The Detroit Pistons came into this season with nothing but the lottery in mind. But for former Raptors coach Dwane Casey, there will always be at least three games to get up for in his season. And with Toronto reeling on Monday night, Casey may just have delivered the knockout blow. Behind another exhausted effort, the Raptors lost once again to the Pistons this season, 118-104, getting swept by Casey and the Pistons for the second time in three years. It was Toronto’s 12 loss in 13 games.
Leading the way for the Raptors was Fred VanVleet with his team-leading 22 points. He was followed by OG Anunoby with 19 points and five rebounds. We also got to see the full range of Gary Trent Jr.’s game, as he put up a solid 15 points (including 3-of-7 from three shooting) plus five assists. It was Pascal Siakam who came in fourth in scoring, propping up only 14 points, while showing both fatigue and frustration. And while Kyle Lowry returned to the court — which was nice to see — he had a quiet game by his standards, managing only 10 points, a -23, and zero fourth quarter minutes (not that there was any need to have him out there by then.
Detroit rode their excellent perimeter shooting (15-for-30 from deep) and rebounding prowess (35 to 28 against the Raptors), as they wrestled away the lead early and never looked back. Starter Saben Lee danced around the Raptors’ defense en route to 19 points and five assists, but it was the Pistons bench that came up particularly big, destroying not only their counterparts but Toronto’s starters too. At one point Detroit’s bench held a 30-4 scoring advantage over the Raptors’ reserves. They would go on to finish the game with a 65-24 point differential. Yikes.
The Raptors started on the right path early as Gary Trent Jr. hit his first three, and Detroit’s Jerami Grant picked up two quick fouls with less than two minutes into the game. But Pascal Siakam looked loose in the wrong way, his play erratic and his first three shots off. The Pistons continued their hot three-point shooting Toronto too, hitting five of their first eight threes to go up 17-12 early. To counter, Fred VanVleet scored eleven straight points to tie the game at 21. Mirroring Grant’s trouble, both Siakam and Trent Jr. picked up two fouls early too. Not unrelated: the Pistons would go on a 10-6 run to close the quarter with a 35-27 lead.
Detroit’s bench continued their strong play in the second frame, going on a quick 13-0 run to push the lead to 19 that a VanVleet trifecta would break. Despite the sudden deficit, the Raptors kept on doing just enough to keep the game from being blown wide open by the Pistons. A 9-3 run powered by VanVleet and Siakam, for example, kept the Piston’s lead manageable, shrinking it to... 14.
Siakam’s signs of life didn’t last long, as he turned the ball over and subsequently picked up his third foul on the next play. The change in momentum drove the Raptors into a wall again, as as their only other offensive option on the night — VanVleet — looked gassed. Meanwhile, the Pistons would not let up, with both Saban Lee and Hamidou Diallo dropping 14 points in the half. To add to the Raptors’ troubles, VanVleet appeared to tweak his knee on one of his drives to the basket and went straight to the locker room. The half ended with the Pistons up 66-50.
Injury Update - Fred VanVleet jammed his right leg but is available to return.— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) March 30, 2021
The second half started the same way for the Raptors — a Trent three-pointer off a set play, a Siakam turnover, and a Pistons three-pointer. It’s easy to say this in retrospect, but nothing seemed to be going the Raptors’ way. After Siakam’s turnover, there was Saddiq Bey with a long heave as the shot clock expired, followed by Pascal picking up his fourth foul. Somehow the Raptors were still numerically in the game, but it didn’t necessarily feel like that. Even after OG Anunoby hit back-to-back perimeter shots to cut the lead to 13.
The Piston’s size on the boards continued to be a problem — which led directly to Siakam picked up his fifth foul with eight minutes to go in the quarter while battling for a rebound. The Raptors’ putrid defense got worse in the third, as they continued to cough up offensive rebounds and wide-open perimeter shots while doing nothing on offense either. A Cory Joseph three-pointer pushed Detroit’s lead to 87-65, forcing coach Nick Nurse to call a timeout and consider his life choices.
Perhaps to avoid another confrontation, Nurse elected to put Siakam and Anunoby back in to start the fourth. But that didn’t end up mattering since the Pistons would go on a 10-4 run to get their biggest lead of the night at 23 points. At that point, you’d think the Raptors would pack it in for the night. Instead, with Siakam and Anunoby still on the floor, coach Nurse subbed VanVleet back in too — with six minutes to go — to make another go of it. Toronto didn’t get the lead down to less than 14 the rest of the way.
It felt as if once Siakam got his respectable looking stat line, he promptly collected his sixth foul to call it a night with under four minutes to go. It took another couple of minutes before Nurse finally raised the white flag and admitted to himself that it was indeed garbage time. Setting aside all of the larger issues around the team (which are hard to set aside), this is about as neat an on-court summary as you’re going to see of the Raptors season.