The Canadian Press
TORONTO–The Toronto Raptors overcame their worst start of the season, and an offence that moved like molasses, to beat the Chicago Bulls 95-89 last night.
It wasn’t pretty but it was a win without Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. And the injury-bitten Raptors will take it.
“We miss both those guys, without a doubt,” head coach Nick Nurse said. “They’re kind of our two seniors on the team.
“They’ve been here longest of anybody. This is kind of their team,” he noted. “Their investment in the team has been the greatest.
“We miss a little bit of that.
“But it’s OK. Let’s not go crazy,” Nurse stressed. “We got a win in an NBA game and we’ll take it and move on, and try to play with a little more pizzazz the next game.”
Kawhi Leonard had 27 points to top Toronto (27-11) while Pascal Siakam finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds.
Danny Green and Fred VanVleet chipped in with 10 points apiece.
Lauri Markkanen had 18 points to lead the Bulls (10-27).
The Raptors only could muster a mind-numbing 14 points in the first quarter but managed to remain within striking distance of the lowly Bulls, who are 13th in the Eastern Conference, and took a 68-65 lead into the fourth quarter.
Back-to-back “threes” by Delon Wright and Siakam to open the fourth put Toronto up by nine–its biggest lead of the game.
A pair of free throws from Zach LaVine cut the difference to five points with 5:19 to play but VanVleet, who shot just 3-for-12 from three-point range on the night, connected from behind the arc to put Toronto back up by eight.
A three-pointer by Markkanen with 1:21 to play pulled the Bulls to within three points, but free throws from Leonard and Siakam sealed the victory for Toronto.
The Raptors were coming off a horrible shooting performance in a 116-87 loss in Orlando and it was more of the same yesterday: 37 percent shooting from the field and just 27.3 percent from three-point range.
There was much laughter in Nurse’s post-game press conference when a reporter joked, “My eyes are sore from watching that.”
“I don’t know [what’s wrong]. I wish I knew, I would tell you,” VanVleet said of Toronto’s offensive troubles.
“Obviously, it’s been a struggle,” he noted. “Probably the worst three quarters we’ve had all year in the last two games, 19, 15, and 14 [points] tonight.
“If I had to choose, I would definitely choose offensive struggles over defensive at this point in the year because we have the talent, we have the coaching, and the schemes and stuff that we need, it’s just a matter of finding a rhythm where guys are,” VanVleet added.
“They definitely mucked up the game and made it ugly and dirty and slow, and give them [the Bulls] credit for that,” he remarked.
“But you’ve got to be able to win in different ways.”
Siakam believes part of the issue is the pedestrian pace of their offence.
“We haven’t been playing with the pace we’re accustomed to, the pace we usually play at,” he noted.
“We’ve got to do a better job finishing.”
The Raptors were missing Lowry (sore lower back) for the seventh time in eight games, although Nurse said before the game he believed Lowry was “coming to the end” of his back troubles.
The Raptors are 4-3 without him.
Toronto also will be without Valanciunas, who had surgery for a dislocated thumb on Dec. 13, for at least another couple of weeks.