The only reason the Raptors didn’t win this by a comfortable margin is because of Detroit’s dominance on the glass. When a team is shooting 58% at the end of three quarters, as the Raptors were, and only find themselves up two, something else is drastically wrong and in this case it was rebounding. Let’s not focus on that though, because after halftime when the Raptors were -10 on the offensive glass, they picked up with the help of their guards pitching in and played the Pistons even (mostly) for the rest of the game.
The story here is how cohesive the Raptors looked for close to the full 48 minutes. Granted, it was the Pistons who aren’t exactly great, but the level of team ball being played here is astonishing. The stat of 26 assists on 35 field goals paints the picture of ball sharing and movement. The 37 points off the bench, 16 from Anderson who was stellar in the fourth, tells you that there was zero dip in efficiency once the second unit was called upon.
Jose Calderon’s encore of superb passing displays continued, with Valanciunas, Davis and Johnson being in complete sync with the Spanish fly. The rookie is finding himself in very advantageous offensive positions after his usually solid forays into the paint, and on the other end, he’s not being left to dry as Ed Davis is providing formidable rotational defense. Other than the first half rebounding issues, which I’m surprised Casey didn’t use Gray to counter with at least for testing purposes, the Raptors frontline looked solid on all counts.
Davis has stepped up from just providing consistent rebounding to efficient scoring within the framework of the play. Those ad hoc long twos and threes launched by Bargnani are replaced with possessions where more people touch the ball in a traditionally spaced floor. Defensively, there is greater cover for guards penetrating and a better rebounding presence which allows for better outlets and initiation of the ensuing offensive plays.
The distributed offensive load has also benefited DeMar DeRozan, who isn’t taking it upon himself to barge his way to the paint on every possession in search for free throws. He’s taking his opportunities as they come to him, and was the leading scorer on the team without the Raptors running consistent isolation plays for him. His jumpers were opportunistic, especially the trailing threes, and his drives to the rim were timely and he took advantage of any accidental cross-switches very well (e.g., against Knight or Stuckey).
DeRozan’s backup, Ross, is also finding his groove of late. He’s starting to identify the difference between a good shot and a bad shot, so you’re not seeing any two-dribble contested threes, and instead he’s relying on Calderon to find him as needed. Shooting is a fickle matter, you look great one day and awful the next, the most I can say about Ross is that he’s figuring out where his shots should be coming from. I don’t notice anything different about his release or shooting mechanics, it’s simply a confidence and college/NBA three-point line adjustment thing for him. The question for him will always be how useful he will be when his shot isn’t dropping, and judging by his defense and off-the-ball movement, he’s on the right track.
I don’t really have much to say in terms of this game because, honestly, I thought the Raptors were the far superior team and if it weren’t for Monroe and his dominance inside, this would’ve been a blowout. The Pistons guards can`t seem to throw an entry pass into Monroe so they have to rely on their big-to-big passing for that to happen. It was quite sad for them and they wasted a career-game from him (35pts, 10reb). The only negatives were Kleiza, more specifically why he was playing in the fourth ahead of Pietrus. The Pistons were in a zone for an extended period, but that doesn’t warrant Kleiza, it probably calls for the better shooter which is Pietrus! The same is true for Ed Davis’ omission in the fourth, he was having a much stronger game than Johnson and deserved to play. I couldn’t muster up an explanation for this, I thought it was maybe because he played heavy minutes the night before in Cleveland but that’s not the case.
Regarding Jose, we’ve seen this before, haven’t we? With T.J Ford, with Jarrett Jack, and now with Kyle Lowry. Calderon given the starting duties due to injury only to impress mightily. In every instance in the past he hasn’t been able to keep this play up for an extended period and eventually regresses, thus starting the cycle again. When Lowry comes back, though, he should be getting his starting job back because the Raptors simply can`t be that fickle. And remember, we`ve already tested Calderon as a starter and it doesn`t work. Perhaps with this group it`s different, but there`s history here that can`t be ignored and the Raptors need to stick with the plan of Lowry being the starter. The flip side of the coin is that Lowry has lost the starting role previously in other places, so either which way you go, you`re taking a chance on something working out that hasn`t worked out before.
One thing is unarguable, and that’s the effort on the floor and the general morale on the team is high. It’s easy to point to Lowry and Bargnani’s absence and state the absence of hero ball is the cause of success and the enhanced confidence that follows. In reality, though, the schedule has something to do with it. The man who should be taking note here is Bargnani, as there is a drastic difference in how the team functions with Davis and Valanciunas on the court. The Davis/Valanciunas combo is much more of a Casey-lineup than a Bargnani/Valanciunas one. The Raptors need to recognize this and stop finding playing time for Bargnani as a starter, which only serves to create suboptimal lineups. There’s a poll on the front page which asks what you would do.
I shall bask in this glory while it lasts.