Pistons 91, Raptors 112 – Box
Unless you’re a bottom-of-the-barrel team in this league there will be games that you’re expected and supposed to win. For the Raptors, hosting a Pistons squad playing on a back-to-back at home is one of those games. This would’ve been a story if the Raptors had lost, like it was against the Bobcats, but they managed to negotiate a first-half scare of sorts to quite easily handle a Pistons team that is equal parts painful and hilarious to watch.

The start wasn’t ideal with DeMar DeRozan testing our patience with his shot-selection. Maybe he saw Kentavious Caldwell-Pope guarding him and felt like making some sort of welcome-statement to the rookie, or maybe he thought he’d pick up where he left off in Indiana.  It wasn’t pretty as indicated by his jumper-heavy first quarter shot chart. He tends to give away where he’s going by sometimes lifting a leg or opening a shoulder, and it eventually allows for a better contest of his shot as the defense is in-step with him. He’s far more effective when he’s coming off curls or screens than he is in situations where the defense can opt for an easy switch or if the action takes him away from the rim. If the action is taking him towards the rim, there’s always a chance of foul, a dump-pass or even a kick-out, which gives a defense something else to think about. Once he accepted that his shot wasn’t falling, he decided to live at the FT line which was fairly easy to do being guarded by the likes of Singler, Stuckey and Caldwell-Pope.

DeRozan was 13-16 FT

“Just being more aggressive, that was my goal. I knew my shot wasn’t falling for me, so I just tried to do other things, be aggressive and try to create for my teammates.”

- DeMar DeRozan

[Read Sam's Reaction Post Including Player Grades and Reader Voting]
[GIFs - Watch the Pistons fall for Jonas Valanciunas Pump Fakes]

The Raptors needed to offset DeRozan’s poor shooting and Detroit’s fast-break points (8-0 in 1Q) which were all the result of Raptor jumpers/turnovers being run back at them by Brandon Jennings. Terrence Ross (17pts, 5-10 3FG) calmly stepped up, or should I say stood behind the three-point line, and drained three threes and a jumper – all assisted (3 by Lowry, 1 by Patterson). Insert a generic statement here about confidence, but I’ll opt for a more well-defined and accepted role where he’s primarily a three-point shooter, not a high-flyer (that slam-dunk contest might’ve derailed his NBA career momentarily).

“Over a stretch of games physicality has been giving Jonas trouble and Amir trouble and we’ve got to combat that or we’re going to see it every night and its going to be our problem.”

- Dwane Casey

Sam is correct in his criticism of Ross that other than shooting “he did very little until the 4th where he snagged a couple rebounds”.  However, if you look his current play compared to how he was playing pre-trade, it’s a huge improvement and one that’s going some ways in filling the 3-point shooting void that was being felt.  He’s being a useful player in the rotation and that’s what you expect from his type of player at this stage in his career.

A moment of praise needs to be given to one Zarar Siddiqi for picking up Ross as a FA for his fantasy team just at the right time.

Jonas Valanciunas was doing better than he did in Indiana to keep up with Greg Monroe and finished the game with 16 points and 11 rebounds (Munroe had 11pts, 11 reb, Drummond had 6pts, 16 reb). He was most successful, not in the pick’ n roll, but when he worked hard to establish a position inside, received the ball and executed a hook within half a second.  Detroit has size in the front court and how Valanciunas was able to get off a shot while sealing a big is impressive:

He got a lot of slack for his performance in Indiana but sometimes we forget that he’s 21-years old.  He’s in his formative NBA years and working extremely hard, and there are moments (like they were last night) where he’s not in rebounding position, is late reading the drive, doesn’t anticipate strips or passing lane threats or see all his options when he’s got the ball in the block. Keep in mind that for a guy who has not played in the NCAA, did not go through the high-school system, had sporadic playing time with Lithuania in major tournaments, he’s doing fantastically well.

More importantly, the Raptors collectively were a +8 in rebounding for this game, which is a far cry than what happened against the Pacers (-17). Chuck Hayes gave them good minutes in the second and Greivis Vasquez connected in transition for a couple hoops and when the Raptors lead hit 11, you’d have thought the blowout would commence early. Cue a ridiculous 14-0 Detroit run where the Raptors went 0-9. Brandon Jennings going up against Vasquez hurt as the former, although being an atrocious player overall, moved the ball quickly up and down the court against a Raptor team that was nurturing some feelings that the game might’ve been over. At times Caldwell-Pope impressed with his quickness and Andre Drummond with his rebounding did the same; other than that, Detroit is awful to watch with Jennings and Rodney Stuckey jacking up horrible shots without fear of repercussion.

The Pistons went into the break up four but there wasn’t any need to worry. DeRozan went 0-5 in the second and Amir Johnson was an 0-fer as well in the half, missing some close-range efforts that he’d normally bury. The offense wasn’t flowing and John Salmons as the point-forward wasn’t paying any returns – it’s a flawed strategy for three reasons: 1) Salmons has a tendency to sidetrack into me-ball which is a morale killer, 2) he’s not nearly quick enough to punish slow hedgers or guards who opt to go over screens, and 3) he’s not a shooting threat which means the defense will more often than not given him the look his inner-chucker desires and wants to take. I’m a huge fan of Salmons as a defender and a light 3-and-D guy, and he should be allowed to be a pressure-release and handle the ball on occasion, but running sets through him is not a good idea. Going into the half the Raptors new that minor correction of easy-to-correct issues would net them a win.

The hammer, somewhat surprisingly, came in the third which the Raptors started off on an 8-0 spurt which was rather easily extended to a 17-4 run.  I don’t want to go into deep analysis of a half nobody will remember in a day, but we saw in the second half the Raptors team we’re used to seeing since the trade.  If you’ve seen any of the games you know what I’m talking about.  They had seven assists on eleven field goals, and if there’s one GIF that reflects just how much more alert the Raptors were than the Pistons, it’s this offensive rebound from Lowry which he snaps from Monroe’s hands as Charlie V fails to yell “watch out”.

Patrick Patterson – I’m running out of praise for this guy (Will’s got a piece on him at 3pm). Maybe it’s the zero expectations coming in that’s got me hyped up, whatever the case he’s filling a huge versatility void on this team. I love that he can cover wings on those late recovery situations on the perimeter, and on offense, he just knows when to cut:

It’s a simple cut, but there are way too many big men/stretch-fours out there that will stay on the baseline in that situation. Any time the offense is sputtering, throwing Patterson in is guaranteed to at least improve the player movement on the team. Once you combine that with the new rock-sharing nature of the team, only good things can happen.

The Raptors headed into the fourth quarter with a 10-point lead which was extended at the same ease at which it was created in the third.  Case closed, job well done.  I’m really enjoying casually brushing off 20-point blowouts like an opulent nouveau riche hipster The three-game home-stand continues and I’m targeting a 6-1 record in this stretch: vs DET, vs BKN, vs MIL, at BOS, vs MIN, vs LAL, at CHA.

One final note. I, for one, am glad that they changed the rules for the pizza so the Raptors have to win as well.  It avoids the embarrassing situation where the fans cheer wildly with the Raptors down 121-100 with 20 seconds left.  On this night, though, the victory was never really in question.

I’ll be on Steve’s podcast at noon and there’s a Patterson piece later in the day.

One last reminder – today is the final day to sign up your team for the RR tourney on February 15th at Crescent School in Toronto – if you have any questions, email [email protected]

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