When you follow a team closely over an entire season, there's a tendency to find gripes within success. If you've been following the Toronto Raptors, that gripe is surely with the minutes played by Kyle Lowry. I'm standing contrary to my own position here, sure, but at some point you have to give in to a winning formula. It may be taxing on the team's best player, but the combination of Lowry and the bench unit of Cory Joseph, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson and Bismack Biyombo have been completely unstoppable over the last six weeks.
Tonight was no exception. The unit catapulted a close game into a blowout in the early stages of the fourth quarter, as the Raptors beat the Pistons 103-89. The win is Toronto's 14th in the last 15 games, with the lone loss coming in Denver. At 34-16, they continue to sit two games back of Cleveland for first in the East and 4.5 up on idle Boston in third.
As another Morris twin frustrated the Raptors (this time it was Marcus with his defense on a 5-for-14 DeMar DeRozan), Kyle Lowry stepped up to the plate, leading both the starters and the bench for 25 points, seven assists, three rebounds and two steals. Two of his nine makes (on 14 tries) came early in the fourth, on an impossible running hook and a rhythm three, keying an 11-2 run that stretched the Raptors lead from five to 14. It would eventually grow to as high as 20.
Also part of Kyle's bench squad was Terrence Ross, who rained in 18 points on 13 shots, filling his stat line with four rebounds and two steals. Remember Rex Kalamian's quote that Ross should be making two outstanding defensive plays per game? He filled his quota tonight. Jonas Valanciunas and Cory Joseph were as quietly efficient as ever with matching 7-for-9 lines for 15 points. Joseph was a +24, which again speaks to the success of the aforementioned unit.
Offsetting that success was yet another slow start for the Raptors. Not one to mess with a good thing, Casey has been living through these abysmal openings so that his successful personnel can make it in the first. Norman Powell, bless his defensive effort, has one point as an NBA starter. He got it tonight on a free throw. There's an argument to be made that you should play your best players from the tap, but it's hard to go against a team this hot. The Pistons got off to a 19-11 start as DeRozan and Lowry started 1-for-9.
Detroit struggled for a long stretch after that, but found their form in the third quarter when they realized they had Andre Drummond on their team. With just four shots in the first half, Drummond was left on an island to find his own points. In the second half, they finally started feeding him the ball, and he got to work toward his final line of 12 points and 13 rebounds. Three of those points came on this impossible heave as the third expired.
Andre Drummond is shooting 35% from the line and now 100% from half court and beyond this season. pic.twitter.com/FNNDH5WmCp— PistonPowered (@PistonPowered) February 9, 2016
Along with Drummond, Detroit got double-digit scoring from five other players. Their main issue was with Lowry and the bench spacing them out on defense. Never was that more apparent than late in the fourth, when a Jonas Jerebko turnover at the four-minute mark turned into a 9-2 Raptors run, all but sealing the game. The run afforded Lowry 2:40 in rest to close the game (and some BRUNO time), an invaluable stat when you consider how many leads this team has given up this season.
Take a step back and consider this. If the Raptors beat Minnesota on Wednesday, they only have to go 15-16 after the All-Star break to get to a franchise-best 50 wins. There's still conversation around improvement for this team. The starting unit struggles, the minutes are starting to add up, the injuries still hurt. With all that said, though, you can't argue with the returns.
Thoughts on this one?