In the final play-in stage of the season, the day of elimination happened today. Both matches reached a high level of competition, but surprisingly, the away clubs from their respective conferences emerged victorious.
In the Eastern Conference, the Chicago Bulls were able to hold off the Toronto Raptors by mounting a comeback in the fourth quarter and getting help from their two superstars.
Former Raptors franchise player DeMar DeRozan had another memorable performance in his city of Toronto, finishing with 23 points and seven rebounds. This must have been a bittersweet experience for Raptors fans, as DeRozan completed the game with those numbers.
The Bulls were facing a deficit of 18 points going into the third quarter, and they needed to find a way to overcome it. DeRozan and Zach LaVine, who have had their share of highs and lows throughout this season, contributed significantly to the team’s success with a standout effort in the game that propelled them to victory. They will now compete against the Miami Heat, who have been having a lot of trouble recently, on the road in Florida on Saturday. This game will determine the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference.
This is an appropriate way to wrap things out for a Raptors team that, on the whole, had a less-than-stellar season. Some players’ performances, such as Scottie Barnes and Fred VanVleet’s, took a turn for the worse, while others, such as OG Anunoby, had their momentum stopped short by injury. Pascal Siakam had a tremendous year with the Raptors, and he capped up his second All-Star level campaign with a game in which he scored 32 points. As a result of Siakam’s performance, the Raptors were able to qualify for the play-in round.
The Oklahoma City Thunder defeated Brandon Ingram and the New Orleans Pelicans in the Western Conference. The match took place in New Orleans.
Only after the last minute of play in the fourth quarter was each team able to take a lead of more than four points. The Thunder rode on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey, while the Pelicans rode the shoulders of Ingram, who was making plays, and Jonas Valanciunas, who was controlling the boards. When there were approximately four minutes left in the game, Valanciunas had to sit out due to what appeared to be an ankle injury. This was a significant setback for New Orleans.
After that, a back-and-forth of big-time plays and isolations followed. It appears that SGA has placed the final nail in the coffin with the space presented above. Nonetheless, Ingram found a way to keep the Pelicans in the game.
Ultimately, Oklahoma City pulled off more key plays than the Pelicans. Giddey finished with 31 points, nine rebounds, and ten assists, while SGA finished with 29 points. They advance to the next round, where they will compete against the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Saturday to determine the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
Even though Ingram missed more than half the season and Zion Williamson could only play for a quarter, New Orleans could still make it to this point. They will approach the offseason having to make significant decisions concerning personnel, the most crucial of which is Williamson’s extension.
Zach LaVine has been nothing short of a model of inconsistency for the Bulls this season, but he delivered a significant performance for them today. He scored 39 points, the majority of which came during an important run by his team in the fourth quarter that helped cut a lead of 18 points held by Toronto.
LaVine was not even selected to play in the All-Star game this season. Because of the lingering effects of an injury, he got off to a dull start, and it was in recent months he began to show signs of improvement. The Bulls will need even more of this from their franchise player when they fly to Miami to compete against the Heat and Jimmy Butler.