The Raptors needed a franchise record setting effort to pull out of their week-long tail spin. Snapping their four game losing streak, the Raptors came back and beat the Pistons but Vicious D is still wary.
116, 124, 113, 123, and 116
These are the point totals scored by our opponents in the last five games since our Guy's Night Out a little over a week ago.
Does anyone miss Reggie Evans now?
Granted, the Raptors came up with a 120-116 victory against the lowly Detroit Pistons and there's a lot of positives that we'll get to. But let's not forget.
This is a Detroit team that ranks 28th in the NBA in points scored.
So how did Detroit come up with 116 points? It was pretty simple. For about three quarters, our hometown heroes simply kept coughing up the ball. Without Jose Calderon or Reggie Evans, our starting core got extremely young and inexperienced, and thanks to that, no one could step up and be the "floor general". I mean, how the Raptors managed to score at just under an 80% field goal percentage in the first quarter and still be behind by a point was just incredible to me.
Then in the second quarter, the Pistons' offense got hot and the Raptors continued to create sloppy plays on top of their cooling shooting percentage. All of this lead to a 19 point deficit at half time. Guys like Ben Wallace and Greg Monroe had no business lighting up the Raptors the way they did, but here they were, out-hustling our boys and getting the garbage buckets that Evans undoubtedly would have corralled.
The third quarter didn't bring a whole lot more hope for us fans. In fact, I'm sure that like most of you, I found it so difficult to watch the Raptors struggle through what looked to be a 20-point blow out. After all, Detroit was up by 25 at one point and the Raptors had given no indication that they could wrestle control back.
That was, until Jay Triano thought "the hell with it" and put on a group of guys who were older and bound to play tighter defense.
With Leandro Barbosa taking the point, Julian Wright and Linas Kleiza anchoring the wing positions, the Raptors started to gain confidence back in their step. Barbosa's steady hand at the point was welcome compared to Bayless's at times questionable decision making.
The Brazillian Blur never forced the team and was a steadying veteran presence who played defense the way the Raptors needed him to; by buying into the team concept. For all the offensive ability of Bayless, he still fell short of having a positive impact on the team (31 pts, -4 +/-).
Julian Wright was a lengthy pest on defense who got the Raptors back valuable extra possessions that the Raptors gave up earlier. And Linas Kleiza still turned the ball over too much for my tastes, but he played solid defense and made life difficult for the Pistons.
Add in Andrea Bargnani's now expected 20+ points and Amir Johnson's positive influence on the game (+15 +/-) and the Raptors did something few could imagine.
They won by playing solid defense.
In the fourth quarter, the Pistons couldn't get any traction and only managed to score 17 points allowing the Raptors to come back from a 25 point deficit.
Yes, it was the biggest comeback in franchise history, but at the same time, the Raptors cannot continue down this road.
Lost in the past week is the team that we saw in November. November's team played aggressive defense and had a solid identity going in from game-to-game. Now we're seeing a return to last year's league worst defense. I'm seeing a lot more of a team that just refuses to gel together or do the hard things that make it possible for a "less talented" team to win. The hustle plays and attention to defense are no longer there on a nightly basis.
This is not a way to become a hungry team that will surprise their opponents and take them down thanks to superior team play.
A lot of readers continue to ask me why I put so much emphasis on Reggie Evans and his importance. Yes, I acknowledge that Reggie doesn't do anything for our offense and that his defense is "overly enthusiastic" at times.
However, I outlined earlier in the summer that I thought "leadership" was going to be a huge part of the success of this year's team. There's little doubt in my mind that Reggie's tough-as-nails attitude and tenacity were huge parts of building this team's identity in November. The way he covers for his teammates and gets those extra possessions all without making a peep about his lack of touches on the offense are sorely needed. He does what he does in limited minutes and situations but the coaches think that much of him to place him in a position to win, night in, night out.
Now that's missing, there's no one to take up the reins.
So until the Raptors can prove to me that they can find their defensive step without Reggie, I'll continue to lament our loss. We've finally seen the Raptors get a quarter and a half of solid defense, but it's against one of the worst offensive teams in the NBA. It's only six more weeks until Reggie's projected return, but if the Raptors can't find their step again it may be too late.
The question is do the Raptors have the will?
Here's hoping they do.