Disaster had already happened off the court for the Raptors, so it felt inevitable for disaster to follow them onto the court as well. After Toronto was forced to sit Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby, along with Patrick McCaw and Malachi Flynn, and their head coach Nick Nurse plus six of his assistants, to say the squad was shorthanded in their postponed game against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday was an understatement. The Raptors could get nothing working in the game, and had no one to turn to — beyond Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, who pitched in 21 and 36 points, respectively. As a result, Toronto got blown out against the worst team in the East, losing to the Pistons, 129-105.
The absence of those aforementioned core players was felt almost immediately — on both ends of the court. After a fast 8-0 start from the Raptors, the Pistons gradually shot their way back into the game with a matching 9-0 run. While we expect poor defense from Detroit, Toronto’s defensive effort was clearly lacking, and it allowed the Pistons to light it up in the first quarter. They shot 74 from the field and an unconscious 82 percent from three, dropping 43 points in the frame. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry played all 12 minutes, and the Raptors still found themselves behind by six points. Clearly, something was going to have to give.
In the second quarter, we got our answer. It was the Raptors who were going to give — lanes to the basket, open threes, or just the ball itself, bobbling it into the hands of the Pistons. Carrying over from the first, Detroit racked up a 15-0 run, building a 14-point lead before the Raptors were able to mount any sort of real resistance. It’s not a coincidence that this pushback from Toronto followed the return of Lowry to the court, who took a much-deserved break for a few minutes and then immediately got the Raptors back to within a single-digit deficit. He was helped in his efforts by Powell, whose offensive prowess continued in this one even without his star teammates. Norm had 18 points in 18 minutes, and dropped 23 by the game’s midpoint.
So, could the Raptors make a game of it against the Pistons with only Lowry and Powell producing for them? As it turns out: uh, sort of. The rest of the first half saw Toronto down by 10-12 points until a Lowry three-pointer got them within nine at the break. What else did we see during that stretch? Well, Aron Baynes set some hard screens and rolled to the rim with purpose. He had ten points at the half. Chris Boucher came off the bench for eight points with his usual mix of threes and plays at the rim. Terence Davis, meanwhile, hit two free throws. That was it for the half. Add in Lowry’s 17 points and there was literally no other offense for the Raptors for the first 24 minutes.
Sadly, Toronto’s defense was not much better, looking confused for much of the first half. Like Nurse, acting bench boss Sergio Scariolo was forced to search for solutions on both ends of the floor. To that end, we saw Matt Thomas get a chance (no good), Stanley Johnson and DeAndre’ Bembry give it a try (passable), and — despite getting his first career start — poor Yuta Watanabe was soon yanked for the rest of the half. Meanwhile, Davis did his now-typical pick-up run routine, with sloppy play as an annoying matter-of-course. At least, Paul Watson carried himself well on defense, which helped offset his zero on offense. (I mean that literally: despite playing almost 19 minutes, Watson scored no points at all.)
The third quarter for the Raptors once again showed the gap between Lowry and Powell, and the rest of the roster. Toronto managed to squeeze the deficit down to five before the Pistons, led by Wayne Ellington and Mason Plumlee (that well-known dynamic duo), ripped off a 15-2 run to build their lead back up to an even larger 18 points. Part of Toronto’s problem in the third was, of course, the execution of their defensive game plan, but really it was even more basic than that: the Raptors just could not hit shots. Other than Lowry and Powell, Toronto got exactly seven points from three other players — and just one bucket off the bench (from Boucher, two of his 18 points in the game). Coincidently, the Raptors were also down 18 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Raptors did try to chip away at the lead over the final 12 minutes, but they just did not have the firepower. Coupled with the Pistons’ insane shooting from three (20-for-41 on the night), there was little chance for the Raptors to make a real comeback. After trying for longer than he should have, Scariolo eventually made the call to pull Lowry and Powell. They joined Baynes, who acquitted himself well enough with 13 points and four rebounds, and that was that. It sounded like the broadcast wanted out too, at one point mistakenly going to commercial while the game was still going on. No such luck though, they along with the rest of the Raptors had to play out the string.
At least Matty D and Jack didn’t also have to wear the loss with the rest of the squad.