After a travel odyssey/nightmare that saw them land in Indianapolis less than five hours before tip off against the Pacers, the Raptors fought hard but dropped a forgettable 86-79 decision to Indiana. The players and coaching staff have shunned the term "moral victory" like the plague but, after losing to the Heat and Pacers on the road by a combined 12 points, it seems an appropriate label.
Last night the Raptors got 64 of their 79 points from three players: DeMar DeRozan (28), Patrick Patterson (20), and Kyle Lowry (16). On the offensive end, everyone else landed somewhere on the spectrum from "vaguely present" to "completely invisible". Amir Johnson only played 21 minutes and lost time to Chuck Hayes, who's a hard worker but shouldn't be stealing time from anyone at this point, let alone Amir. Terrence Ross couldn't find his shot (1-8), but again played great defense on Paul George, even blocking the All-Star's shot on one memorable possession. It's great to see Ross using his electric athleticism to stay in front of people and play solid defense.
Let's also take a moment to praise Patrick Patterson. Largely an afterthought in the Gay trade, Patterson has fit in as a perfect stretch four off the bench. He won't keep shooting 56% from three, as he has since arriving in Toronto, but there's a lot to like. He's a free agent at the end of the season and the Raptors should at least consider bringing him back.
Anyway, time to look forward. The Raptors have played the East's toughest schedule thus far and now have a chance to take advantage of an upcoming soft stretch: five of their next six are at home and the only road game comes against the suddenly hapless Celtics.
It all begins tonight when the Pistons come to town for the teams' first meeting of the season. At 14-21 and riding a five-game losing streak, this Detroit team is a bit of a mess. The high-profile front line of Smith-Monroe-Drummond hasn't been very good; when they share the court the Pistons' defense has been torched for 110.1 points per 100 possessions, significantly worse than Utah's league-worst mark. Despite all that size and athleticism up front, Detroit has been one of the worst teams in the league defending the paint, letting opponents shoot nearly 62% in the restricted area, per NBA.com.
At least they have Drummond. The 20-year-old man child has made good on the promise he flashed last year, averaging a 13-13 and shooting 61% from the field. He's somehow shooting 38% from the free throw line and has no offensive game to speak of outside of five feet, but the guy might be the most physically gifted center to come into the league since Dwight Howard. He's also hovering around rarefied air by averaging close to 1.5 blocks and 1.5 steals. Here's the complete list of centers who have done that while averaging at least 30 minutes per game. The number of seasons they did it is in brackets: Hakeem Olajuwon (14), David Robinson (6) Sam Lacey (3), Vlade Divac (1) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1). (Two notes on this. One: If you didn't know it already, the distance between Hakeem's steal/block totals and everyone else's is like the gap between Secretariat and every other horse in the '73 Belmont. No one else is even in the picture. Two: Raise your hand if you know who Sam Lacey is. The hell?)
This is an interesting one for the Raps because it falls into the maybe-real-maybe-not "letdown" category. After competitive games against Miami and Indiana, will Toronto keep playing at a high level or take its foot off the gas a little bit? These are the kinds of games teams with legitimate second-round aspirations have to win. DeRozan should be able to have his way with a small Pistons backcourt and it will be interesting to see how Johnson and Valanciunas, both of whom were quiet last night, deal with the Pistons' size up front.
There should also be plenty of chances for Terrence Ross to rediscover his shooting stroke. The Pistons have given up the second most corner three attempts in the league and only six teams have been worse at defending those juicy attempts. Let if fly, Terrence!
Should be a fun one as the Raps try to find some consistency at home, where their record is a disappointing 6-8. With Brooklyn and Milwaukee coming to town next, that could change pretty quickly.