Boy, these two teams sure love to go down to the last possession, don’t they? For the second game in a row, Dwane Casey got his revenge on his former employer by winning a thrilling game that was tense into the final moments. After the since-traded Reggie Bullock hit a game-winner against the Raptors in November, on Sunday evening the Pistons outlasted the Raptors 112-107 in a seesaw overtime game.
Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Pistons were led by Blake Griffin’s 23 points and Andre Drummond’s 15 and 17, while Kyle Lowry had 35 in the loss. But with Kawhi Leonard sitting out another game for load management, Lowry had little help, and the Raptors struggled to put things together offensively all night.
A Toronto-friendly crowd was mostly kept in check as the Pistons had the edge right from the jump. The Raptors came out flat, surrendering a 20-7 start to the game where Blake Griffin went off and the Raptors couldn’t hit a three to save their lives. A starting unit of Lowry, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol proved largely ineffective, as Lin struggled to make shots and the threes weren’t going down for anybody else.
Towards the end of the quarter, some gutty bench play highlighted by Serge Ibaka feasting on the glass helped the Raps cut into the lead, but the offense still seemed stuck. The second quarter featured some unlikely heroes for both teams, as Luke Kennard rattled in three three-pointers and OG Anunoby responded with seven straight Raptors points (and looked good doing it!). Some Drummond foul trouble helped the Raps stay close and the Raptors started doubling Griffin and managed to cut the lead down to three by halftime.
The starting unit came out flat again in the second half, but Andre Drummond quickly picked up his fourth foul and was forced to check out in favour of Zaza Pachulia. A flurry of tough foul calls against Toronto then led to a pair of techs on Siakam and Green, which led to a bizarre scene as the vocal road fans began to turn on the refs. The anger seemed to revitalize the team, as they ripped off a quick 11-0 run highlighted by a Gasol steal and, later, a big Gasol 3.
As the Raptors’ lead swelled to 12, it appeared that the bear had awoken and the game was going to turn into a runaway. But then Pachulia bumped a ref after a non-call and got himself tossed from the game, and as Drummond checked back in the Pistons came to life. They ripped off a 15-0 run spanning the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, coming largely at the expense of an ineffective bench unit of (Serge Ibaka, Patrick McCaw, Norman Powell, Jeremy Lin, and OG Anunoby).
Lowry came back in to settle things down, and the game hung in the balance down the stretch. With less than three minutes left, Detroit took a threatening 6-point lead but Lowry responded with some vintage KLOE, and a tie game came down to a missed Gasol shot at the buzzer. In overtime, Lowry looked poised to take over, notching a 7-0 run all by himself to give the Raptors a commanding lead. But then Toronto’s offense went quiet and the Pistons responded by scoring the final 11 points of the game.
If nothing else, this game was an exciting preview of a potential Highway 401 playoff series. Drummond spent most of the game in foul trouble, but showed how tough he can be to handle down the stretch, while Griffin was a problem all night. Luke Kennard and Wayne Ellington showed why Detroit led the league in three-point percentage in February, but a Reggie Jackson-Ish Smith point guard rotation isn’t scaring anyone in the playoffs.
On the Toronto side, this felt more like a trap loss than anything concerning. With Kawhi sitting out, the Raptors offensive deficiencies were exposed, and with Gasol playing with the starting lineup the bench proved once again to be a problem. Jeremy Lin really struggled starting in Kawhi’s place, going 0-of-8 with 1 point, 1 rebound, 1 assist and team-worst -13. Outside of a late 3, Danny Green was also quiet, and after feasting on the boards early Serge was largely ineffective with the bench in the second half.
Between the struggles of those three and the absence of Kawhi, the burden of Toronto’s offense fell on Lowry, Siakam, and Gasol, and it simply wasn’t quite enough. Notably, this game did feature Toronto’s first extended look at an Ibaka-Gasol frontcourt in the first half, with mixed results. (Though strangely, they played against a bench unit of Thon Maker and Pachulia rather than Drummond and Griffin.) After the loss, the Raptors will return home to face Houston on Tuesday.