After a solid first half, a chippy third quarter, and a semi-disaster of a fourth, the Raptors beat the Detroit Pistons tonight 111-107 for their 11th straight win. Typical of these Raptors, the game ran a gamut of emotions -- rollicking good times, frustrating stretches, a near collapse, star-making heroics, and on and on. For this Toronto squad, everyone, for better or worse, likes to get involved.
While the final tally shows DeMar DeRozan leading all players with 29 points (on 10-of-21 shooting), tonight's win was much more of a team effort. Kyle Lowry did his part with 18 points (on a lacklustre 4-of-15 shooting with, somehow, zero assists), Luis Scola contributed his solid if unspectacular heady play (and early scoring), and Jonas Valanciunas chipped in nine rebounds (and some anger at nemesis Aron Baynes). Ironically, however, the only positive starter in the plus/minus category was James Johnson, who had 11 points and seven rebounds of his own, on the way to a +4.
The bench, however, was a different story.
Ever since the Rudy Gay trade (yes, we're still talking about it!) the Raptors bench has been considered a strength. Two years ago, it was good. Last year, it was fun and reckless. This year, it means business. As has been the case for awhile now, the action was driven first by Cory Joseph, who sliced and diced his way to 16 points (on 6-of-11 shooting) and four assists. He also did this:
This is your backup point guard.
The announced player of the game Bismack Biyombo, meanwhile, dropped in 12 points to go with 13 rebounds and three blocks. He even stepped out for a couple of jumpers. Adding to that were quieter games, scoring-wise, from Patrick Patterson and Terrence Ross, but their defense was felt. All together, the four-man bench unit was a +46.
"You have to give them a lot of credit... They have been great at both ends," said DeRozan after the game. "Scoring the ball and getting stops when needed. That's why it's great to have that perfect balance and that's what makes the good teams good."
The Pistons made a couple runs though. In the second quarter, powered by some electric shooting from Brandon Jennings (who hit 5-of-11 of his 3-point attempts), the Raptors lead shrunk to three. Then, that fourth quarter. Despite being down at one point by 20, the Pistons made a game of it, praying on some sloppy Raptors play for the final six minutes. Deep down the game didn't feel in jeopardy, but the final score suggests otherwise.
"That last quarter, it wasn't quality. You give up 35 points, and turnovers, and lack of focus, human nature taking over down the stretch is not winning basketball," said coach Dwane Casey. "I think our guys understand that now. They appreciate the win but they understand that's now how you close out a game."
Still, even Casey didn't sound that disappointed in his team. It's hard to get mad. Eleven games in a row is still 11 games in a row.