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Raptors pound Pistons inside, win 108-98

The bench brought the defense and Valanciunas brought the muscle as Toronto closed in on 60 wins.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Raptors have wrapped up the East’s top seed. Now, all that’s left is to play out the schedule, get some arbitrary reminders of how great the year was, and (for god’s sake) stay healthy. After tonight’s game in Detroit ended in another win, the Raptors’ 59th of the season, consider all three boxes checked.

It seems like every game comes with a new franchise record for this Raptors team. Tonight, the 108-98 win got the team their 25th road win — a new watermark for Toronto’s history. The resulting record may be more hype than the game itself, which was played in front of a church boy volume crowd at Little Caesars Arena, with Raptors and Pistons fans co-mingling in silence.

To liven things up, the Raptors got big performances from their two centres. With both Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin sitting the game out (the Pistons were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs over a week ago), Jonas Valanciunas had more than the usual amount of motivation to play well in Detroit. With a sadly small frontcourt of Anthony Tolliver and Eric Moreland trying to hang with him, Valanciunas went off. He finished with 25 points on 13 shots and nine rebounds, leading all players.

Behind Jonas, Jakob Poeltl was effective on both ends and key to a Raptors’ run to seal the game in the third quarter. Poeltl finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, including this Statue of Liberty dunk on offense.

On defense, he was even more important. Both Luke Kennard and Ish Smith got off to excellent starts for the Pistons — Smith made this first seven shots — and Poeltl ended up being the lone rim protector to deter them from continued hot hands. He was pivotal in increasing a five-point third quarter lead to 18 early in the fourth.

The earlier run was keyed by the Raptors starters. Early on, Valanciunas’ size advantage allowed Toronto to start with a 10-2 lead. Kennard’s four made shots in the opening frame gave the Pistons an answer, though, and the Raptors remained uncommitted to their defense to open the second.

After Detroit built their lead to 17, Kyle Lowry finally said enough is enough. He came in and turned the intensity up to 11, draining a couple triples to punctuate a Raptors’ run that got the Raptors within three at halftime. Lowry would finish with 11 points, nine assists, and six rebounds — many of those helpers going to Valanciunas after breaking down the defense. No big man is complete without his little helper (don’t tell Lowry I called him that).

In the third, Poeltl and the bench turned around their lame defense from the first half. Lorenzo Brown and Alfonzo McKinnie both put in solid minutes down the stretch, allowing Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to sit most of the fourth quarter. While 26 and 28 minutes respectively doesn’t count as rest, it was nice to see the bench finish proceedings without the stars needing to come back in. DeRozan, for his part, finished with 16 points on 12 shots and seven assists.

Other than that, folks, it was Game 81. The intensity was right where it needed to be to beat the sad Pistons, and not one notch higher. Still, the Raptors win gives them a shot at 60 wins — a nice round number that the franchise has never touched before. That’ll come in a bit more of a test, as the Miami Heat will likely have seeding on the line on Wednesday, the last game of the season for both teams.