It was a game befitting its start time — filled with ugly shooting, missed free throws and loose balls; at this point in the season, though, a win is very much a win for the Toronto Raptors.
Facing the Detroit Pistons and a noon start time, the Raptors came away victorious on Saturday, 95-91. The win is their fourth straight and seventh in their last eight games. Toronto now sits ninth in the Eastern Conference, one game back of the Hawks and 4.5 back of the Knicks in sixth.
The Raptors came out disjointed, and while some support did end up showing up in the late stages of the game, much of the story was a one-man show from Pascal Siakam. The All-Star finished with 29 points — 13 of those in the first quarter, where he needed to propel the team — on 9-for-19 shooting. Siakam also had eight rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks.
Filling the shot profile of Fred VanVleet, who was out for the second straight game for personal reasons, was Gary Trent Jr. While he wasn’t at his most efficient self, Trent still managed to chip in 19 points on 7-for-20 shooting, including four threes. Scottie Barnes, while frustratingly off in the first half, scored 12 points after halftime to finish in double figures.
The Pistons put forth a valiant effort and crushed the Raptors on the glass, winning the rebounding margin 62-46. Much of this was due to Marvin Bagley, who came off the bench for 21 points and 18 rebounds — 11 of the latter coming on the offensive end. Bojan Bogdanovic, Isaiah Livers and Hamidou Diallo chipped in 11 points each.
All afternoon, the Raptors were struggling to find advantages in the game. Rebounding was just one story, but Toronto also struggled shooting the ball (7-for-26 from three) and couldn’t get decent contributions from the bench (53-20 advantage for Detroit). In the end, the only way to win was in a rock fight and by relying on Siakam to generate offense.
There were other key contributing factors, though — namely an important stretch to start the fourth quarter with Siakam on the bench. Barnes was tasked with leading a nearly all-bench look, and thanks to his aactivity on defense and some baskets inside, they were able to play the Pistons even. Once the starters returned with five minutes to go, the Raptors had just enough of an advantage to carry it to the finish line.
This afternoon’s game started with notable struggles on the defensive end. Jaden Ivey picked apart Toronto’s perimeter defense and pushed the ball in transition, getting four first quarter assists in a sleepy, low-scoring affair. After a 22-22 tie through one quarter, the second quarter was similarly even. Jeff Dowtin Jr. was once again the first guard off the bench for Nick Nurse, and his direction of a bench lineup to start the second was critical. Dowtin had an important and-one drive and selflessly led some swing sequences that got other Raptors involved.
Still, in the minutes without Jakob Poeltl on the floor, Bagley was a wrecking crew on the offensive glass. Six of his 11 offensive rebounds came in the first half, as both Precious Achiuwa and Barnes were routinely caught napping on box outs, allowing easy second chance points for Detroit. Late in the half, with Toronto’s starters back in, a 10-2 run re-established the team in the game — led by you know who. Siakam was 6-for-10 in a ridiculous first half, getting 18 of his game-high point total.
With the teams tied at 44 heading into the third quarter, there once again weren’t big advantages for either to be found in the third quarter. Barnes finally got himself going with a five point spurt, but the offense stagnated afterward. The starters relinquished some of their early defensive hold on the game, as Siakam and Barnes both got blown by for easy layups.
Late in the frame, though, Siakam stepped up again. The ridiculous crossover you see above set up a Raptors run that got the fans in attendance fired up for the road side. Carrying a one-point lead into the fourth quarter, the Barnes-led bench lineup managed to tread water before the starters returned. It was here where strategy really started to work in the Raptors’ favour. Jakob Poeltl, kept quiet through most of the game, started to work out of the high post and made two sweet passes for Siakam baskets in the last four minutes.
Still needing more of a margin, Gary Trent Jr. put the dagger down with yet another late game three with 2:38 to go. Siakam carried them to the close, scoring the last six points and keeping the Pistons at bay.
The Raptors will finish their road back-to-back in the midwest against the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night.