The boxscore might say the Detroit Pistons defeated the Toronto Raptors last night, but in my eyes, the Raptors — and their fans — were the real winners.
After all, we got to see Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet return to the starting lineup! They didn’t play particularly well, and this does go down as the Raptors’ sixth straight loss, but who cares? They’re healthy! Actually enjoyable-to-watch basketball is back! Hopefully, winning basketball will follow in short order.
I’ve used it before but indulge me one more time…
Were Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet rusty? Yep, a combined 5-for-24 from the field. Do I care? Nope! They’re back! That’s all that matters! The rust and fatigue was totally expected and warranted, given the time off and VanVleet’s bout with COVID (we don’t know if Siakam also tested positive or had symptoms). Both played over 30 minutes, a bit of a surprise in itself! It might take time, but despite the poor shooting numbers, last night was a positive first step.
Next? Let’s see OG Anunoby out there too please!
2. The C is still a Problem
I was thrilled to see Chris Boucher get the start last night, because I think he deserves it and because I think the Raptors are better with him on the floor. But, he’s got his limitations, and those limitations showed up clearly on the glass.
The Pistons somehow notched 26 first-half rebounds to the Raptors’ 12, and it felt like 20 of them came on two sequences at the end of the first half when the Raptors simply could not secure defensive rebounds on consecutive possessions, giving the Pistons multiple chances to score. (They finished with 20 second chance points.)
Aron Baynes started the second half, but he made sure to show off his limitations too, namely, swatting balls around with those ping-pong paddles he uses for hands.
We’ve all been saying it for a while, but if the Raptors really do want to make a playoff push, Bobby Webster better be shopping for a centre right now.
3. Rotation Regulation
With Siakam and VanVleet on minutes restrictions, the Raptors’ rotation didn’t like quite right last night, but, it might be getting there? Powell and Lowry can rest at the same time, which is good for them, and the deep bench minutes can be reduced, meaning Stanley Johnson and Yuta Watanabe don’t have to play extended minutes.
But it was also curious to see Paul Watson Jr. come in first off the bench last night, and to see Matt Thomas get into the game ahead of Terence Davis.
To be clear, I like both moves! Watson has played well and Thomas deserves an extended look with the team at full strength. Let’s see if it sticks!
On the other hand: Whither DeAndre’ Bembry? I know I wanted to see more from Bembry offensively when the team was short-handed, but I didn’t think he played poorly. Yet he got the DNP-CD last night.
4. Needed more from Kyle
Kyle Lowry turns 35 next week, and he played extended minutes while half the team was caught in the COVID protocols. It looked like it may have all caught up with him last night, as he shot the ball as poorly as I’ve ever seen from him, finishing just 2-for-13 with eight points and missing some classic Lowry looks, including a PU3IT in the third and a late, wide open, going-to-his-left three in the closing minutes. That one should have been money.
He still dished 15 assists and forced three steals, but with VanVleet and Siakam not at full strength, Lowry needed to score some more. With those three off-target, all of the scoring load fell to Norman Powell, and despite Norm’s incredible night night — a career-high 43 points on 18 shots — he couldn’t carry the load himself. He needed help from Lowry, and Lowry couldn’t deliver.
It happens. Players are gonna have bad nights. It’s just a shame Kyle’s had to happen as Pascal and Fred were still getting their legs back.
5. I’ve Had Enough of This
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about enough of second-tier players suddenly having career shooting days against the Raptors. Remember Payton Pritchard and Semi Ojelaye? Malik Beasley with six threes? Furkan Korkmaz with five? Wayne Ellington with eight!? Seddiq Bey is a fine young player, maybe more than that one day, but how does a veteran team like the Raptors allow a rookie to score 26 points, with 6-of-10 shooting from downtown?
It’s been a bizarre season, but the Raptors’ habit of allowing random players to catch fire from downtown is one of the most bizarre things of all.
The Raptors host the Utah Jazz on Friday, who’ve cooled off a bit after an extended hot streak (just 5-5 in their last 10) but who still sit atop the West. A win would go a long way towards righting the ship, especially with two beatable opponents (Cleveland and Houston) to follow. Fingers crossed that a win streak is just around the corner.