Despite a brief scare when Brandon Jennings got scorching-hot from downtown, the Raptors took the embarrassingly-bad Detroit Pistons to the proverbial woodshed last night. The Raps have now won 11 of their last 12 games against teams under .500. Good teams take care of business against sub-standard opposition, and the Raps are a good team.
DeMar DeRozan led the team with 25 points, Amir Johnson was excellent -- as he has been since the Raptors' 4-day break last week -- putting up 20 points and 9 rebounds; and Jonas Valanciunas did a fantastic job against Andre Drummond on the boards (8 points and 13 rebounds), despite Dwane Casey's curious reluctance to give him more playing time.
I've defended the short-leash that Casey's placed on Jonas in recent weeks, but the Raps' young big-man deserved more than 25 minutes last night.
Thankfully Casey's flirtation with a paint clogging, offensively hideous Chuck Hayes-Tyler Hansbrough front-court did little to alter last night's outcome. The Raptors won, in-part, because they beat the Pistons at their own game: They out-rebounded Detroit 54-39, held them to just 9 offensive boards (they average a league-leading 14.5 per game); and per TSN's Josh Lewenberg, in the second-half they outscored the Pistons 15-0 in second-chance points.
Another other key reason the Raptors won: The Detroit Pistons are a horrible basketball team.
Andre Drummond was fun -- he finished an alley-oop with a ridiculous one-handed slam that had me shaking my head(he's going to be special) -- and Jennings had a 'feast' game in what's been a 'feast or famine' career, thus far (24 points, 4-6 from 3-point range). But other than that they were dire. Josh Smith was 5-17 from the floor, and led his team in terrible shot-selection and morale crippling body-language; and for most of the game their defense was a shambles. Want to score on the Pistons? Just move the ball. It doesn't have to be Spurs-ian ball movement, either. Just make them move a few feet in any direction and they're toast.
The Raps got off to a lightning-quick start, and were up by 12 with 4 minutes left in the quarter -- a quarter in which they shot 50% from the field. But the Pistons inched their way back into proceedings at the end of the 1st, and start of the 2nd. A 14-0 run by the Pistons, 9 straight missed shots by the Raps, and the game was tied 29-29. Detroit's run came during the first of those two awful Hayes-Hansbrough stints. Hansbrough was particularly putrid last night -- he frequently attempted to barrel into Josh Smith who, for all his offensive faults, is still a very decent post-defender. Psycho T, on the other hand, is not a skilled post scorer. The results reflected those facts.
To stop the bleeding Casey put his starters back into the game, and low and behold, the Raps took back control of the game. Amir Johnson ended the Raps scoreless run, and Steve Novak nailed a 3 to cap off a 10-2 surge which put the Raps up by 8. Terrence Ross made a trifecta at the end of the quarter to keep the Pistons at bay.
The Raps opened the 3rd quarter on a 13-2 run, as Jonas and Amir began to dominate on the offensive glass, feasting on put-back dunks and tip-ins. The Raps led by as many as 18 before the Pistons briefly awoke from their collective slumber, and threw one last semi-interested haymaker at the Raps, in the form of Jennings' 3-point barrage. Jennings had 15 points in the quarter, and the Raptors went 3 for 13 during that stretch of the game. Once again the Pistons run occurred with Amir and Jonas on the bench. The Raps entered the 4th quarter with their lead cut down to 5.
And then the Raps turned it up a notch, and the Pistons capitulated.
John Salmons got things started with an early bucket, before DeRozan went to work -- getting to the line and then backing Rodney Stuckey down in the post and scoring off a turnaround jumper. A few possessions later Valanciunas snared an offensive rebound and scored, putting the Raps up by 11. Ross increased the lead to 14 with a difficult 2-pointer -- not his first of last night. The Pistons replied by taking some laughably bad shots, and essentially gave-up rebounding the basketball -- both Lowry and Hayes beat the Pistons' vaunted rebounding front-court on the offensive glass down the stretch.
Salmons iced the game with a 3, and Greivis Vasquez held off any potential, cardboard pizza-induced, zombie-fan mutiny by pushing the Raps to the century mark.
It really felt like the Raps never had to get out of 3rd gear last night; when the Pistons did get back into the game (at the beginning of the 2nd and end of the 3rd quarter) it was because the Raps let their foot off the gas pedal. When they pushed down on the accelerator again, the Pistons promptly shrugged their shoulders and melted into a sorry puddle of ineptitude.
With the win the Raptors move to 36-27. The team will face some much stiffer tests in the coming days, however. Next up for the Raps are the Memphis Grizzlies, who come to town on Friday night.
Additional Game Notes:
- After a really tough outing against the Nets, DeRozan bounced back really well last night. He struggled with his shot at times, but he put the ball on the deck and attempted 9 free-throws. It's well-worth reiterating that DeRozan is now averaging 7.6 free-throw attempts per game, up from 5.2 last season. A major improvement.
- Amir looked back to somewhere near his best last night. He crashed the boards and set picks with the energy we're used to seeing from him, and he was a beast on the pick-n-roll with Lowry.
- Once again: Hayes and Hansbrough on the floor together makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon. The Raptors are missing the uber-versatile Patrick Patterson right now, but until he comes back I'd much rather see extended minutes for Amir or Jonas (if Jonas plays the way he did last night); or some more small-ball lineups.
- At 28, Josh Smith is who he is -- he'll probably never change who he is on the court. And that's a shame. J-Smoove has all the tools to be a top-20 player in the NBA. Alas.
- The Pistons' body language last night was awful, and as a basketball fan, I just hope that the stink surrounding that team doesn't adversely affect the development of Andre Drummond.
- As things stand, Detroit has the 9th worst record in the NBA. Their first-round pick is top-8 protected, otherwise it goes to the Bobcats. I know what I'd be doing if I was Pistons ownership.
- Store the following in the vault labelled "Uncool Moments in Play-by-Play Commentary History": Matt Devlin: KYLE LOWRY DRAINS IT...ALL THE WAY FROM......from......where do you want to go, Jack? Jack Armstrong: Oakville? Devlin: ALL THE WAY FROM OAKVILLE!
- Lots of credit to Raps fans who showed up at the ACC for a Wednesday game against the Detroit Pistons, during the 1000000th snow-storm of what's been a very trying winter.