Leonard scores 27, Raptors bounce back from ugly start to beat the Bulls 95-89

The Toronto Raptors overcame their worst start of the season to beat the Chicago Bulls 95-89 on Sunday.

It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win without Kyle Lowry and Jonas Valanciunas. The injury-bitten Raptors will take it.

“We miss both those guys, without a doubt,” 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. 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. 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. 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.

The Raptors could only 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. Their 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. It was more of the same on Sunday. 37 percent shooting from the field, and just 27.3 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.”

Siakam believes part of the issue is the pedestrian pace of their offense.

“We haven’t been playing with the pace we’re accustomed to. The pace we usually play at. We’ve got to do a better job finishing,” he said.

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.

Meanwhile, Toronto will also be without Valanciunas. Who had surgery for a dislocated thumb on Dec. 13, for at least another couple of weeks. His absence meant an opportunity for Canadian Chris Boucher. Who was called up from the team’s G League franchise after Valanciunas’s injury. The Montreal native was trending on Twitter in Toronto after a big block on LaVine.

“He was great, two blocks in 5:24, excellent” Nurse said.

The Raptors’ previous meeting with the Bulls this season was a much different story — a 122-83 Raptors rout in Chicago, their largest margin of victory in a road game in franchise history. But that was back on Nov. 17 when Toronto had a full complement of players.

The Raptors’ 14 points in the first tied a season low for points in a quarter. This was a new low for an opening quarter this season, beating their previous mark of 18. Serge Ibaka missed all five of his shots, because of that, the Raptors shot just 33.3 per cent in the quarter. Meaning, they trailed 20-14 to start the second.

A three-pointer by Green kick-started an 8-0 run that pulled Toronto even early in the second quarter. Boucher’s three with 3:45 to play in the half gave the Raptors a four-point lead, and they went into the halftime break up 40-39.

VanVleet led the way with seven points in the third.

The Raptors host Utah on Tuesday, then depart for San Antonio where they face DeMar DeRozan and the Spurs on Thursday.

Peace,

Burke

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