Bulls fall late to Toronto, lose third straight

There is no shame in a competitive loss to the Toronto Raptors, a team that boasts two All-Star guards.

Being dominated by a pair of reserve guards, though, is a different equation.

The Bulls had no collective answer for Delon Wright and Fred VanVleet in Wednesday’s 124-115 collapse.

Combining to score the opening 17 points of the second period, the backup guards seeped through a porous defense. An early 10-point Bulls lead was quickly erased, ultimately proving the difference in the game.

DeMar DeRozan finished what his reserves started, dominating in the third with 18 points of his own, and did so in unfamiliar fashion — from behind the 3-point line.

Giving up a nine-point advantage and heading into the final frame tied at 90, the Bulls couldn’t counter DeRozan’s hot shooting, managing just seven made field goals to 13.

But the problem wasn’t scoring.

The Bulls, who had efficient performances from Justin Holiday, Lauri Markkanen and Nikola Mirotic, had no answer defensively. After holding the Raptors to a 21-point first quarter, the Bulls promptly gave up 103 points to the visitors over the final three periods.

It continues a recent trend of a once productive defense allowing over 110 points in their last three games — all losses.

Not that we should be complaining. A potential franchise cornerstone shining in a competitive loss is all a rebuilding team banking on lottery odds can ask for.

Markkanen was brilliant all night, posting 22 points and 12 rebounds – his eighth double-double of the season. Showcasing his incredible shooting touch and finesse skills, the Finnish forward continued to illustrate his upside as long-term piece in the rebuild.

Too bad Kris Dunn couldn’t show out too.

In a forgettable night, Dunn was  unable to find an offensive rhythm. The sophomore guard could only muster two points on 1-for-6 shooting, committing three turnovers in the process.

It’s difficult to have an impact when forced out of the rotation due to foul trouble. Already in the top-10 league-wide in fouls per game, Dunn continued to test the referees. Picking up unnecessary fouls is becoming all too common for Dunn. In four of his last five games, the guard has had four or more fouls. It’s too much, and it’s frustrating for all.

The Bulls could’ve used more of Dunn, too.

No one could prevent Wright scoring 15 of his career-high 25 points in the first half. The third-year wing added 13 rebounds, five assists and four steals in a dominant performance.

There was also no solution for the streaking DeMar DeRozan. Fresh off a franchise-high 52-point outing against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors star served up 35 points for Chicago.

Extending a streak of their own, the Bulls have now lost three consecutive games, falling to 13-25. Despite a 10-game winning run that vaulting them up the standings, only 2.5 games separates the Bulls from the bottom-placed Atlanta Hawks.

On the road to face the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, another loss could see the Bulls continue to fall down — or up depending on your position — the standings.

The tank may have a pulse, after all.

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