Detroit Pistons 82, Toronto Raptors 89

It’s good that Jose Calderon could see what Sam Mitchell couldn’t: that TJ Ford is best suited as a starter and coming off the bench for him isn’t exactly second nature. These sentiments were being echoed by fans well before the media had the temerity to even suggest a switch in the starting lineup. So when Chuck Swirsky and Leo Rautins were going on and on about how TJ’s nature is that of a starter while acknowledging that it has nothing to do with him being selfish, I couldn’t help but wonder why they couldn’t say this while TJ was coming off the bench. Anyway, it’s obvious that TJ’s comfort level is higher when he’s starting and if Sam Mitchell had maybe recognized that earlier, maybe we’d be a couple games higher in the standings.

Getting to the game, it’s important to note Richard Hamilton (sore left hip) didn’t play for the second game in a row so the Raptors caught a bit of the break with Arron Afflalo starting at SG. The Pistons are locked into the second seed and according to Flip Saunders have motivation troubles. You wouldn’t have noticed it in this game. Perhaps they were coasting in the first quarter and a half but after that it was business as usual. The Raptors played aggressive basketball and both PGs had great tremendous success off the bounce against Billups, Stuckey and Afflalo in getting to the rim. Detroit’s usually stellar interior defense was often late in rotating with Wallace and McDyess late in providing help to the beaten point guard. Give the Raptors credit for getting points in the paint by finishing when the help wasn’t there, and when the defense did cover, they swung the ball back outside to get quality shots. 26 points, 13 assists and 2 turnovers from the PG combo is reflective of their offensive dominance.

For the first time in weeks there was constant movement on offense, Rasho Nesterovic was playing the two man game with Calderon, Ford and Delfino. There were criss-cross patterns being run once the ball was dumped into the post, even Jamario Moon cut to the rim with a purpose! TJ Ford reminded us that he still remains the only Raptor that can completely and utterly break down his man, get to the rim and make a good decision once he gets there. I felt it a couple games ago against Cleveland, but I’m positive that Ford’s head is back on straight.

Chauncey Billups and Afflalo were going at TJ Ford by posting and re-posting him up to get good shots. This seemed to be a cow that Detroit was going to milk all game long but Sam Mitchell reacted correctly and played Calderon and Ford at the same time, thus allowing Billups to be guarded by the bigger Calderon and Ford to cover the smaller Stuckey or Hunter, a much easier task. Usually when both of them play together the result is defensive chaos but not tonight, the matchup fit perfectly and we were able to move the ball fluidly on offense going East-West at will and leaving Detroit reacting to our guards. In the fourth quarter, Detroit cranked the defense to NBA Finals level but the Raptors and their two guards stood tall and drained key threes to slam the door on Detroit.

If this game would’ve gone south in the fourth quarter, all eyes would’ve been on Bosh who chose to jack up some very questionable jumpers. Funnily enough, it was his 19 footer that prompted the Salami and Cheese to make an appearance after quite some time. The Raptors defense held the Pistons to 40.8% shooting while shooting 49%, quite a feat against the NBA’s 3rd stingiest defense. Calderon’s pressure on Billups was very effective and the shots (even the interior kind) were contested with the Raptors registering 8 blocks – twice the season average. Sam Mitchell’s had a telling post-game comment:

“Our defense for 48 minutes was as good as it could have been”

Delfino waking up from his deep slumber with 10 points was huge on a night where Anthony Parker’s contribution was a meager 10 points. As for Andrea Bargnani, it doesn’t seem to matter if he’s starting or coming off the bench, the problems remain the same. Aggressiveness to him is only a word that may or may not have a metaphysical meaning. He’s far from understanding and accepting what a 7-footer’s role should be on a team that lacks aggressiveness and toughness, I think Leo Rautins put it well today by saying he needs to stop being “scared” and play like a 7-foot center.

This win has given us a perfect platform to build something, New York, New Orleans and Charlotte are there for the taking. Can the Raptors have a repeat performance or will they revert to playing stagnant basketball and listless defense? If today’s any indication of how they’ll play the rest of the season and playoffs, there’s a chance we might enter the playoffs carrying enough momentum to knock off a convenient opponent.

Liners:

  • Very disappointing to see the fans boo TJ after he missed a wide open 3-pointer in the first quarter.
  • I’m going to miss Rasho Nesterovic. Sure, he’ll get rejected by Tayshaun Prince and Aamir Johnson once in a while but his mid-range jumper is reliable, his defense is sound and his finishing isn’t that bad. Plus he’s a legit 7-footer and uses his body well. In other words, he’s a pretty damn good backup center who I wouldn’t mind seeing on this team long-term.
  • For us to have a chance in this game the rebounding battle needed to be even, it ended up 41-35 in their favor but we limited the influence of Jason Maxiell and Antonio McDyess, holding them to a total of 9 rebounds and not allowing them to dominate a critical stretch of the game.
  • Jose Calderon is a team player and a smart man for figuring out what’s wrong with the Raptors. But let’s move on now and not go on about this like he gave up his first born. Jose is all about winning and seeing his team and teammates do well and the sweet part about it is that his niceness isn’t reflected in his playing stile and attitude on the floor. Love it.
  • We avoid falling under .500 with a gritty and hard-fought win against a tough team. It would’ve been very easy to lose this game but the Raptors played with a sense of urgency not seen in weeks.
  • Jason Kapono: 0-2 FG in 9 minutes. There isn’t a single matchup here that he’s well suited for. If we do end up playing Detroit in the playoffs, Maceo Baston is likely to have a bigger role than Jason Kapono. The Pistons are simply too good to allow a one-dimensional shooter to get off the mark.
  • Jose Calderon is The Top Rap.
  • If you missed the RapCast, do check it out.

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