Perhaps the nicest thing one could say about these Detroit Pistons is that they don’t know when to quit. That is, excepting when they do quit. Detroit is hovering around .500 while in the midst of another meaningless campaign. Maybe they’ll make the playoffs, maybe not — eh, who cares? It’s a sentiment I suspect I share with the Raptors.
On Wednesday night Detroit tried their darnedest to take down Toronto anyway, really and truly. And though it was frustrating to watch at times — 21 turnovers for the home team didn’t help — the Raptors eventually won 96-91 behind just enough timely plays and solid shooting from the expected sources. What a relief.
This one began with some crisp offensive execution by the Raptors, and a lead that grew as large at 15 points. DeMar DeRozan looked to be cooking his way to another delicious outing with 10 first quarter points. C.J. Miles was showing some bounce-back signs of life from beyond the arc. And the Raptors defense was forcing the Pistons into some ugly basketball. Only Avery Bradley’s nine first quarter points felt particularly threatening.
But then, ah yes, the Pistons began to really work their way into things, frustrating DeRozan, leveraging Andre Drummond more effectively, and basically pushing the Raptors out of their comfort zone. “That team is a very aggressive team,” said coach Dwane Casey of the Pistons afterwards. “We made it complicated on ourselves, but we’ve got to give Detroit credit, they were really getting into us, getting after us.”
Despite the pressure, the Raptors had a few more angles of attack to try. One was finding Miles again and again in the second quarter, and then again in the fourth. After some quiet shooting nights, Miles was blistering tonight with a 5-of-12 from deep shooting performance and 21 points that kept the Pistons at bay. The Raptors needed it, especially as DeRozan gradually succumbed to Bradley’s bullying around the court.
Meanwhile, down low, the Raptors got the expected performance from Jonas Valanciunas, who had 17 points and 16 rebounds, plus three assists. Sure, Drummond eventually went off for 25 and 17, but we’ll call this a draw — especially since JV got revenge for Drummond’s pre-season disrespect and drilled a 3 in his face. Valanciunas’ random streak of good games against Drummond continues in my books.
The final piece of the puzzle for the Raptors was an inspired run of play from Kyle Lowry — who still wasn’t himself, but came on strong in the second half — and Delon Wright — whose small boxscore contributions do not accurately measure his impact on the game.
Lowry got off to a slow start against the Pistons but gradually started making the kinds of plays the Raptors need from their floor leader. Shooting 4-of-10 from three-point range doesn’t hurt either. Lowry finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, and five assists, and thoroughly outplayed his Pistons counterpart Ish Smith, an occasional Raps irritant, whose 1-for-12 line looks positively ghastly by comparison.
Wright, meanwhile, did as he usually does, quietly dictating play for a Raptors team that was discombobulated for stretches of this one. After their 15 point lead evaporated and the Pistons had taken semi-control in the second half, it was Wright’s guidance on both ends of the floor that steadied things for stretches. The young guard had a mere four points (on 1-of-5 shooting), plus five assists, three rebounds, and two blocks, but his presence on both ends — e.g. some timely blocks, some well run pick-and-rolls with buddy Jakob Poeltl — felt much larger than that.
All of that, plus a 17-4 fourth quarter run, finally got the Raptors away from the flailing Pistons. I’ve perhaps made this game sound better than it was — despite the close-ish score, it was a mostly ugly affair with turnovers, awkwardly run plays, confusion, and the like. The Pistons do try hard, we can acknowledge that. But this time, it wasn’t enough, and thank goodness: the Raptors, now at 30-13, are just a better team.