That was pretty fun.
For a preseason game between two teams that are hardly playoff locks, last night's tilt between the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors was one of the more enjoyable "fake" games I've seen in a while.
For starters it was incredibly close, especially in the second-half, where it took an Andre Drummond tip-in with 35 ticks left on the clock, to give the Pistons a 101 to 99 win.
Second, it pitted two clubs that have a number of very intriguing young prospects, excellent defensive-minded coaches, and enough veteran experience to perhaps make a run at an eighth and final playoff spot.
And third...well, having missed Toronto's win over Real Madrid on Monday night, this was my first taste of NBA action for the newly minted season.
In the end yes, Toronto dropped the contest, but it was mission accomplished for the most part for head coach Dwane Casey I'd argue, who gave rookie Jonas Valanciunas his first NBA minutes, and found minutes for everyone except Jerel McNeal, Chris Wright and Jamaal Magloire, all of whom will likely be waived in the coming weeks.
As it was a pre-season, I'll do away with a huge debrief on the affair, but instead, I thought I'd look at three things that stood out to me from the contest.
1) Point guard play. Simply put, once Kyle Lowry gets back, this is an area the Raptors should really be able to exploit. Last night I thought Jose Calderon was magnificent, dropping in 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting, probing Detroit's defense, looking for his shot, and dishing out four assists all the while controlling the tempo and even pushing the ball in transition. His defence wasn't lock-down, but he was trying as best he could to get around screens and keep his man in front of him, something that's a major challenge considering the speed and power of Detroit's PG's.
And John Lucas will no doubt be viewed as a Mike James' clone by many fans, but if he makes 50 per cent of the shots he takes, (as he did last night) I'm fine with him taking as many as he does. His role is that of a scoring guard and the man can shoot it. And he actually had more assists than Jose so this wasn't a Ben Gordon imitation. I thought Lucas did a great job getting everyone involved early and then gave the team a nice boost on O, looking for his shot on consecutive possessions when it was needed.
2) DeMar and Andrea. Really, these are the two biggest names on the roster in many ways. Both are expected to carry the offensive weight, not to mention take big steps forward this season.
Two games in, I'm only seeing the potential of the latter from one of the two, Mr. DeRozan.
DeMar was the team's high-scorer 17 points including a stellar 10 trips to the line, where he knocked down all but one. He just looked more solid out there, being stronger with the ball (only one turnover) and really looking to attack at every opportunity. Considering he played only 27 minutes and did some nice work on D, I was really happy with his effort. He didn't post big rebounding or assist numbers, but I can be quite content with consistent outings like that from DeMar going forward.
Ugh. To say his play was a disappointment to me was an understatement, yet, as I watched him fail to pursue rebounds, box out on plays, or follow his own misses, I realized that being disappointed didn't make a lot of sense considering I was essentially watching the same Andrea I'd seen the past oh...
Sure, there was a nice flash in the post and hook-shot for a score, and a couple nice shots from the left wing, but overall, a 4 of 11 performance and frankly, some VERY lackadaisical play on D, looked way too much like the Andrea we've been accustomed to seeing throughout his Raptors' career.
It's game two, pre-season game two at that, and boxing out Jason Maxiell is hardly an easy task, but you just want to see a lot more already from Andrea unfortunately. One rebound in 22 minutes is something I'm pretty sure I could have accumulated.
3) Raptors' Depth: Moving back to the positive side of things, it was hard not to have a smile on my face as I watched players like Alan Anderson, Terrence Ross and the aforementioned Lucas, give Toronto some very effective minutes. This bodes well for the season as Dwane Casey will need the extra man-power on nights when Andrea struggles with his O, and guys like Kleiza (who was pretty bad last night as well) aren't able to bring it.
Finally, um...how about Andre Drummond? Sure, his offensive game amounted to "give me the ball within eight feet of the hoop and I'll dunk it," but he looked pretty good out there finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, giving the Raptors' major issues inside. A Drummond-Greg Monroe combo could be a very scary front line in the near future and if you're Bryan Colangelo, I'd say your desperately hoping Terrence Ross turns out.
The last thing Raptors' fans need is another Hoffa-Iguoadala situation on their hands.