Inconsistency plagued the Toronto Raptors throughout the season, and unfortunately, it proved to be their downfall once again as their post-season aspirations were on the line.
In a single elimination play-in game, the Chicago Bulls staged an impressive comeback in the second half, led by Zach LaVine, to defeat the Raptors 109-105 on Wednesday. LaVine displayed a remarkable performance, scoring 30 of his 39 points after halftime, as the Bulls erased an 18-point deficit.
Toronto’s struggles extended to the free-throw line, where they only converted 50 percent of their 36 attempts. Pascal Siakam, in particular, missed two crucial free throws with 12 seconds remaining that could have tied the game.
Reflecting on the game, Siakam shared his thoughts, saying, “We didn’t have our best fourth quarter in playing how we should play, and we couldn’t get stops; they kept scoring. I missed some free throws, especially those two at the end; it was super important, but I just missed them.”
Regardless of the outcome, Siakam acknowledged the frustrations of losing the play-in game. He emphasized the importance of analyzing the reasons behind the defeat, regardless of whether it was a win or a loss.
The Raptors hosted the game after finishing the regular season with a 41-41 record, placing them ninth in the Eastern Conference standings, just ahead of the 40-42 Bulls.
Siakam remarked, “We’ve shown some good stretches but also some stretches where we weren’t good. I think that we’re going to have to be better. When you look at the season, there were a lot of ups and downs.”
Former Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan, who now plays for the Bulls, contributed 23 points and seven rebounds. After the game, DeRozan visited the Raptors’ locker room and conversed with Fred VanVleet.
VanVleet expressed their bond, saying, “That’s just my brother, man.” He mentioned that he and DeRozan had not spoken in weeks, anticipating they would face each other in the play-in game.
With this victory, the Bulls advanced to face the Miami Heat in Miami on Friday for the second round of the play-in tournament. The winner of that game would secure the eighth seed in the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs and face the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
Before halftime, VanVleet electrified the crowd at Scotiabank Arena with a buzzer-beating three-pointer, giving the Raptors a 58-47 lead. Toronto continued their momentum into the third quarter, opening up an 18-point advantage with a 10-3 run.
However, LaVine’s explosive performance in the final three minutes of the third quarter brought the Bulls back into contention, cutting Toronto’s lead to 81-72.
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse commented on LaVine’s impact: “LaVine got super cooking there in the third. They were spreading the floor on us and getting by our first line of defense, getting it deep towards the rim a lot.”
The Bulls continued their comeback in the fourth quarter, going on an 8-0 run led by LaVine, which narrowed Toronto’s lead to just three points.
Alex Caruso silenced the sold-out crowd by sinking a three-pointer, tying the game at 91-91 with 6:26 remaining on the clock. Toronto’s Scottie Barnes quickly responded with a layup, forcing Chicago to call a timeout. Caruso made a steal in the ensuing possession and converted an uncontested layup.
Patrick Beverly sank a three-pointer on the next offensive possession for the Bulls, giving them their first lead of the game. Pascal Siakam’s dunk injected some energy into the fans, but Zach LaVine countered with a jumper to maintain a three-point lead. Barnes and DeMar DeRozan then exchanged field goals.
Fred VanVleet attempted a deep three-pointer but missed the shot. However, the rebound fell into the hands of Toronto guard Gary Trent Jr., who passed it back to VanVleet for another opportunity. VanVleet capitalized on his second chance, tying the game at 100-100 with 3:10 left on the clock.
LaVine responded with a two-pointer, and DeRozan grabbed a defensive rebound and scored at the other end, giving the Bulls a four-point lead with less than two minutes remaining.
Barnes made a free throw on the following possession for the Raptors. Siakam was fouled by Beverly with 50 seconds left, making one of his two shots from the charity stripe to reduce Chicago’s lead to two points.
DeRozan then hit a free throw with 28.7 seconds remaining, prompting a timeout from Toronto. On the ensuing possession, Siakam drove to the net for a two-handed dunk, narrowing the Raptors’ deficit to just one point.
After Caruso inbounded the ball to him, LaVine was fouled and sent to the free-throw line. He calmly sank both shots, giving the Raptors 17.9 seconds to tie the game.
Toronto inbounded the ball to Siakam, who was immediately fouled by Caruso, resulting in three free throws. Siakam made his first free throw but missed the second one, and unfortunately, the ball rolled off the rim on his third attempt, keeping Chicago ahead by two points.
Nikola Vucevic was fouled while securing the rebound from Siakam’s final free throw, and he made both free throws, sealing the game’s final scores.