Alrighty, first things first: I’m here to put myself at the feet of the RR faithful for missing my scheduled quick reaction post yesterday. The quick and dirty explanation: I’ve been away from the site for the last couple months while I finish my thesis, which was presented last week. The Pistons game was supposed to be my glorious reintroduction to RR to help bolster the rotation come playoff time.

Instead, my sleep-deprived, graduate school-addled brain convinced me that the game started at 3:30 Pacific time, instead of 3:30 Eastern. When I sat down to watch the game, I found myself looking at TV listings filled with Masters coverage and highlight shows, but nary a Raptor game to be seen. I then found an e-mail from Zarar asking where the hell I was.

To make matters worse, I couldn’t even pop on the site myself, as I’d somehow broken my computer charger the evening before.

In any case, the blame is mine, and it’s my bad. I’m sorry.

Now, enough of my rambling. Let’s get to the game, which was a pretty pivotal one once the Bulls lost the Knicks later in the day, as it not only tied a Raptor franchise record for wins but also pulled them back into pole position for the 3rd spot in the conference.


Game Recap

It’s hard to describe how dominant the Raptors looked at the start of this one. They came out of the gates like a house on fire, and offensively, everything (and everyone) was clicking. The Raptors’ strategy to begin the game seemed to be to feed Jonas and a much more spry looking (at least on offence) Amir Johnson as much as possible, with the intention of getting Detroit’s imposing Greg Monroe/Andre Drummond front line in foul trouble. The strategy worked, and both players had some nice buckets inside as Monroe and Drummond found themselves both on the bench less than halfway through the quarter.

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In the end, that turned out to be more of a premonition than a great thing for the Raptors (holy crap, were there a lot of fouls called in this game), but in the first, it was a thing of beauty. With the lane wide open, it seemed like the entire Raptors team was either scoring at will or getting to the line (and, in multiple instances, both). The score quickly ballooned to 20-5 and you kind of felt like this thing was over before it had even started.

Side note here: Detroit is a super-talented team, but they’re a bit of a mess mentally. It seems like all of their stars ride a roller coaster all game in regards to effort. Like a big roller coaster, with loops and stuff, not the kiddy one that takes you around the perimeter of the park – one quarter, Greg Monroe is grabbing every board in sight, the next, he looks like he’s not sure what sport he’s playing. The weird thing is that their players don’t even ride the same roller coaster – they all peak at totally different times. It’s quite odd (and reassuring, if you’re a fan of the opposing team). But anyways.

The Pistons managed to claw back a tad thanks to some sloppy Raptor defence, which was a bit of a theme tonight, as you’ll see, but the Raptors ended the quarter up 42-26 – setting a new season-best for points in the first, and, quite likely having Casey and his coaching staff feeling like all that was needed for a win was three more quarters of coasting. This was evident in his lineups, which were far more evenly spaced in regards to minutes than they have been in games previous (though, again, this is partly due to the ridiculous amount of fouls we saw on both sides).

The second quarter began with a bench + DeMar unit that had the Pistons quickly keying on number ten every time the ball came near him. He hit a lot of tough shots today – including a four-point play in the quarter – but it’s tough to stay ahead while the number two option on the floor appears to be Tyler Hansbrough. Andre Drummond, obviously, dominated the matchup with Hansbrough – he dominated most of the game against everyone, honestly, and helped the Pistons out to a huge rebounding advantage, particularly on the offensive end, that allowed them to claw back in the game.

Seeing this disparity grow (offensive rebounding was at 20-4 Pistons at one point, and ended at 21-8), particularly with their vertically-challenged second forward unit, the Raptors seemed to try and make up the difference in possessions by gambling for steals. It was a strategy that paid dividends in some ways – the Raptor fast break was extremely effective – but also left perimeter players out of position regularly. Quite frankly, it looked lazy. The Pistons used the free space to cut the lead to 8 points with 30 seconds left in the half. That’s where the title of the article comes in.

You see, sometimes things don’t always work out your way on a team level. As a whole, you’re a step slow defensively, or your three-pointers aren’t falling. Your secondary scoring options are having up and down games. You’re getting horribly, horribly outrebounded. It’s a game that by all accounts, you should lose.

Yet for good teams, with legitimate stars, they often find a way to win, thanks to just sheer will and effectiveness of their top players. And, from a Raptor standpoint, this game turned into a two-part special: the Kyle Lowry show, followed by the DeMar DeRozan show.

With the Raptor offence struggling all over the court, Lowry took the opportunity to end the half with two huge spot-up three pointers that he sunk with a hand in his face, ballooning the lead to 14 just before the half and completely killing Detroit’s momentum. He then started off the 3rd with another, and continued to look for his own all quarter with aplomb. Lowry ended the 3rd with 14 of the Raptors 24 points in the quarter.

This was important, because aside from him, the third quarter was a train wreck. Detroit, led by their twin towers of Monroe and Drummond, absolutely DEMOLISHED the Raptors in all facets. Jonas, in particular, had an extremely rough quarter, being rejected by Drummond a couple times before losing his confidence and bricking a few short hook shots. It seemed like Monroe and Drummond were catching every Detroit miss and putting it back up and in, a problem exacerbated with an ineffective Jonas, a still-hobbled and burdened by 5 fouls Amir and an injured Chuck Hayes (he left the game on a Monroe poster dunk and later returned). Hansbrough and Patterson as a duo are just far too small to effectively guard Monroe and Drummond, and if you weren’t sure about that to begin the game, well, you sure as hell are now.

Somehow, someway though, the Raptors ended the quarter up 1. And by “somehow, someway,” I mean “Kyle Lowry.” This guy was absolutely everywhere, as usual – hitting spot-up threes, finishing tough buckets at the hoop, ripping rebounds away from Monroe, and just generally being a menace, a superman, KLOE. The Detroit broadcast team called him a star and said “we’d be hearing a lot more about Kyle Lowry over the next few years.” I’m fully convinced that if the Raptors were more popular, any semblance of the debate regarding Kyle Lowry staying in the city next year would be completely over. The guy should be the most popular athlete in Canada.

With Lowry taking a blow to start the fourth, the Raptors looked to DeMar DeRozan to continue Lowry’s path of singular destruction. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that DeMar was an all-star this season – his shot selection can still be questionable at times, particularly in the fourth when he attempts to take matters into his own hands.

When they start going down, though, wow, is it fun to watch. And man, does he ever look like an All-Star. With the larger Kyle Singler spending the entire quarter more or less draped all over him, DeMar hit a litany of tough shots from all over the court, ballooning the Raptor lead to 10 points and essentially sealing it with a massive dunk of Singler with a couple minutes left. His alpha dog status assured, DeRozan’s dominance seemed to have significant emotional impacts on the Pistons players, too – Monroe and Drummond became visibly more timid around the rim, and Jonas was able to repeat his early effectiveness to help finish the game off and at least make the rebounding disparity respectable. Even when Lowry fouled out with 5 minutes left, it didn’t feel like Detroit had any chance. That’s the superman effect. And it’s fun when not one, but two guys on your team can do it on the same night.

Was this a perfect win? No, not even close. The team defence as a whole was sloppy and the rebounding was abysmal at times. Was it a big win? You bet. And for your big players, sometimes big is a bit more of an incentive than perfect.


Breaking it Down

Because I missed the original airing of the game, I ended up watching it on NBA.tv (thanks, Zarar), which allowed me to pull some gifs. So let’s take a look at a few specific plays from the game:

1st quarter

This first clip is a good example of the Raptors’ early mindset, which seemed to be to feed Jonas and Amir as often as possible. It’s also a great example of how Terrence Ross has come along this season with his decision-making in the lane.

 1. Lowry moves the ball to a slashing Ross, who is picked up on a switch by Kyle Singler.

2. Noticing the switch, Amir Johnson (who looked far, far more mobile yesterday on offence, anyway), immediately breaks for the hoop. He’s picked up, belatedly, by Jonas Jerebko.

3. With Ross rolling hard to the basket, Greg Monroe stays back, both to put a body on Jonas and to avoid being taken out by a falling Singler, who’s overcommitted to helping on Ross.

4. Amir finishes the hoop and is fouled for a nice and-one. It’s plays like this that allowed the Raptor bigs to be effective. When the wings are creative in finding looks, the size disparity faced by Toronto against a team like Detroit isn’t nearly as pronounced.

This next play is another example of some creative work by the Raptors to free up space around the rim (as well as an example of great passing/athleticism).

1. Patrick Patterson sets a high screen on DeMar’s man (Singler).

2. Patterson pops and calls for the ball. Seeing his man open, Patterson’s check (Tony Mitchell), doesn’t hedge on DeRozan’s screen, and Kyle Lowry’s man sags.

3. DeRozan rises over a frantically recovering Singler, who is late returning to his check thanks to Patterson’s excellent screen and his own teammate Mitchell’s immobility during the play. Lowry delivers a perfect dime, the Raptors go up 28-12 (yes, the start of this game was super fun).

2nd quarter

As I said in my recap, things started to break down in the second as the Raptors started gambling for steals. Here, we see Nando de Colo and Amir Jonson making poor individual decisions that lead to an easy Piston bucket:

1. De Colo leaves his man (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, in the far left corner) to attempt to pick off a pass out to Monroe, who is standing near the three point line. Spoiler alert: Monroe doesn’t score from there. Ever. The ball is nearly stolen by de Colo and recovered by Detroit.

2. With de Colo out of position, Grevis Vasquez rotates in to help, finding himself checking Monroe. Once Monroe begins to rotate to the basket, Vasquez leaves him for Hayes, finding himself in no-man’s land.

3. Amir, who was guarding Monroe, rotates out to the line to guard a now wide-open Caldwell-Pope, who’s man (de Colo), is now standing on the free throw line. In his haste, he dives out to cover, biting on what can be described as a pre-pump fake. Caldwell-Pope shakes Amir and is left wide open for an easy basket.

4th quarter

In the fourth, some defensive issues continued, particularly when the duo of Patterson and Hansbrough was charged with guarding Monroe and Drummond:

1. De Colo, guarding Peyton Siva, is picked near the three point line by Monroe.

2. Hansbrough sags hard on Siva, leaving Monroe alone near the 3-point line. Patterson steps up to cover the rolling Monroe.

3. Hansbrough fully commits to the driving Siva as de Colo proves unable to get back into position. Monroe begins his move to the basket, and Patterson responds by pushing Monroe on the back, allowing Monroe lane position and an easy dunk on the heels of the Siva miss.

And this one is here for obvious reasons:

1. DeMar DeRozan over everything.

2. Superman effect.


Odds and Ends

1. Amir Johnson looked better than he did against the Knicks, but still not at 100 per cent. It was particularly clear that he still has a ways to go on the defensive side of the ball, where he was a step slow and ended up committing five fouls in just seventeen minutes.

2. It was the Pistons’ home finale, and yet you could hear fans chanting “let’s go Raptors” and “MVP” for Lowry when he stepped to the line. Pretty cool stuff.

3. The win puts the Raptors’ destiny back in their own hands. Two wins to close out the season, and the third seed is ours. Of course, that may not be what Raptor fans want in the end, depending on how the Miami/Indiana dogfight shakes out.

4. With the win, the 2013/2014 Raptors tie the team record for wins in a season, with two games to go – one against the lowly Bucks, and one against the Knicks. I realize that in the larger picture, it’s just a number, but it’d be great to see this group of Raptors own the record. They’ve worked extremely hard this season and been an absolute pleasure to watch, and, if nothing else, it would be a great way to commemorate the season that was in the annals of club history.