Before Monday’s rematch against the Bulls, Toronto coach Nick Nurse reflected on his decision to constantly double-team DeMar DeRozan the previous night in Canada.
“We threw an all-out assault at him last night, in every way we could think of, and he still got 20,” Nurse said. “That’s a true megastar.”
So with Zach LaVine back on the floor after resting on Sunday, the Raptors used something rarely seen in the NBA: the zone trap. They focused on double-teaming DeRozan, but also tried to double-team everyone at the start of the game.
LaVine had a hot hand, though, and scored 30 points to lead the Bulls to a 111-97 victory over the Raptors at the United Center.
“That’s what they do. They’ve done that for years, at least I know playing against them,” LaVine said of Toronto’s defensive scheme. “You need a full team effort against them. I think they prey on teams that get a little stagnant, (they) cause turnovers, speed them up. I think once we calmed down, found the open guy and got stops on defense, it was good.”
DeRozan finished with just 9 points to go with 6 assists and 6 rebounds. But the Bulls found some good balance with Nikola Vucevic producing 15 points and 13 rebounds. Ayo Dosunmu and Derrick Jones Jr. scored 12 each, while Patrick Williams and Goran Dragic added 10.
Toronto’s plan worked early. On the Bulls’ third possession, DeRozan caught the ball on the wing, saw a second defender coming, and bounced a pass at LaVine’s feet for a turnover.
The Raptors were basically announcing they have no respect for the Bulls’ 3-point shooters, because trapping inevitably leaves someone open. The Bulls didn’t respond to the challenge in the first half, going 4-for-16 from long range. Dosunmu missed 3 open looks early, then came back off the bench to knock one down.
“I think for (DeRozan) tonight, it was all about his greatness as a player in my opinion, because it was a total ‘Give himself up for the benefit of the team,'” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “We had 21 turnovers and scored 111 points and he didn’t reach double figures.”
By halftime, the Bulls led 58-53, and that was a decent accomplishment considering they shot poorly from 3 and piled up 10 turnovers, and that DeRozan had just 3 points. His first basket didn’t fall until he finished a lane drive in traffic and was fouled with 2:43 left in the second quarter.
Toronto went back to a more traditional man-to-man defense after the first quarter. The Bulls were able to build the lead when Dosunmu and Vucevic hit 3-pointers during a 10-2 run to open the third quarter. The advantage stayed in double digits the rest of the way.
Before the game, Bulls coach Billy Donovan said center Andre Drummond would try to warm up and be a game-time decision. The veteran center ultimately did not play and missed his sixth straight game with a left shoulder sprain.
Donovan was less optimistic about a quick return for Coby White, who missed his fifth consecutive game with a left quad contusion with no timetable yet for a return. Toronto was without leading scorer Pascal Siakam due to a groin strain.
Monday’s game completed a busy opening stretch for the Bulls, with four sets of back-to-back games in span of 18 days. They lead the NBA in games played with 12.
Things will start to slow down now, since the Bulls have just two games in the next eight days, and don’t play any back-to-backs until Dec. 20 and 21. Considering the injuries and quality of opponents, a 6-6 record for the Bulls isn’t a terrible outcome.
“Obviously if I had my druthers, I wouldn’t want all these condensed games,” Donovan said. “But I also know we’re going to France (to play Detroit on Jan. 21) and sometimes it is what it is.”