Toronto Raptors

A routine win over the Toronto Raptors turned around the 1997-98 season for the 'Last Dance' Chicago Bulls


It was well-documented in the first two episodes of "The Last Dance" how the Chicago Bulls struggled to get things going at the start of the 1997-98 season.

With Scottie Pippen sidelined for the first three months of the campaign, the Bulls were leaning heavily on Michael Jordan to keep them afloat in the Eastern Conference. 21 games into the season, the Bulls were just 12-9 and tied for seventh in the East. Just one game separated the two-time defending champs from 10th in the East.

MORE: When to watch each episode of "The Last Dance"

Not exactly the start they had hoped for even without Pippen in the lineup.

A mid-December date with the 2-19 Toronto Raptors seemed like a meaningless game on the schedule, but it set the table for the Bulls to get back to being the Bulls.

Chicago would hammer the Raptors 97-70 - their largest margin of victory over the young franchise to that point. Just a few games prior the Bulls had set a franchise record against the Milwaukee Bucks for fewest points allowed, holding them to just 62 points.

The Raptors just narrowly escaped the history books on this night.

If you look hard enough on the internet you can find the full game, but it should come with a parental advisory sticker attached because it gets U-G-L-Y. I took on the challenge of watching the game myself and throughout the hour and a half I made multiple DeAndre Jordan "oh that's nasty" faces at the screen.

The game was over from the start with Toronto scoring just nine points in the first period and 29 points for the entire for half.

"Well, it was good defence obviously," Bulls assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers told WGN at halftime of the game. "The first quarter we thought we got off to a great defensive start it was a good solid quarter. The second quarter is what we call a scrum was a little bit messy at both ends of the floor."

While the defence was suffocating the Raptors, Rodgers hoped to see a few more shots fall through the bucket as the Bulls only put up 40 points in the half and struggled from the field shooting just 34%.

"We haven't been able to put a lot of points on the board (lately) and we haven't tonight so far so hopefully we can break out here and have a good solid half."

The shots did eventually fall for the Bulls as they finished shooting 46% from the field in the win. While the team was able to get out of their shooting slump, Michael Jordan was not. MJ shot 4-for-16 from the field finishing the game with just 11 points - his lowest output of the season. He was definitely starting to show the effects of having to carry a heavier scoring load especially on the backend of four games in five nights.

The win, however, would spark the Bulls to winning 10 of their next 11 games. MJ would get back to being MJ averaging 32.7 points, 6.7 rebounds shooting 49.4% from the field in that span. He'd go on to win his fifth and final MVP.

MORE: Just how good was Jordan in 1997-98? | Why Pippen was Chicago's 6th-highest paid player

Pippen would finally make his season debut on January 10th. At that time the Bulls were 24-11 and back on top in the East. They would finish the season 62-20 tied for the best record in the league with the Utah Jazz.

It may have been a championship hangover or missing Scottie Pippen's presence or the cloud of drama that was hovering around the team off the court - whatever it was the Bulls needed a moment to get back to being who they were.

It came at the expense of the Toronto Raptors.

Oh and if you're wondering how a rookie Tracy McGrady played in his first meeting against the Bulls after almost being traded for Pippen in the offseason - he finished with eight points, six rebounds shooting 3-for-10 from the field in 23 minutes.

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