Ah yes, now I remember; the rest of the Eastern Conference isn't that good.
After running the big boys of the Eastern Conference close over the last couple games, the Raptors played a team that was a little more representative of the overall putrid state of the conference. Yep, the Detroit Pistons are bad.
Kyle Lowry led the Raps with 21 points and 9 assists, Jonas Valanciunas had a double-double (16-11)--equipping himself very well against the extremely raw/talented/flawed, Andre Drummond--and Terrence Ross continued his hot shooting from downtown, going 5-10 from the land beyond, in the Raptors blow-out victory.
Brandon Jennings had 22 points and 9 assists for the Pistons, but was brutally inefficient and continues to possess the decision-making capabilities of J.R. Smith -- except that they don't allow J.R. to run a basketball team. In-fact, solid decision-making really isn't a strong point for Maurice Cheeks' side.
And because of that the Raps only needed to put together 24 minutes of solid basketball to beat the Pistons. Both teams shot poorly in the first-half, but the Raptors were particularly woeful, only shooting 33% from the field. After shooting under 40% against the Pacers on Tuesday night, the Raps came out just as anemic at the ACC. DeRozan went 0-9 in the first half, and he, Lowry, and Amir Johnson were a combined 1 of 19 at the interval.
An air-balled John Salmons 3 at the end of the half just summed things up for the Raptors on offense.
The defense in the first-half wasn't much better either. The Pistons did a solid job of pushing the ball in transition; Josh Smith providing some Kevin Love-like outlet passes, with Greg Monroe and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope the frequent recipients. And just as worrying -- especially considering how David West and Roy Hibbert had their way inside the previous night -- was the fact that the Pistons outscored the Raps 28-12 in the paint through 24 minutes. Detroit finished the half on a 26-11 run, and the Raptors were looking a lot like a team that was recovering from an energy-sapping, polar vortex-related travel experience.
But the Raps, despite stinking it up in the first-half, were only down 4. And they began the second-half like Dwane Casey had lit the proverbial fire under everyone's ass. There would be no moral victory to be had in a loss to the Pistons.
Ross nailed a 3 on the Raps' first possession of the 3rd quarter. That set the tone. Amir Johnson (who was much-improved in the second half) blocked a J-Smoove shot, and DeRozan followed that up by scoring in transition. The Raps defense then forced a shot-clock violation, and Ross dropped another trifecta forcing Cheeks to take a timeout.
The Raps wouldn't look back after that 8-0 run, and the Pistons were a spent force. Casey's team shot 50% from the field in the 3rd, winning the quarter 34-20, to go into the 4th with a ten-point lead.
And some quick thoughts on DeRozan's second-half performance. After a brutal first-half, DeRozan made a conscious decision to ditch the jumper and to put the ball on the floor and drive to the bucket (Note: It was smart decision). I've derided DeMar on many occasions for an inability to vary his game, when things aren't going well, but last night he played smart basketball after the interval. Despite finishing 3 of 15, DeRozan shot 16 free-throws, and finished with 19 points.
At the start of the 4th quarter Patrick Patterson picked up his 5th foul and the Raptors were in danger of getting in some serious foul trouble. But that would be the only thing that Casey would need to worry about. The Pistons went away from their paint-centric offense from the first-half and began -- much to the delight of Raptors fans -- to take some terrible long 2s and low-percetange, off-the-dribble 3s. So it goes with a team that pays Jennings and Smith a lot of cash.
The Raptors blew the game open further as the 4th quarter progressed (honestly, at 100-84 I began to mentally shut-down) and Casey was finally able to release his human victory cigars.
With the win the Raptors move back up to .500 (17-17) and the Pistons fall to 14-22, their 6th loss in row. And really, this is the level of competition that the Raps are going to be facing over the next few games. The team's next 3 games are against the Nets, Bucks, and Celtics. It's time to rack up the Ws against the dregs of the conference. No excuses.
Additional Game Notes
- It finally happened: An NBA player finally bit on Jonas' pump-fake -- twice! Andre Drummond has oodles of raw talent, but at this stage of his career he doesn't exactly have the highest basketball IQ. And considering that 99% of NBA players aren't biting, Jonas still needs to shoot that jumper once in a while.
- And speaking of low basketball IQ: WHY Josh Smith, WHY?! J-Smoove has all the talent to be a top-10 player in the NBA, but he seems to have resigned himself to playing away from his strengths. It's a problem.
- Greg Monroe had 11 points and 9 rebounds at the half. He finished the game with 11 points and 11 rebounds. In other words, the Raps did a much better job against him in the second.
- At one point in the game Chuck Hayes -- all 350 pounds of him -- sauntered through the lane for an uncontested lay-up. The Pistons are bad.
- Did I mention that the Pistons are bad? In-fact, the Pistons (Kings excluded) might be the most poorly put-together team in the NBA. Dumars needs to trade either Smith or Monroe, and it's more likely to be Monroe.
- Josh Smith made a long 2 in the first-half and Leo Rautins made a comment about how the Raptors should be worried if he makes one of those shots. Rautins has not watched a lot of J-Smoove.
- Raptors assistant coach Tom Sterner needs a bigger role on the broadcast. Not sure how this can happen, but the dude is made for television.
- Anyone know the final score of Crazy Dennis Rodman All-Stars vs. Crazy North Korean Regime All-Stars?