Despite missing their two best players, the Detroit Pistons made a big run in the first half to keep things interesting. But the Toronto Raptors—missing a few bodies of their own—came through with a counter-run and held on for the 108-98 win.
Nothing to See Here, Move Along
Yesterday I said these last three games were only good for establishing some positive trends going in to the postseason, but with the rest, oddball lineups and weird player combos, it’s hard to take anything away from these games. Pascal Siakam got the start for Toronto last night, and he played well—especially down the stretch as Detroit tried to get back in it—but his absence (and Fred VanVleet’s) from the Bench Mob clearly affected their play, as they could barely score or defend and let the Pistons hang around.
Who could have guessed the Bench Mob wouldn’t work as well when you take away two of its members?
Even on an individual level, when you see Normal Powell play a good, confident, under control (mostly) game it’s hard to buy into it too much, because he’s playing against third-stringers on a non-playoff team.
So I guess it mostly all comes down to my first point from last night: Stay healthy above all.
Respect to Kyle Lowry, Who’s Bought In
Last night Kyle Lowry made three more 3-pointers, giving him 233 on the season, breaking his own Raptors record for total 3-pointers in a season. He’s shooting 39.8% on the year, and 63.4% of his field goal attempts are from downtown, by far a career high.
This comes in a season where his other shooting totals and his scoring average are down, along with his minutes, while the Raptors implement their new offensive system. I think we have to give Kyle a ton of credit, because asking a 31-year old (now 32) to adjust his game in such a way that his numbers will drop is not an easy sell. And if you remember the start of the year, it definitely took his some time to adjust to the new way of doing things, but he seems to have embraced his role of facilitator and long-range specialist.
And of course, he continues to do all the things we love about Kyle—take charges, dive for loose balls, rebound (career high 5.5 per game). I know DeMar DeRozan has had an amazing year as well but I still think Lowry is the driving force behind this team, and they don’t go anywhere without him buying in.
Keep Feeding the Big Man!
You had to wonder if Jonas Valanciunas was disappointed that Andre Drummond had the night off, since JV usually plays so well against the Pistons’ big man. If was, he didn’t show it! Valanciunas had another monster game against the Pistons, finishing with 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting, along with nine rebounds.
What is it about these Detroit teams? I don’t know, but it sure is fun to see.
Another note about JV: Matt Devlin mentioned this on the broadcast, Valanciunas is the only NBA player averaging 12 points and eight rebounds in fewer than 25 minutes per game. That seems like a random stat, but it does speak to how valuable—and how good—Valanciunas is. At 36 minutes per game, he’d be averaging almost 21 and 14. That’s impressive.
Meanwhile, he’s shooting his best percentage since the ‘14-15 season, has added the 3-pointer to his game (1-for-1 last night!), and has improved his mobility on defense. He deserves as much credit as Lowry and DeRozan for adjusting and improving his game this year.
This Team is a Throwback
When I was growing up, my favourite team (dating myself big-time here) was the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons. I started following the NBA around 1988—if catching the three NBA games per year they showed in Canada back then counts as “following” it—the season the Pistons were trying to overcome the Lakers in the Finals.
Thinking about this Raptors team while they play the Pistons made me think of those old Pistons teams of the 1980s (and the Bulls teams of the 1990s, for that matter) especially in light of this Dwane Casey quote from the other day:
Really liked this Casey quote from shootaround about the team's methodical growth. pic.twitter.com/a9pXCAi7se— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) April 6, 2018
That 1980s Pistons team slowly grew its core as they struggled to overcome the Boston Celtics in the playoffs. They lost to Boston in 1985; then added Joe Dumars. They didn’t make it out of the first round in 1986; then added John Salley and Dennis Rodman. They lost to Boston again in 1987. Then they finally beat Boston in the Conference Finals in 1988—only to lose to the Lakers. It took one more year until they could finally claim the title.
The Jordan-era Bulls followed a similar path. They couldn’t get past the Pistons, losing to them in 1988, 1989 and 1990 before finally sweeping them in 1991.
This Raptors team is not either of those all-time great teams of course. But it’s been slow growth, and an uphill climb, with a singular talent in front of them that they have to overcome. And the franchise has approached it with patience and incremental growth that is unusual in the NBA these days, and feels like it comes more from the 1980s than anything. And I think as fans, we should consider ourselves fortunate that the ownership has stuck by this core and this coaching staff and allowed them to develop.
Should the Raps Go For 60?
It would be really nice to have that “60” in the win column, wouldn’t it? I suspect the players would like to see it too. And really, anyone who steps out on the floor is going to play their hardest to win, that’s just in their nature.
So the question really is, will the Raptors rest anyone tomorrow night?
I think VanVleet and Lucas Nogueira will probably sit; the Raptors don’t want any nagging injuries hanging around into the playoffs. Serge Ibaka will probably play, after having last night off. Kyle has said he’d prefer to play to stay in rhythm. The rest of the Bench Mob likely needs to play, as the 905ers are back in Toronto tonight for Game 2 of the G-League Finals, and playing tomorrow would mean four games in four nights in four cities.
That leaves DeRozan and Valanciunas. I think they’ll both play. And I think everyone will play fairly “normal” minutes in a real effort to win no. 60... and I think they’ll do it.
(Incidentally, if the Raptors win this one and Washington wins its last two, that means it’s Miami at Toronto in Round 1.)
So that’s my prediction: Raptors beat the Heat and go into the playoffs with 60 wins and a five-game winning streak. But even if they lose, 59 and the 1-seed represents an amazing season.