It was Canadian Forces appreciation night at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, but Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau opted to keep his not-so-secret weapon, point guard Derrick Rose, safely stashed away.
When the opponent is the woebegone Toronto Raptors there is certainly no urgency to rush one of the NBA’s premier players back into action.
The Bulls, now a league-best 39-10, are a formidable force even without Rose’s considerable talents controlling the tempo from the backcourt.
The Raptors (15-32) were decked out in daffy-looking green camouflage uniforms in keeping with the military theme of the evening – and the masquerade seemed to agree with the club. They managed to keep pace with the Bulls for most of the night, before their hard work started to unravel in the fourth quarter, when Chicago stormed back to record a 94-82 victory, handing the Raptors their third consecutive setback.
Toronto carried a 69-62 lead into the fourth before their offence went AWOL, with the Bulls opening on a 22-3 run that vaulted them in front 84-72 with little more than four minutes remaining. Kyle Korver was especially dangerous, dropping in all 10 of his points during the surge.
“It was the change of the game,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. “They’re one of the best defensive teams in the game. I thought we went toe-to-toe with them up until that mark. That’s when they turned it up.”
It was a frustrating experience for DeMar DeRozan, who would lead the Raptors with 23 points. After Luol Deng blocked one of his shots, DeRozan complained a bit too vociferously that a foul should have been called. Instead, DeRozan was rung up for a technical.
The Bulls counted five players scoring in double figures, led by Deng with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
It was a game-time decision on whether Rose (groin) would play in Toronto. And when that time came, Thibodeau opted to play it safe.
The Bulls juggernaut has not exactly suffered without Rose, last season’s NBA most-valuable player, who missed his fifth game. The Bulls are 4-1 during that stretch.
“I think we have quality depth,” Thibodeau said, by way of explanation. “The bench guys have done a great job all year.”
The Raptors have battled the injury bug themselves all year, and Wednesday night marked just the 16th time in 47 games that the tandem of point guard Jose Calderon and power forward Andrea Bargnani have been in the starting lineup together.
“You can’t miss two players like that and not feel it,” Thibodeau said. “They’re a talented team and now that they have everyone back, I think they’re going to be very dangerous.”
The announced crowd of 17,869 included more than 300 members of the Canadian Armed Forces – and the Raptors rewarded their special visitors by managing to keep pace with the Bulls throughout the first half. (Perhaps the Bulls were a bit put-off by the pregame introduction in which the Raptors’ starting five were each accompanied onto the floor by a soldier.)
Whatever the case, the Raptors, paced by 15 points from DeRozan, held a 51-43 lead at the half.
The Raptors would increase that lead to as many as 12 – 57-45 – during the third quarter, and would settle for a 69-62 bulge heading into the fourth.