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Dwane does it again, Raptors fall to Pistons 108-106

In a marathon game with far too many whistles, Nick Nurse was tossed, Gary Trent was ice cold, and the Raptors ran out of time.

Detroit Pistons v Toronto Raptors Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

If you like the sound of whistles, tonight was the game for you! The Toronto Raptors hosted the Detroit Pistons in a Marc Davis showcase, one that featured more than 50 foul calls, six technical fouls, a hostile act review, and two coach’s challenges! Oh, and one of the loudest “Ref, you suck” chants you’ll ever hear outside of the postseason.

The lowlight — or highlight, if you prefer — was Nick Nurse getting tossed late in the third quarter after an egregiously bad personal foul call on Dalano Banton. Nurse had every right to be upset about the call, and frankly, every right to want to hit the showers and get the hell out of the arena — after all, his team was in the process of dropping another stinker to to Dwane Casey’s Pistons, and the constant whistles were making the game a never-ending slog.

Nurse’s ejection did seem to have the desired effect, though, as the Raptors spent the next 11 minutes or so climbing back into the game. Trailing 90-72 after the ejection, and looking messy on offense (missing two starters will do that), the Raptors didn’t look like they had it in them to get back into it — but they sure as heck put up a fight, getting as close as one point with 37 seconds to go. After Saddiq Bey gave the Pistons a 108-105 lead with 14 seconds to go, the Raptors found themselves with the ball and a chance to tie.

Unfortunately, Scottie Barnes’ desperation three fell short, and although Precious Achiuwa was fouled on the ensuing rebound, he went to the line with only 0.7 seconds on the clock. He hit his first, and intentionally missed the second, but the Raptors were unable to tap in the board, giving Casey and the Pistons the 108-106 win.

Pascal Siakam led the Raptors with 28 points on 15 shots, and Scottie Barnes finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Malachi Flynn chipped in with 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting, but Gary Trent Jr. was ice cold — he missed 19 shots, including 12 of his 15 three-point attempts.

Precious Achiuwa scored 18 off the bench, and drained a huge corner three with 90 seconds to go, but missed three critical free throws late (aside from his intentional miss).

Jerami Grant and Saddiq Bey combined for 49 for the Pistons, and rookie Cade Cunningham finished with 22 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

Dwane Casey is now 9-3 against Nick Nurse and the Raptors, and has won (gulp) six straight in the series.

It wasn’t a particularly enjoyable lead-up to the game, either, as news broke 90 minutes or so before game-time that OG Anunoby — who had been “questionable” for most of the day — was going to sit out for the next two weeks to let his fractured finger heal up.

We also found pre-tip that Thad Young was going to be sidelined with a non-COVID illness. Down two starters and veteran sub? Not great, Bob!

It was an auspicious start for the Raptors from there. They actually came out with plenty of energy and built an early 11-8 lead, but too many missed shots and too many missed assignments caught up with them, and a hot-shooting Pistons team soon flipped the script. Saddiq Bey scored seven early points to keep the Pistons in it, and soon enough, the Pistons had a 28-18 lead after back-to-back three-pointers from Cunningham and Grant. They finished the quarter up 31-22.

After the game, Nick Nurse (who didn't actually leave the arena, of course) said that the team didn’t have their switching locked in early, and as a result, gave up both too many shots at the rim, and didn’t content the perimeter well enough. That, as Nurse said, left the Raptors in a hole early.

It was also a bit of a scary start, as separate plays saw both Pascal Siakam and Scottie Barnes take serious spills. Siakam wiped out over a prone Kelly Olynyk fighting for a rebound, falling on his hip and getting his arm tangled up awkwardly. Thankfully, he popped back up after a minute. Unfortunately, he picked up his second foul a minute later, and had to be taken out, with seven points in the frame.

As for Barnes, he was aggressive from the jump, but he nearly paid the price for that aggressiveness. After getting the step on Saddiq Bey early in the first, Barnes rose up for the one-handed jam — only to be met at the rim (and fouled) buy Isaiah Stewart. Barnes hit the deck and lay on the ground for a minute, and it wasn’t immediately apparent what happened — until replays showed his head bouncing off the floor.

Barnes stayed in the game, though, and remained aggressive. He quickly drew a foul on Grant on a drive, then drew a second on Stewart; he also tried to throw down a putback dunk after a Trent miss, but couldn’t get that jam to drop either.

He finished the first with just two points — on free throws. It sure looked like the Pistons watched the scouting report on Barnes from the past few games; they were aggressively denying him the ball, and double-teaming him on the catch.

That Barnes-focused D seemed to fluster Siakam somewhat; Siakam turned the ball over twice trying to feed Barnes early in the second. But when Barnes did get the rock, he was still effective, hitting a short turnaround off glass on one second-quarter possession, and finding Siakam gliding to the rim on another.

The Raptors did make a run before halftime. After a Trent floater banked in and Flynn scored on a pretty drive, Trent nailed a bailout three with the shot clock winding down. Siakam then hit a gorgeous fadeaway to bring the Raptors within three. After two Svi Mykhailiuk free throws and a Grant jumper the other way, Flynn drove into the paint, converted a bucket and the ensuring and-1 free throw to tie it at 45.

It really can’t be overstated just how much more comfortable and confident Flynn looks. Even just dribbling up the floor, he’s surveying the defense and where his teammates are, and rather than just looking like he’s just trying to get to a spot, he’s looking to make plays. You can certainly see his confidence in his jumper, but also in his ability to probe the defense, and even to finish at the rim. Flynn also did a superb job early of getting the ball up quick, really taking it at the Pistons, after makes, misses or turnovers.

But as fast the Raptors tried to get up the court, the Pistons were doing the same. They were zipping the ball around the perimeter, getting good looks; they started the game 6-for-13 from downtown, and shot 60% from the field through the game’s first 15 minutes. They finished the half as hot as they started, hitting 7 of 9 shots over a 2.5-minute stretch to build a 60-57 halftime lead — and the score was only that close thanks to a Trent three that dropped right before the buzzer sounded. Overall the Pistons finished the half shooting 54% from the field and 41% from downtown.

Flynn’s strong first half made it somewhat curious that acting head coach Adrian Griffin didn’t bring him back off the bench in the fourth. Dalano Banton started the frame, and although he gave the team a bit of a spark — Nick Nurse even mentioned Banton’s energy post-game — when he subbed out, Griffin ran with Chris Boucher and Achiuwa, along with Trent, Siakam and Barnes, the rest of the way. It almost worked, of course, and Boucher was fine, but I can't help but wonder if the pace and spacing Flynn provides might have made a difference.

After the game, Nurse was diplomatic, as you’d expect, but he did say he saw he replay of the Banton play — and it “probably wasn’t good for me to see that replay.” Indeed. Precious Achiuwa also mentioned that it took a while for the Raptors to adjust to the way the game was being officiated, and he felt that the whistle took some opportunities away from the team — no argument, here, Precious.

The Raptors are back in action tomorrow night against the Orlando Magic.