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Raptors lose their defensive identity against Pistons, fall 121-127

An uninspiring defensive performance against an offensively-challenged Pistons team leads to another home loss to Dwane Casey.

Toronto Raptors vs Detroit Pistons Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

There’s only a handful of games that Detroit Pistons coach Dwane Casey circles on his calendar, and tonight’s game was one of them for sure. Casey and his Pistons had another successful visit to Toronto, handily beating the Raptors 127-121. This loss is the fourth consecutive for the Raptors at the hands of Casey and the Pistons, who got the sweep last season.

The Raptors got Pascal Siakam back tonight, and he looks closer to his all-star form, with a near triple-double stat line of 25 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists. Gary Trent Jr. had a hot start, going 5-for-5 on the field, but was stymied for most of the game. He still managed to put up 23 points for the night. Goran Dragic started in place of Fred VanVleet, who was out due to a “groin strain.” It took a while for Dragic to warm up, but he got better as the game went on, and he finished with his best game as a Raptor with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals.

The Raptors finished with their season-high in points (121), but it was poor defense (more on that below) and free throw shooting that killed any chances of winning the game tonight. The Raptors shot 20-for-31 (64.5%) from the stripe, and that’s just not good for an offensively-challenged team like the Raptors.

There will be an interesting film session for the Raptors, as they conceded 127 points to a team that only scored 78 points the night before and played on the second night of a back-to-back. The Pistons pretty much got what they wanted everywhere on the floor throughout the game, which allowed them to hang around even when the Raptors were rolling. The Pistons got a lot of help from their bench early in the game, as the Jacksons (Josh and Frank) two combined for 29 points for the night. Overall, the Pistons outscored the Raptors’ bench 44-29.

Casey and his Pistons came prepared as expected — they were disciplined enough to prevent the Raptors from getting their transition game going. They also threw various looks defensively — switching from man to zone, aggressive traps on post-ups, and picking up the Raptors full court at times. Heck, they even scouted Dalano Banton’s weakness by applying ball pressure, which prevented a few of Raptors’ offensive sets from getting executed. Speaking of Banton, he played his fourth game in four nights (NBA and G League) and still managed to put up 12 points, two assists, and this highlight:

On the Raptors’ end, their defense looked a step slow. At times, they looked confused getting back on defense, and that moment of indecision puts a lot of pressure on their defense when they have to close out around the perimeter aggressively, and the Pistons made them pay inside and out. Isaiah Stewart feasted inside the paint early and often, and he finished with 20 points for the night, going 9-for-10 in the paint. Fred VanVleet’s impact as the team’s arguably best defender was very clearly missed.

The Raptors made one last run late in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to three, but the Pistons leaned on Jerami Grant’s 14 points in the final frame; he finished with a team-high 24 points and five rebounds. The Raptors’ offense was good enough for the most part, but when it mattered down the stretch, they could not buy a bucket, and that was enough buffer for the Pistons to put the game away.

I guess karma’s still collecting on the Raptors for firing Dwane Casey. Still, at least the Raptors’ offense is starting to look better, with Siakam rounding to form and OG Anunoby’s efficiency starting to get better. Now, let’s hope that they can do this with a healthier lineup on Monday.

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Up Next: The Raptors head to Pacific NorthWest to visit old friend Norman Powell and the Portland Trail Blazers, but perhaps not before they do free-throw shooting drills tomorrow.