The 2023 NBA Play-In Tournament continues with a matchup between the 10th-seeded Chicago Bulls & 9th-seeded Toronto Raptors – which team will move on to face the Miami Heat for a playoff spot on Friday?
Chicago Bulls vs. Toronto Raptors Play-In Preview
Bulls vs Raptors: The Rundown
Both the Chicago Bulls (40-42) & Toronto Raptors (41-41) have underachieved this season despite possessing a combined five players who’ve made an All-Star game within the last few seasons. Chicago never really got going due to various inconsistencies and the year-long absence of starting point guard Lonzo Ball.
Toronto, on the other hand, just couldn’t find a solid lineup combination throughout the season, with players like Gary Trent Jr. alternating in and out of the starting group. But two key midseason moves ended up being positive steps toward real continuity for each team: Patrick Beverley brought veteran leadership and intensity to Billy Donovan’s group, and underrated, two-way center Jakob Poeltl rejoined the Raptors after beginning his career there in 2016.
Acquiring both players served to put other pieces in place – Chicago finally had a starting guard with experience, and Poeltl allowed Pascal Siakam to slot back into a more natural spot at power forward.
With Toronto winning the season series 2-1, which squad holds the advantage in a “winner-take-all” scenario?
Who Has the Edge?
In the regular season, the home team won each matchup between Chicago and Toronto. Their most recent tilt, and the only meeting after the trade deadline, saw the Raptors pick up a 104-98 victory at Scotiabank Arena. It’s a great indicator of how things could shake out because it featured the “ideal starting five” for both Billy Donovan & Raptors head coach Nick Nurse.
Chicago trotted out familiar faces Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic, and Alex Caruso, with Beverley rounding out the lineup at point. Toronto countered with their usual rotation of Siakam, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Scottie Barnes, with Poeltl now manning the middle instead of going small with Trent Jr.
Two things were encouraging for Toronto in that February 28th matchup: they won through a 1/11 shooting effort from VanVleet and noted “Bulls killer” Gary Trent Jr. erupted for 19 points (hit 5 triples) in 27 minutes. You have to figure VanVleet will play much better overall – and if someone out of Trent Jr., Chris Boucher & Precious Achiuwa can reach double figures, it makes it a lot tougher on Chicago’s younger role players in the second unit.
Bulls forward Patrick Williams is likely the key factor in the entire game, though. Not only could he join the starting five in place of Caruso, but Williams’s ability to defend (and chip in scoring) could also make a huge difference on Siakam and/or fellow Florida State Seminole Scottie Barnes.
The Last Word On Bulls vs. Raptors
You never really know which Bulls or Raptors team will show up – each team has the star power to lead the way, but there’s usually something that could potentially hold them back, from poor rebounding to silly turnovers and shot selection.
Can Vucevic impose his will and set the tone v. Poeltl? How will DeRozan & LaVine fare while defended by Anunoby, Barnes & Trent Jr.?
Will someone off the bench (whether it’s Coby White/Patrick Williams for CHI or Precious Achiuwa/Trent Jr. for TOR) step up with a key, double-digit performance?
It all might come down to which stars end up shining brightest. The DeRozan storyline is one to watch – in his “adopted hometown” of Toronto, he has a golden opportunity to stick it to his former team and end their postseason hopes.
But if the Raptors can score by committee as they did on Feb. 28th (five players scored 10+ points, and no one eclipsed 20 points), they have a chance to cruise to a W. Chicago doesn’t always respond well to early adversity either – for them, it’s all about getting off to a great start and then, later, empowering young talent and prioritizing great shots down the stretch.
It’s difficult to predict a “high-stakes” game with two teams that didn’t expect to be in this position: you might want to flip a coin to determine who ends up winning this one. With the backing of its home crowd, though, Toronto is the safer, more favorable bet – but it’s less about the X’s and O’s (with these two) and more about shot selection & execution from stars like DeRozan, LaVine, Siakam, and VanVleet down the stretch.