10 things: Norman Powell comes up clutch in ugly win over Bulls

William Lou
NBA reporter

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 93-92 win over the Chicago Bulls.

One — Unsatisfactory: A win is a win, but this narrow result hardly solved any problems. The game was a rock fight from start to finish, and it came down to the Raptors making crucial plays on defense in crunch time to snap a three-game skid. Having said that, getting by on the skin of their teeth against a cellar-dweller like the Bulls is hardly something to be proud of, and it’s a sign that most of Toronto is still very much stuck in a funk.

Two — Clutch: Was it the plan for Norman Powell to deliver the goods with two layups and a key defensive stop down the stretch? No, but there didn’t look to be much of a coherent plan on the whole and Powell capitalized in the chaos. Powell picked off Lauri Markkanen, converted a driving layup in transition over three defenders, and hit the game-winning push shot with the shot clock expiring. Powell didn’t quite have his rhythm from deep, but he was persistent all night in his efforts to get to the rim, and it paid off.

Three — Confusing: The Raptors were uncharacteristically sloppy in the finish to this game. For one thing, there was a miscommunication in the defense that allowed a good shooter in Markkanen to drill an uncontested corner three, and then a second-round rookie in Daniel Gafford was allowed to collect his own miss for a putback that nearly won Chicago the game.

Four — Senseless: But the more baffling part was the crunch time offense, which didn’t feature Pascal Siakam whatsoever. On back-to-back possessions, Kyle Lowry had Siakam in the post with a clear mismatch on Zach LaVine, but Lowry waved him off to either barrel into traffic, or to dump it off to Powell with a short shot clock. Siakam is the No. 1 option on this team, and he should command that respect. It’s one thing if it was a bad matchup, but ignoring Siakam in the post against LaVine is inexcusable.

Five — Crucial: Marc Gasol delivered a crucial block on a cutting Markkanen with 30 seconds left, and provided timely help yet again on the last play of the game to deter LaVine’s attempt at a game-winning drive. Gasol was crucial throughout, as his playmaking and defense provided the Raptors with a steadying force and a sense of structure. With Fred VanVleet missing in action due to a knee contusions (MRI came back negative, so that’s good), there just isn’t as much organization in the team.

Six — Janky: Even though the Bulls shot under 40 percent from the field, it still felt as if the Raptors couldn’t contain them in their base coverages. Chicago came prepared against Toronto’s trapping scheme, and they easily carved them apart by moving the ball quickly to the open shooter. Nurse’s response was to deploy a 2-3 zone, and it not only kept them in the game early on, but it also gave the Bulls fits down the stretch. Nurse was especially clever to toggle between zone and his regular coverage to mess with the Bulls’ execution on offense.

Seven — Experimenting: Nurse also reached deep into his bench in search of new lineup combinations. It was mostly a mixed bag, but the emphasis seemed to be to play bigger. At one point, Nurse had Siakam playing as the point guard in a lineup featuring Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Serge Ibaka and Chris Boucher. Those minutes were confusing and disorganized as you would expect from a group of four power forwards that had never shared the floor before. But then again, this is what makes Nurse such an effective coach, because he’s willing to try the unconventional. At this point, with his team clearly in flux, it’s a good sign that Nurse is tinkering to find a new balance in his team.

Eight — Hustle: OG Anunoby was the glue that held the Raptors together, just as he was in the Sixers game. He delivered four hustle plays in the third quarter — a putback dunk off a wild three by Lowry, a steal leading to a breakaway dunk, another steal to find Boucher slithering to the rim, and he forced a shot clock violation. Anunoby is cooling off from deep following a scorching start, but he’s still making a significant impact with his defense.

Nine — Mixed: Siakam was determined out of the gate to snap out of his funk, and he finished with 13 points on 10 shots in the first quarter. But from thereon, he seemed to get lost in the shuffle, and grew frustrated. At one point he missed an open layup, and screamed so loudly that it was picked up clearly on the broadcast. His offense seemed to affect his defense, because he was also allowing blow-bys to the likes of Tomas Satoransky. But ultimately, Siakam regained his composure and delivered seven points in the fourth quarter by imposing his will on the game and repeatedly getting to the basket. This wasn’t a stellar game by his high standards, but at least it was an improvement over what he showed in Philadelphia.

Ten — Emotional: Kawhi Leonard makes his long-awaited return to Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday. With how the Raptors are playing lately, it promises to be a messy affair on many levels. Toronto can either sneak up on the Clippers and use that to jumpstart another win streak, or it could be another humbling loss to a contending team.

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