, 24th out of 30). As we said, the absence of Lonzo Ball hurt a lot from this point of view since it forced the Dosunmu, Caruso and Beverley, clearly not natural organizers, to play against nature. But above all, the consequence of the absence of Lonzo Ball was the almost systematic, but without much success, recourse to the isolations of Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan on half-court, while the Bulls did not particularly shine in transition either. (14 points on average per game, 15th out of 30). One last point to highlight, which could hurt the “Windy City” squad very badly against Toronto: offensive rebounds. An area in which the Bulls, with only 8.4 catches per game, are 28th in the league, for only 10.6 points scored on second chances, the worst average in the league. While opposite, the Raptors, with a very large and athletic group, point to second position in the league, both in the average of offensive rebounds captured per game (12.7), and points scored on second chances (16.4 )…” This season, the biggest challenge facing them, for us, was their size “recognized besides Billy Donovan, this Friday in a press conference.
The key to the game
– Defense on DeMar DeRozan. This season, during the three confrontations between Chicago and his former team, the winger, each time, struggled to weigh offensively: 20 points in 9 shots only in the first game (with 5 ball losses), 9 points at 2/ 6 on shots in the second game then 13 points at 5/11 on shots (with 3 bullet losses). No coincidence, since Toronto, from the first match between the two formations, had brilliantly exposed the “DeRozan-dependence” of the Bulls, applying a simple but effective strategy: multiply the grips to two to force the former star of the club to let go the leather, and in particular preventing it from finding its comfort zone at mid-distance. A strategy which twice in three games had resulted in a victory for Toronto, which logically suggests that Nick Nurse will once again opt for this defensive system. It is also certain that the Bulls, whose predictability in attack is the big weak point, are preparing for it in advance…
In regular season
– 06 November: Toronto – Chicago (113-104).
– 07 November: Chicago –Toronto (111-97).
– February 28: Toronto – Chicago (104-98).
Toronto. If the poster is open, between two teams driven by the instinct of survival but without much asserted certainty, it seems to us all the same that Toronto is the best team. Or at least the most stable and constant on both sides of the field, with players who have been used to playing cutthroat matches together for several years (Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, etc.). The Bulls, in only their second year together, can’t say the same. So, with similar recent dynamics (9 wins and 6 losses in the last 15 games), the solid collective floor of the Raptors seems capable of mastering the Chicago squad, whose offensive shortcomings could be handicapping, in a match which should above all be play on half court. Not to mention that the Raptors play at home, in one of the hottest atmospheres in the league.
On the night of Wednesday to Thursday, at 01:00.