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Five thoughts on last night: Pistons 106, Raptors 104

The Detroit Pistons thoroughly outplayed the Toronto Raptors in the second half, and a sweet play call on the final possession gave Dwane Casey a win in his return to Toronto

Five thoughts recap: Detroit Pistons 106, Toronto Raptors 104, Kawhi Leonard John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s game went about as I expected it to for three quarters: Dwane Casey got plenty of cheers in his return, his team played hard, Blake Griffin played well, but the Raptors were comfortably ahead.

Then it all turned to hot garbage in the fourth quarter.

In Case you Forgot, Kawhi Leonard is a GD Superstar

Perhaps Leonard noticed Daniel Reynolds throwing the shade his way after a couple of, eh, more pedestrian performances, because he came out like a beast in the first quarter last night. He started it out with a three-point play for the Raptors’ first points, and followed it up with a beautiful hockey assist, driving to the hoop and kicking it out to Kyle Lowry who tossed it right back inside to Jonas Valanciunas for the lay-in.

Kawhi later had back-to-back steals, and after the first he dished off to Pascal Siakam for a dunk...

... and after the second he picked up another hockey assist, this time dishing it to a cutting Siakam who found Lowry under the hoop.

Leonard finished the quarter with 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Now, obviously, he didn’t keep it going and his final numbers ended up looking more like the last two games than we’d like... and there was also the final play on which he dribbled the ball out of bounds, and the missed free throw on the clear-path foul... so, obviously Kawhi isn’t all the way there yet. But that first quarter showed us a glimpse of the complete all-around superstar he can be.

Also in Case you Forgot, the Moose Can Play

We’ve talked about the Greg Monroe Big Man Insurance Plan before, and last night’s game proved exactly what it’s for. Serge Ibaka took a night off — which I’m totally OK with, as I want Ibaka to maintain his level of high play all season. Monroe’s role here is to facilitate that rest, and last night was his first real chance to show what he can do.

Sure, he had a turnover on his first play, but an offensive rebound and put back on his second was a great reminder of what he brings tot the table. He flashed all the things you want from Monroe — quick hands, nice touch finishing, and savvy rebounding. I love the way Monroe hits the boards; he’s not the tallest and he’s certainly not a leaper, but he knows how to box out, he follows the angles and caroming bounces extremely well, and he’s quick enough to tap balls up and keep them alive until he’s in the best position to grab ‘em.

I’m not necessarily advocating for more Monroe minutes, but, with all of the injuries the Raptors are dealing with on the wing, I wonder if there will be opportunities for the Raptors to go big with some Jonas Valanciunas-Moose minutes with the bench unit?

The Defense had its Moments Early On

The Raptors definitely brought more defensive intensity to start this game than they did on Monday night, preventing guard penetration, jumping passing lanes and deflecting more passes. Maybe they even overdid the penetration prevention a little too much, because the Pistons had a bevy of open three-pointer in the first half, shooting 6-of-17.

But in the second half, it went back the other way, as Reggie Jackson, Ish Smith and Langston Galloway consistently got past the initial point of attack with ease to find space for shot Js and floaters. Check out the second-half shot chart for those three:

Five thoughts recap: Detroit Pistons 106, Toronto Raptors 104, Pistons shot chart

All too similar to the shot chat from the New Orleans backcourt on Monday.

Meanwhile, Blake Griffin remains a problem for Toronto; no one has the right combination of speed and strength to guard him effectively. Pascal Siakam’s too slight, Valanciunas and Monroe (and Ibaka, when healthy) too slow. Now, the Raptors did show some moderate success guarding Griffin with with OG Anunoby and Kawhi Leonard late — the two seamlessly switched off when Detroit went to a two-man game with Jackson and Griffin, and generally kept Griffin out of the paint. But you wouldn’t want either Anunoby or Leonard having to absorb that pounding for an entire game.

Thankfully Jonas Valancinus still eats Andre Drummond’s lunch; he (with help from Greg Monroe) held Drummond to 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting.

A Familiar Fourth Quarter Offense

Hey, remember when the Old Raptors went to iso-ball in all of their close games? And the results were entirely predictable?

It was deja vu all over again as the Raptors crunch-time offense looked like Nick Nurse chewed up his playbook and vomited it out all over the court. Iso Kawhi, iso Lowry, rinse and repeat.

What happened to all of the pick-and-rolls that worked earlier? The Raptors ran one late (although JV slipped the screen a bit early and Lowry came up on some secondary action) that got Leonard into the paint for a short J:

Five thoughts recap: Detroit Pistons 106, Toronto Raptors 104, Kawhi Leonard Jonas Valanciunas

On the final play, I thought we were gonna see a Lowry-Leonard PnR, something I think has big-time potential in late-game situations, but it was just a decoy:

Five thoughts recap: Detroit Pistons 106, Toronto Raptors 104, Kawhi Leonard Kyle Lowry

Now, look, when you have superstars, you’re gonna put the ball in their hands in close games and let them go to work. That’s fine. But why not run a little something to at least make the defense work a little bit? The pick-and-roll is the simplest play in basketball. It may not have made a difference on the last play; whether it was Lowry or Valanciunas setting a screen, chances are Kawhi’s still taking that ball right and pulling up for a short J. But that PnR puts at least a little pressure on the D. They might screw up and leave someone open. It might give Leonard an extra foot of space.

Leonard is good enough to score on his own, obviously, and so is Lowry. But it can’t hurt to try and give them at least a little help.

I Guess I Gotta Mention Dwane Casey, eh?

I like Dwane Casey, a lot. I want him to succeed, and I’d love to see him change that narrative of not being creative or seeming unprepared or overwhelmed in big moments.

I’d prefer he not change that narrative against the Raptors, though.

What I really wanted for this game was for the Pistons to scrap and fight, but for the Raptors’ superior talent to win the day. Then Dwane could hold his head high.

Instead I got just the opposite! Sigh. I guess I can still be happy for Dwane, but I really wish the Raptors hadn’t choked this one away. Kyle Lowry summed it up nicely:

I’ll leave the final thought to my wife, who had her own take on it: “We can give that one to Dwane. It’s a nice F-you from him to Masai.”

Sure is.


Some losses feel worse than others. In both of the Raptors’ previous losses this year, they were behind most of the way and the outcome never really seemed in doubt; over the course of the game, you come to accept the loss.

In this one, taking a 19-point lead in the third and still managing to lose on the final play hurts more, and having it come against Dwane Casey is the salt in the wound.

Here’s hoping for a better result Friday.