The Toronto Raptors led by 19 points midway through the third quarter in their 9-10 Play-In eliminator against the Chicago Bulls, and it looked for all the world like they would be cruising to a showdown with Miami for the 8-seed on Friday.
However, in the third quarter Zach LaVine picked up his level and the Bulls steadily began chipping away at the Raptors lead, cutting the deficit to nine going into the fourth quarter. In the fourth quarter, LaVine would continue his sensational scoring night as he piled up 39 points on 12-of-22 shooting, showing off some truly sensational shot-making to pull the Bulls back into the game. A 9-0 run from the Bulls was punctuated by a LaVine pullup three in transition the forced a timeout from the Raptors as Chicago cut the lead to five, and suddenly the Toronto crowd was feeling very uncomfortable about their situation.
After cutting it to two, Alex Caruso got a steal and runout to tie the game, as he was the catalyst for a tremendous defensive turnaround for the Bulls.
While Caruso, Patrick Beverley, and Patrick Williams all showed up big down the stretch defensively, there was one person who was locked in defensively all night: Diar DeRozan. DeMar’s daughter was courtside underneath one of the baskets and her screeching during the Raptors free throws messed with Toronto all night, as they shot just 18-of-36 from the stripe thanks to Diar’s uncanny ability to time her screams at the perfect time to throw off their rhythm.
With Diar’s help, the Bulls stayed within range long enough for LaVine to heat up and eventually he and DeMar DeRozan were able to push Chicago to the lead.
Fred VanVleet, who started off the night hot, found a key late three to tie the game at 100, but that was as close as Toronto would get to the lead for the rest of the night.
The Bulls would regain the lead and hold a one-possession edge for most of the final few minutes, as Toronto never let them run away, but also couldn’t ever reel them all the way in — once again thanks to Diar DeRozan’s efforts defending free throws.
Still, a Pascal Siakam dunk cut the lead down to one with just under 20 seconds to play, and there was a real chance to get back in the game.
After a pair of Zach LaVine free throws made it a three-point game again, Siakam got a very generous continuation call on Alex Caruso that was ruled a three-point shooting foul, giving him a chance to tie the game at the stripe. However, Diar DeRozan’s screams loomed like prime Dikembe Mutombo, and after making the first, Siakam saw back-to-back free throws rim out to ensure the Bulls would get out of Toronto with a win and keep their season alive.
Siakam finished with 32 points, nine rebounds, and six assists, but the missed free throws were the story of the night. He accounted for six of Toronto’s misses but was far from alone, as OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, and Fred VanVleet all missed three or more from the stripe as well. The 18 missed free throws were Toronto’s most in a game by far this season, and there really wasn’t any reasonable explanation beyond Diar’s screams simply messing with them so badly they couldn’t concentrate at the line, even at home.
Based on the regular-season percentages of the players who went to the free throw line, you would have expected the Raptors to make 28.6 free throws on average. Instead, Toronto went 18-of-36.
— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) April 13, 2023
After the game, DeMar said he almost didn’t let Diar come to the game, but would be compensating her for the hard work on the defensive end of the floor.
demar derozan says his daughter called him the other day and asked to come to this game. he almost didn’t let her because he didn’t want her to miss a day of school
“i’m glad i did. i owe her some money for sure.”
— James Herbert (@outsidethenba) April 13, 2023
The Bulls, meanwhile, went 18-of-22 from the stripe on the road, hitting most all of the necessary free throws down the stretch to ice the game. DeRozan had 23 points to aid LaVine, but Nikola Vucevic with 14 and Patrick Williams with 10 off the bench were the only other Bulls to reach double figures. It really was a signature performance from LaVine, who carried their offense out of the mud and once he breathed life back into the team, the rest followed suit on both ends to earn them a chance at the 8-seed on Friday in Miami.