The group is deep, but not exactly intimidating. Therein lies the rub. It is a unit that gets by on quickness, intelligence and, particularly in Hansbrough’s case, frenetic energy. In the post-season, though, very few teams exhibit the lack of focus that you get from the opposition every other game in the Eastern Conference. Will the Raptors’ frontcourt be sturdy enough when everyone is invested? To be clear: The Detroit Pistons are not invested in playing professional basketball for 48 minutes a night in the year 2014. They have a lot of pure talent — some pieces that could help the Raptors — but no cohesion. The Raptors collected a 101-87 win over the Pistons on Wednesday night. Still, there were times when the Raptors’ big men looked like they were being overwhelmed, although they passed rather quickly.
The main concern going into this game was whether the Raptors, given their recent defensive rebounding issues, would be able to hold fort against a potent Pistons front court. Amir Johnson and JV emphatically slammed the door shut on those concerns as they bullied and battered Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond all game (Drummond was a -33 on the night). Hopefully the strong inside play continues as the playoffs near. Amir had 20 and 9 on 14 shots, while JV had 8 and 13, to go with 2 blocks. DeMar and Kyle Lowry were good in this one too.
Eventually, Toronto’s inability to go for the jugular will come back to haunt the team. Eventually, a game of much more substance and meaning will be played and any mental lapse cannot be tolerated. Until then, the Raptors can win games such as Wednesday’s visit by the listless Pistons, a team that showed the scars of a back-to-back. But with playoff positioning about to take on added meaning, the Raptors have to find a way to close out an opponent and take away its will. Leads have to be extended, moments seized and a killer instinct developed.
Fans will look at the stats and see that Jonas Valanciunas had 13 rebounds, Amir Johnson had nine and Chuck Hayes gathered in eight — and those are good numbers. But the teamwork — and what proved to be a significant part of the outcome — was between the big men and the guards, the eight rebounds collared by Greivis Vasquez being the most noteworthy. “A couple of times we (he and a Raptors frontcourt teammate) sandwiched the (Detroit) big together and I was on the outside part, so the ball bounced my way but the big guys did a great job.” The Raptors knew going into the game that holding their own against an oft-imposing Detroit frontcourt of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe was of vital importance. But there’s holding your own and then there’s dominating — and Toronto’s 54-39 advantage on the glass was an unexpected bonus.
Monroe put up solid numbers but got absolutely torched by Johnson in the first half. He played a bit tougher in the second.
It’s no secret that both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, who are averaging 36.5 and 38 minutes per game, respectively, could use a few lighter nights as the season winds its way to the playoffs. But getting those light nights means putting the boots to an opponent early and letting head coach Dwane Casey comfortably go to his bench in a significant way early in the game. But there really has been little comfort for Casey heading into fourth quarters these days. The Pistons were supposedly a tired team playing on the road on the back end of a back-to-back, but the Raptors let them back in a game they were showing no signs of wanting to be in. More of that killer instinct would go a long ways towards ensuring those guys the team is going to be riding hard come playoff time are as fresh as possible.
The Pistons came into the game ranked first in offensive rebounds, first in paint points and second in second-chance scoring. “We had to box out,” said Johnson, who grabbed nine boards on the night. “We looked at all the stats and that was definitely the key, to get all those guys off the boards. They definitely have a big lineup and that’s what we did.” The Raptors “cracked down” – as Casey says – in the second half, besting Detroit 29-13 on the boards, holding the visitors to one offensive rebound. They also outscored the Pistons 24-14 in the paint and 15-0 in second-chance points over the final 24 minutes. On a night in which Brooklyn stole headlines with an impressive win over an elite team, the division-leaders took care of business.
(How important was the team effort on the boards tonight?) That was definitely one of the keys. We had to box out. Drummond’s (Andre) numbers are incredible. I think 350 offensive rebounds, and he averages five a game.
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