When the Bulls and Raptors last met six months ago, Toronto players ended up shaking the cobwebs out of their heads, wondering what happened.
Like a boxer who had been way up on the scorecards, only to stunningly end up knocked out, flat on their backs, the Raptors blew a 19-point lead and got knocked out of a potential playoff berth by the Bulls.
Different variations of the two teams met again on Tuesday night, this time in the Windy City, but the stakes were far lower. This one was just a tuneup for the real games, which start next week and this time, the Raptors pulled out a wild 106-102 victory.
Two days after facing lesser competition, the Cairns Taipans of Australia, the Raptors met a Bulls team that was nearly at full strength (DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic were all in the lineup after missing Sunday’s game, though Alex Caruso was out). The top Chicago trio played well, combining for 60 points, but both sides went to the bench late, which wouldn’t happen in a normal game.
Earlier, a Toronto team that was short-handed up front, missing Jakob Poeltl, Precious Achiuwa and Christian Koloko, rode excellent performances from Gary Trent and Scottie Barnes and good work as well from Pascal Siakam and Dennis Schroeder, but trailed by a point after three quarters.
Barnes, who tied for the team lead with Siakam with 22 points, was everywhere on both ends of the floor and Trent was a revelation for the Raptors. Coming off the bench once again, a role that appears to be the most likely one for the explosive scorer, Trent led the Raptors in both points and assists in the first half. The four assists were noteworthy, since that was his season high for a full game for helpers a year ago and he’s only had a handful of games with more as a Raptor.
The whole team is trying to move the ball more under Darko Rajakovic and Trent, who has been an unrepentant gunner throughout his career, appears to be fully buying in.
“We’ve been moving a little bit more. (The ball is) going side to side,” Trent told reporters in Toronto the day before the game. “So it’s not just a dribble down, look, look, look and throw it. Everybody gets a feel for it. Everybody touches it to eventually get it there. So it’s just different.”
Trent had said while everyone wants to start, his priority is helping the Raptors win games by contributing any way he can.
That has been music to Rajakovic’s ears.
“Oh, Gary. I’m amazed with Gary. First of all his working habits (are) second to none,” Rajakovic had said. “Every single day he brings a high level of energy, high level of focus … You’ve just gotta be ready to go out there and be (a) pro and everything I’ve seen so far from Gary’s he’s that guy. He’s a pro.”
Trent didn’t score or pick up another assist in the second half, but made his point.
Toronto wraps up the pre-season on Friday at home against the Washington Wizards.