The word “change” has loomed over the Raptors since Masai Ujiri uttered it at the end of last season. The Raptors, with all of their old parts, and a bushel of relatively new and young components, would have to find a way to change, together. It’s an aspirational idea, but underneath there’s an implicit threat: adapt or die. Tonight against the Detroit Pistons, in the second last game of the mercifully short preseason, the Raptors looked far more evolved. The ball moved, the shots fell, and Toronto won laughing, 116-94.
As if reading our collective minds, Serge Ibaka started strong to set the pace for the Raptors. He put in eight early points, collected a couple of blocks, and hit 2-of-4 threes. The rest of the team was gradually waking up, with contributions coming from all over — including two stunning opening frame assists from rookie OG Anunoby in his preseason debut. The Raptors had six assists overall in the first quarter — a nice touch, and indicative of where the game would go next.
The passing continued for Toronto. By the end, the Raptors had amassed a total of 30 assists on 41 made field goals, and against 14 turnovers. Yes, it’s the preseason, and the Pistons were somehow playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but as head coach Dwane Casey said afterwards, the hope is these sorts of ball-moving efforts become habit. If that includes DeMar DeRozan scoring 13 points but completing eights assists, or some delightful finds from Delon Wright on his way to six assists, or Kyle Lowry casually chipping in four helpers, so be it. “It’s hard for teams to scout,” confirmed Wright afterwards. And folks, it is damn fun to watch.
Outside of Ish Smith’s (over) efforts — he finished with 22 points and eight assists — the Pistons didn’t do much to make it competitive. The lead ballooned to 17 for Toronto in the second quarter, was squeezed down to seven a few minutes later, and then never saw a single-digit differential again. By that point, we’d seen:
- Jonas Valanciunas attempt two three pointers (and miss both) — on his way to an 18 point, 11 rebound domination of Andre Drummond (again).
- The first career points from Anunoby. (Casey referred to him as a “top 10 pick.”)
- And a barrage of three-pointers — and the highlight below — from C.J. Miles to put the game away.
Leading the way for the Raptors, Miles finished with 19 points, on 6-of-9 shooting (including 5-of-8 from three). He looked comfortable with the bench unit (Norman Powell got the start) that exploded the game to start the second. In and around that run, Wright chipped in 10 points with the bench lineup, finding Jakob Poeltl multiple times as the big man put in 12 points (on perfect 5-of-5 shooting) as well. The lead only grew — 20 points, 26 points, then, finally 30. By the end, the highlights began to blur together and we had to remind ourselves it was only the preseason.
“It’s always when you put a product in and you see the results of the product,” said Lowry, the closest this Raptors team has to a sage. “It’s always encouraging to see what you were trying to do is working. We have to continue to get better at it, continue to move the ball and have guys taking shots with confidence and making shots with confidence.”
Who knows if this culture change will stick once the Raptors tip the season off for real. One win against an exhausted (and bad) Pistons team does not mean a full-scale shift has taken place — not exactly. But if things happen incrementally and then perhaps all at once, tonight’s Raptors performance — in turns free-wheeling and intense, filled with ball movement and sound shot selection — is as at least indicative of some kind of progress.
What did you think of tonight’s win over Detroit? Let us know in the comments.