A quote from the Raptor's pregame broadcast summed up what many thought this game would turn out to be. "Detroit looking to next season, Raptors looking to the postseason." The Detroit Pistons may very well be out of playoff contention, but it certainly didn't show up on the court tonight as the Pistons challenged Toronto to play the full 48 minutes in this contest. The Raptors got the benefit of the whistle in the first quarter but saw it come back to bite them later in the game as Kyle Lowry fouled out midway through the fourth. Not to fear, DeMar DeRozan was there - in Detroit that is - and put his playoff hungry team on his back when they needed it most. DeRozan's game-high 30 points, 14 of which came in the final quarter, were enough to lift the Raptors to a tie franchise record with their 47th win on the season. Final score, 116-107 in favour of Toronto.
As a result of a few unfortunate foul calls against them early on, Detroit's dominant backcourt tandem of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond found themselves watching from the bench for most of the first quarter.
The offensive success wasn't just limited to the post game either. No, the Raptors seemingly couldn't do wrong on their opponent's side of half as evidenced by the Raptors 43-26 lead after one. How does a team score 42 points in 12 minutes of basketball you might ask? Well it should be stressed again that Monroe and Drummond took Detroit's rim protection to the bench with them which contributed to the Raptors converting on 9 of their 11 shot attempts in the paint. Furthermore, the Raptors simply came out shooting well from everywhere an anywhere. You don't need to be a statistician or NBA analytics executive to appreciate the anomaly of shooting 73.7% from the floor.
This is something I'm sure Dwane Casey mentioned to his squad heading into the second, as the defensive effort was almost as dismal as the offense was brilliant in the early going. The Pistons are not particularly strong on offensive team, as they rank 19th in the NBA in terms of offensive efficiency, but the Raptors somehow gave up 26 points in the quarter.
Detroit started to show signs of life to open the second quarter. They went on a 9-2 run, cutting Toronto's lead to 10 and forcing Casey to call a timeout to refocus his men. It seemed to do enough to keep the Raptors lead at a comfortable distance throughout the quarter, despite being manhandled on the boards. Drummond hauled in 7 rebounds in the second quarter, alone, making me wonder how many he could've recorded if he wasn't stuck on the bench for most of the first.
As most suspected, the Raptors shooting clinic didn't continue past the opening quarter though their shooting percentage at half (56.4%) was still looking unsustainably high. The main area of concern was the team rebounding battle, one that the Raptors lost by a deficit of 30-18. Luckily, the extra rebounds didn't contribute too many second chance points and the Dinos held their lead going into the half, 63-49.
From the beginning of the third quarter, it seemed as though we were watching a flashback to the Raptors of yester-year. You remember, the team that seemed to have a knack for giving up big leads to teams who had no right hanging around. Well, that narrative began to play out in this afternoon's affair in large part because of the same weak spots that plagued the Raptors first half play.
The Raptors must have left their defensive give-a-damn in the locker room, because it most certainly was not on the court with them for the third quarter. Whether it was Greg Monroe scoring at will in the paint, or virtually any other Piston's player getting to "their spot", the Raps simply couldn't find an answer. Once again, the fight for rebounds wasn't much of a fight at all. Not to beat a dead horse, but the Raptors somewhat resembled a dead horse in that respect throughout the game, and it was frustrating to watch.
Kyle Lowry was the only answer to the Pistons third quarter surge. Luckily he answered in a big way, scoring 14 of his 28 points in the third and kept the Raps confidence from completely collapsing.
In total, the Raptors surrendered 37 points in the third. Surprisingly, and thanks to that ridiculous first quarter showing, the Raps still held their lead going into the fourth, 87-86. Despite retaining a slim lead the Raptors clearly gave up momentum, and being on the road would not help in that sense.
As I've come to appreciate over the course of this season, the Raptors have a chemistry to them that hasn't been there in years past. Credit the players, the coaching staff, or the executive management? I don't quite know what it is, but the adversity of being in tough situations hasn't dictated the outcomes of nearly as many games this year.
This was certainly on display tonight as the refs whistle eventually caught up with Toronto as Kyle Lowry picked up his 6th foul with just under 6 minutes left in the game. At that point the Raps were holding on to a three point lead, 99-96, and the play of backup point guard Greivis Vasquez to that point had not been very encouraging. Fortunately, DeMar DeRozan stepped into the spotlight, as has been the story a number of times this season, and dropped 14 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth.
Equally encouraging was that the Raptors as a team pulled up their socks, or "calf sleeves" (whatever the kids are wearing these days), and summoned the defensive mindset that Coach Casey has preached since day one. The Dinos held Detroit to 33.3% shooting in the final frame and held on to win, 116-107.
Most fans will look back on this game as a bit of a disappointment. Once again, the Raptors played down to a level that shouldn't be acceptable for a club that just laid claim to the Atlantic Division title. With that said, we witnessed yet another clutch performance from DeRozan who looks to be in top form just in time for the playoffs. In addition, we saw this team react to the loss of Lowry and not miss a beat. Detroit or not - a win, is a win, is a win.
The Raptors have now tied a franchise record of 47 wins in season. They'll look to re-write the team record books tomorrow night against the woeful Milwaukee Bucks. Should be fun?
Comment of the night goes to Carl J ;
"Of course it's not about what's behind door number two
It's what's behind the Finals door that matters. Raptors, 2014 NBA CHAMPS!!!!!!!etc."
What can I say, love the optimism and can't wait to see some playoff ball.