Game Notes: Raptors at Bulls
Apologies to Raptor Nation.
by Bryan Crawford
It has to be karma right? I mean, what else could it be? A guy from Chicago writes an article taking subtle shots and throwing light jabs at the city of Toronto and the Raptor fans who live there because they hate Vince Carter so much and some of those who read it and left comments seemed to want my head on a platter. Twelve days later the Toronto Raptors come to the United Center—with said writer in attendance—and destroy my beloved Chicago Bulls from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
That’s poetic justice like a MF’er.
So here is my display of responsible journalism as I offer a formal apology to the city of Toronto and Raptor fans everywhere. After watching them dismantle the Bulls on Saturday night and then spending time in their locker room after the game shooting the breeze and sharing a few laughs with guys like Chris Bosh, Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan and Pops Mensah-Bonsu, I found myself actually liking the players on this Raptor squad and the NBA fans north of the border have a very good reason to like these guys too. Sure they’ve been struggling this season, but you’re lucky to have a group of guys like this representing your city.
But I digress…
From the moment I walked into the United Center, I could tell that it was going to be a weird night. As I made my way to the court to watch the teams take pre-game shootaround, I noticed that the Bulls players seemed especially flat. There wasn’t a whole lot of energy on their end of the court and you could feel it. There also wasn’t as many guys participating like there normally would be an hour and a half before the tip. Also, Joakim Noah took the floor a lot later than he usually does, and his routine was a lot shorter than it usually is. Strange.
Stranger still was the fact that Tyrus Thomas was actually very nice and cordial and he’s never, ever like that before—or even after—a game. He isn’t exactly known for being especially fond of media guys, but he chopped it up with me and another writer friend prior to him getting some shots up. Yes, you read that right, Tyrus Thomas was shooting jumpers before the game. He doesn’t appear to have full range of motion yet on his injured left arm, but he wasn’t wearing a cast and he said he felt good enough to be able to shoot around. He wasn’t exactly clear on what the timetable was for his return, but he said that he goes back to see the doctor in a week in to be reevaluated. By the way, the “real” story on how he broke his forearm is absolutely unbelievable.
The flip side of the Bulls lack of energy was what I observed during Toronto’s pre-game shootaround. Those guys were loose and looked like they were having a lot of fun. They were laughing and joking with one another, but you could also tell that they were very focused. Case in point was DeMar DeRozan who after completing his routine sat down on the bench with one of the Raptors assistant coaches and for ten-minutes listened intently as the coach broke down film with him and pointed out where the rookie should be defensively on rotations. I’ve never seen a coach and a player do that prior to a game.
Thirty minutes before tip-off, there was absolutely no buzz in the United Center. I looked around the arena and by my best guess I estimated that there were about 5,000 people in the whole place which is very odd for a Bulls home game. There was also some kind of ‘Bring It On’ cheerleading style competition before the game which ran over its allotted time and caused both teams to take the floor with less than ten minutes on the clock before the jump ball.
And speaking of teams taking the floor, as I was walking off the court and making my way to press row, Toronto came out of the tunnel like a pack of Velociraptors in Jurassic Park 3. If it weren’t for my cat-like agility and reflexes I would’ve been trampled under the feet of $68,124,118 worth of professional athletes. Like I said, their energy was good.
As the Bulls were in the process of giving up 38 points to the Raptors while managing to score only 16 points and shooting a putrid 29 percent from the field, the United Center was like a morgue. It’s the quietest I’ve ever experienced the stadium either as a ticket holding fan or a journalist. It was like being at a mixer. For a second, I thought I could actually hear Vinny Del Negro “not” coaching from my seat in press row. OK, I’m kidding but, I could hear other people’s conversations and I was actually engaged in one of my own with two other media members about how difficult it actually is to make out what Hedo Turkoglu says when he’s talking. The only time the UC perked up in that 1st quarter was when DeRozan dunked on John Salmons neck off a lob from Jose Calderon, and two minutes later when he drove baseline and took off on Brad Miller. Why Miller jumped, I have no idea, but he obviously doesn’t watch YouTube.
The Bulls actually showed signs of life as they outscored the Raptors 28-27 in the period. It didn’t matter much as they were still down by 20 points at halftime. The thing that stuck out to me most was the fact that the Bulls didn’t have a single player in double figures scoring wise. Derrick Rose had 9 points (he wouldn’t score again in the game by the way) and three other Bulls players had 7 points.
More of the same as the beat down continued. There was on sequence early in the quarter where the Raptors got 6 offensive rebounds on one possession. It was at that point that Joakim Noah decided that he was done playing for the night and picked up his second technical foul and was ejected from the game. I actually passed him in the hallway as I was going back to my seat and he was not a happy camper, that’s for sure. But the strangest moment of the night came at the end of the quarter when Jarett Jack actually cuffed the ball and bent down to tie his shoe. During play! It was the oddest thing I’ve ever seen happen in a basketball on any level. Not one single Bulls player came up to try and knock the ball out of his hands. I’m not even sure they even realized what was going on or if they knew who even had the ball. At least that’s the way it seemed. Toronto outscored Chicago 23-14 in the quarter.
I have to be honest here; I actually stopped watching the game at this point and started eating multiple Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars like a little fat kid. About the only interest I had was waiting to see if any Bulls were going to crack double figures in scoring which finally happened when Jannero Pargo scored 4 points and John Salmons scored 5 giving them 11 and 13 points for the game, respectively. It got so bad that with about five minutes left in the game, I went back toward the locker room area and started watching the Clemson/Georgia Tech football game with a Nike rep who played basketball at Clemson and one of the United Center security guards who told us that Noah had just left the arena. We joked that maybe he was mad about Florida getting spanked by Alabama in football and that he didn’t want to answer any questions about it.
I spent pretty much all of my time in the Raptors locker room and I have to say that it was a lot of fun which was to be expected after blowing a team out by 32 points on the road, coming off a back-to-back, and playing their fourth game in five nights. It was certainly a lot more fun than the Bulls locker room which I didn’t go into at all because I’d just gone to a funeral that morning and I’d pretty much had my fill of somber moments for one day.
I also talked to Pops Mensah-Bonsu who said that he was glad to be back in Toronto and that he loves the city and the fans. As we were talking I looked down and noticed that he was wearing some pretty nice Gucci shoes and I asked him how much they were. He said that they were a gift but that they went for about $300. I mentioned to him that I noticed that every NBA player wears Gucci shoes (Chris Bosh also had on a pair), has Beats ™ by Dre headphones and carries a Louis-Vuitton toiletry bag and he just laughed because he knew that he fit the status quo. Said Pops, “I always told myself that once I got to the League I wasn’t going to spend my money on stuff like that but you kind of get sucked in. So yeah, I buy it, but I don’t OD.”
Finally, I asked Jarrett Jack about the shoe tying incident and he described it this way. “I crossed half-court and looked down and saw that my shoe was untied. I didn’t even have the ball but when it came back out to me, [Luol Deng] didn’t come up to guard me. So I figured that I would just tie it and if anybody came up I was gonna have to pass the ball real quick or just make a move and let my shoe come off. But nobody did.” Like I said, it was a weird night.
Oh yeah, and remember when I said Hedo Turkoglu was hard to understand? After the game I noticed that there was only one reporter that interviewed him in the locker room. He spoke Turkish.
Good night, Canada.