Observations: Bulls extend win streak behind bench explosion

/ by Rob Schaefer
Presented By Coors Light

The Bulls took care of business with a 122-113 road win over the severely shorthanded Toronto Raptors on Thursday night.

That pushes the Bulls' current winning streak to three games, tying a season-high set two other times.

Here are 17 observations:

1. The Raptors had just eight available players for this one due to a combination of injuries, health and safety protocol enlistments and suspensions stemming from a scuffle during their Tuesday night matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers.

2. Ironically, this game was a makeup for a matchup between these two teams originally scheduled for Feb. 28 that had to be pushed back because the Raptors couldn't field eight players due to a combination of positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing.

3. The Bulls got off to a listless start, missing their first seven field goal attempts and falling behind 16-7. But they responded to outscore the Raptors 26-11 in the final seven minutes of the quarter behind 19 combined points from Zach LaVine (11 points in eight minutes) and Nikola Vučević (8 points).

4. The good times didn't stop there. Between the 6:56 mark of the first quarter and halftime, the Bulls scored 57 points on 21-for-34 shooting (61.8 percent). The Raptors, conversely, scored 35 points on 13-for-41 shooting (31.7 percent) over that same span. At the break, the Bulls held a commanding 64-51 lead.


5. The Bulls engineered separate 19-3 and 15-0 runs in that stretch. Regardless of opponent, them being on the winning side of such spurts is notable after being on the wrong end was such a theme early in the season.

6. Lauri Markkanen and Coby White picked up precisely where they left off after productive outings against the Pacers. Markkanen scored 9 points on 4-for-5 shooting and pulled down 3 rebounds in the first half; White poured in 10 points and buried two of his four 3-point attempts. Late in the third quarter, the two combined to score eight straight Bulls points to help stave off a Raptors surge. Markkanen finished 18 points on 8-for-10 shooting (2-for-4 from 3-point range -- his offensive game has featured more driving and post-ups of late). White finished 15 points and three 3s, though he also committed four turnovers and a few of them were unsightly.

Both have gotten their lumps over the course of this season, but if they can bring this type of spark off the pine on a nightly basis, it would be massively valuable.

"I still believe they are extremely important pieces to our team," Billy Donovan said postgame. "I give them a lot of credit that a lot of stuff has changed and a lot of guys have had to make sacrifices and they’ve had to make some sacrifices."

7. The Bulls led the -- decimated -- Raptors in bench scoring 27-3 at the half behind those 19 points from Markkanen and White, plus 8 points and 7 rebounds from Daniel Theis, who returned after missing one game for personal reasons. The reserve scoring disparity finished 47-20, with Markkanen, White and Theis (14 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists) producing with their highest respective scoring outputs since the trade deadline.

8. Vučević scored 12 of his 22 points in that third quarter, and finished with a rather casual 22 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, shooting 3-for-6 from distance -- if it's possible to post such a stat line casually.

9. But Pascal Siakam, who finished with 27 points on 17 shots, gave Vučević a bit of trouble on switches. Siakam's 11 third-quarter points helped the Raptors hang around for longer than it seemed they might.

10. Chris Boucher, too, was a problem. The impossibly stretchy fourth-year center tallied 38 points and 19 rebounds -- both career-highs. He had a few torrid stretches in the second half that threatened the Bulls' advantage and shot 3-for-7 from behind the arc.

11. LaVine dished a Bulls-career-high 13 assists, and finished with an eye-popping +20 plus-minus. He notched his 22 points -- seven in the second half -- on 8-for-16 shooting (2-for-8 from deep), but his impact was felt. And believe him when he says he's willing to sacrifice individual statistics in pursuit of wins.

"Just doing what the game told me to do," LaVine said. "I came out aggressive, and they started doubling and boxing-and-oneing me. So I wasn’t going to get 40 (points) tonight. I had to try to affect the game in a different way.”


12. The Raptors cut the deficit to as few as seven late in the fourth quarter. A handful of tense offensive possessions followed, but LaVine eventually came to the rescue, pushing the lead back to nine with a tough layup with 87 seconds to play, then a dagger 3-pointer to go up 12 moments later -- even on an off shooting night up until that point.

13. Billy Donovan turned to Theis in Vučević's place in the starting lineup for the final minute-and-a-half, presumably for the flexibility to switch defensively. Theis pulled down a seismic defensive rebound to give him his first double-double as a Bull in the closing seconds.

14. Troy Brown Jr. again factored into the rotation, logging 14 minutes. Denzel Valentine and Ryan Arcidiacono, meanwhile, registered DNPs. Donovan ran Markkanen, White and Theis between 18 and 27 minutes apiece, making for a roughly 8.5-man rotation. Perhaps an indication of how much these games mean for the Bulls, and Donovan settling into a regular rotation.

15. With 35 assists, the Bulls have now posted 26 or more dimes in eight straight games. It's their 11th 30-assist game of the season, in which they're now 7-4. Every Bull to play except for Brown scored at least nine points, though 16 turnovers mar that a tad.

"I think we are getting more comfortable offensively on how we are trying to play," Donovan said. "I still think there are things we can get better at."

16. Garrett Temple missed his fifth straight game with a hamstring strain. Donovan didn't have a timeline for his return before tip, saying that Temple experienced "discomfort" attempting to straight-line sprint last week and that he's been limited to spot-up shooting.

17. With the win, the Bulls clinch their season series with the Raptors, and pull three games in front of them for the tenth seed in the East, the last spot in the play-in tournament. They trail the Indiana Pacers, who they've also already won their season series against, by one games for ninth.

Next up for the Bulls: At the Atlanta Hawks on Friday.

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