The win solidifies the Raptors’ second-place spot in the Eastern Conference, which in turn means that head coach Nick Nurse and his staff will coach Team Giannis at the All-Star game in Chicago next month.
Pascal Siakam led the way for the Raptors, with 30 points on 18 shots; Serge Ibaka chipped in 21 with six boards.
The Raptors led almost wire-to-wire, and although the Pistons cut the lead to six with less than a minute to go in the third, Toronto made a big fourth-quarter push to stretch it back to double digits and hold the Pistons at bay.
As is often the case for the Raptors, that fourth-quarter scoring outburst — a 12-0 run from the 10-minute mark to the 6:23 mark — was fuelled by their defense. Consecutive stops and a strong rebounding presence from the backcourt turned into transition opportunities the other way, as Siakam, Norman Powell, Chris Boucher and Fred VanVleet all had layups or dunks during the run. Powell himself was a dunk machine all night; he crowned Bruce Brown during that run, and had two other vicious throwdowns on Andre Drummond (a veritable Raptors tradition at this point) on the night.
The Pistons, despite the interior presence of Drummond and the length of Thon Maker and Tony Snell, couldn’t defend the paint all night. VanVleet, Kyle Lowry and Powell consistently left Derrick Rose in their dust on the perimeter, and the Raptors scored 66 paint points on the night — including a ridiculous 24 of their 27 total fourth-quarter points in the paint.
The Pistons’ third-quarter run may have caused another “here we go again” eye-roll, as it looked like the Raptors were going to let another bad team hang around till the end.
Nick Nurse compounded the issue by rolling out an odd four-guard lineup with Powell, VanVleet, Terence Davis and Patrick McCaw alongside Ibaka. I certainly appreciate the flex, but it didn’t really work; the Pistons were able to control the glass and cut into the lead. Thankfully Freddy “Big Bucket” VanVleet closed the quarter with a late three, and opened the fourth with an and-1, to hold the Pistons off.
The game was a sloppy one to start, with the two teams trading turnovers early. The Pistons’ length seemed to bother the Raptors — Snell had a block and a steal, and Maker had a steal as well — before they settled in. Pascal Siakam quickly remembered that no one on this Pistons team can guard him, and started working both inside and outside, scoring back-to-back triples as part of an 8-0 run and finishing the first with 13, as the Raptors took a 30-20 lead into the break.
Defensively, the Raptors used a zone extensively in the first half. Makes sense against Detroit — a big team that doesn’t shoot the three-ball well. Except for this young’un Svi Mykhailiuk! The 2018 second-round draft pick was 4-for-5 from downtown in the half, and practically kept the Pistons in it himself; the rest of the team was just 9-for-32 from the floor. The Raptors were impressive protecting the rim, with Ibaka, Siakam, Chris Boucher, Davis and Powell all blocking shots or altering them at the rim. Andre Drummond, coincidentally, did not score in the first half. (And I was worried he’d have a big game with Marc Gasol sitting out!)
Ibaka had himself a half, scoring 14 on 6-of-9 shooting, including 2-for-2 from downtown. He also outmuscled the Pistons for four offensive rebounds, and dished two beautiful passes that both led to Norman Powell dunks.
Drummond shook off his slow start to finish with 20 and 20, and Derrick Rose led the Pistons in scoring with 21.
Nurse, Lowry and Siakam will represent the defending champs at the All-Star game, and all are very well-deserving of the recognition. The best part of this is seeing how much joy the Raptors take in each others success; the happiness on the bench for Nurse and the staff as the clock wound down was palpable, just as it was for Kyle and Pascal with their selections.
The Raptors improve to 35-14, a full two games up on Miami and Boston in second place, and will try for their 11th straight win back home Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.