TORONTO - If you had just started watching Raptors basketball two days prior you wouldn't have recognized the team that was run out of their own building Friday night.
Coming off their most encouraging victory of the season in Memphis Wednesday, the Raptors were out-muscled, out-worked and ultimately out-played against a Chicago Bulls team missing their star point guard.
The Bulls - as they tend to do, with or without Derrick Rose - set the tone with their defence in the opening minutes. By the time the buzzer sounded 24 minutes into the contest, the Raptors booed off the floor by their home fans, Toronto had mustered just 31 points on 26 per cent shooting.
"There's nothing redeeming about tonight," said Dwane Casey, who later relented and cited DeMar DeRozan as the lone redeeming spot on the night.
"Tonight was one of those stinkers that you have. We were mentally fried, physically fried but this is the NBA [and] there's no excuses. That wasn't us. We've had stretches like that but not an entire game, the way we were running in mud."
DeRozan, just 3-of-9 at the half, caught fire late in the third quarter. He scored 28 of his career-high matching 37 points in the second half, including 19 of the Raptors' 21 points during a stretch that extended into the fourth quarter.
He couldn't miss, knocking down off-balance jumpers, four three-pointers and crowning Joakim Noah on a tomahawk slam. If it was conceivable for the Raptors' guard to bring his team back on his own at that point he may have, he certainly tried. But it was a little too little too late.
"I just wanted to win," DeRozan said solemnly after his offensive outburst was wasted in a game that was lost early in the first half. "That's the only thing. Just looking at the score, I knew it was going to be tough. It's just my passion, just trying to win."
"He was the one redeeming spot tonight," Casey eventually acknowledged. "The way he came out in the second half, but it's a 48 minute game. You've got to start the game out that way."
Credit the Bulls and their defence for what turned out to be a nightmare of a first half for the Raptors' offence. The same team that registered 11 assists and hit 7-of-9 three-point attempts in the first half of Wednesday's game against a quality opponent had just seven dimes and missed all seven shots from long range.
The Raptors were routinely pushed around under the rim, as the Bulls front line of Noah, Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng got the visitors off to a quick start on both ends of the floor.
"You can't allow someone to come in your home and outwork you like that," Casey said.
"It's hard to get to the basket on them," DeRozan admitted. "They all load in. They're a good defensive team so you've got to find counters and different ways to try and get to the basket."
However, the game was lost on the other end, where the Raptors failed to match Chicago's defensive effort. With Rose on the sideline - ruled out prior to the game, nursing a sore right hamstring - the Bulls didn't miss a beat. They moved the ball with precision and shredded Toronto in the paint, outscoring them 26-18.
"Mental frustration I think is more than anything else," Casey said. "We allowed them to do that. You've got to make a team miss. We didn't play with the desperation we've played with this week."
With five of their next six games at home, the Raptors will benefit from more practice time, something they expect to take advantage of immediately as they return to the gym on Saturday to reflect on this loss.
"It's a long season, it's a marathon," Casey pointed out. "But it's how you bounce back from these types of games that define you."
"I don't want to get too overly alarmed because you have those. You have about five or six of those a year but we can't make it a habit."
Toronto is back in action at the ACC Sunday afternoon when they host the Portland Trail Blazers.