Kyle Lowry’s fourth-quarter heroics helped the Toronto Raptors seal a 103-89 win over the Detroit Pistons last night. Lowry finished the game with 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, seven assists, and two steals. Terrence Ross chipped in 18 points, and Jonas Valanciunas and Cory Joseph each provided 15 points of their own.
Early on, the Pistons looked to be the better team. They executed marvellously on both ends of the floor, pressuring the Raptors into tough shots on defense while overwhelming them with hustle and athleticism on offense. The Raptors were definitely trying — they were running their sets, and running them well — but simply couldn’t get open or make shots on the rare occasions they were. DeMar DeRozan tried to carry the Raptors’ offense but didn’t succeed; he finished the first quarter with six points on 1-of-6 shooting. As a group, the Raptors finished the quarter shooting 35 percent from the field.
DeRozan did hit us with this gorgeous move, however:
— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) February 9, 2016
In the second quarter, everything changed. Suddenly, the Raptors couldn’t miss. They unloaded nine 3-point attempts on the Pistons in the second quarter and nailed six of them, with many thanks going to an energized Ross. Ross was phenomenal against the Pistons, and was a key factor in the Raptors’ ability to make a run in the second quarter. He came off down screens with purpose, exploded down the court any time the Raptors came up with a steal, and most importantly was in the right place at the right time. He scored nine of his 18 points in the second quarter, the result of three made 3-pointers.
Lowry also showed signs of life in the second quarter, where he had seven points on 2-of-3 shooting and five assists after starting the game 0-of-3 with none. Much like Ross, Lowry was in the right place at the right time and made crucial plays that allowed the Raptors to make a run before the half. DeRozan tried to get involved once again, but Marcus Morris’ size and strength proved to be too much for him to handle. It wouldn’t be until the second half that DeRozan looked to facilitate the offense with his passing rather than scoring.
The Raptors couldn’t stop Morris in the first half. To their credit, he was making shots you wouldn’t expect him to, like an unbalanced 3-pointer from 26 feet he drained in the second quarter. Morris (not Markieff, the one the Raptors are reportedly interested in) scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half, and much like DeRozan sought to help his team in other ways after the half. He finished the night with 14 points, five rebounds, six assists, three steals, and a block.
The second half was nothing like the first, and saw the Raptors beat the Pistons into submission. The Raptors scored with relative ease in the third quarter — 56.3 percent — but an inability to secure defensive rebounds led the Pistons to four second-chance points in four attempts. Lowry shouldered the offensive load in the third quarter, with spot baskets from DeRozan and Joseph helping the Raptors keep their lead. The Pistons scored 22 points in the third quarter, while the Raptors scored 21.
The fourth quarter saw Lowry lead the reserves into battle, and as we well know, that usually spells disaster for opponents. Lowry was 4-of-4 in the period and appeared to be everywhere on defense, with a huge drawn charge on Aron Baynes that helped the Raptors stretch their lead deep into double digits. The next several possessions involved Ross, Joseph, and Patrick Patterson hitting a myriad of shots to put the Raptors on an 11-2 run, with Lowry and DeRozan added a few daggers of their own in isolation. The Raptors scored 33 points in the quarter.
Late in the fourth, “WE WANT BRUNO!” chants filled the Palace of Auburn Hills. Honestly, it sounded like there were more Raptors fans at the game than Pistons fans for most of the night.
With the game out of hand, head coach Dwane Casey unleashed what was essentially Raptors 905 — Anthony Bennett, Lucas Nogueira, Bruno Caboclo, Delon Wright, and Norman Powell — on the Pistons with a hair under two minutes left in the game. Usually that would afford us a few highlight plays, but time ran out without anything really happening.
And that’s game. 103-89, with the Raptors improving to 35-16 on the season, just two games behind the conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Raptors continue to look great, and I’ve a creeping suspicion that might overtake the Cavs for the top seed in the Eastern Conference if the Cavs — 7-3 in their last 10 games — don’t get on track soon. Everything’s clicking for the Raptors, while the Cavs appear to be getting by on talent and little more these days. Don’t interpret that as the Raptors being better than the Cavs; in a seven-game series, it’s almost certainly going to the Cavs if both teams are healthy and focused.
The continued growth of players like Ross and Patterson has had a tremendous effect on the Raptors’ ability to compete without DeMarre Carroll, and if Carroll’s back before the end of the season as expected, then perhaps there’s an entirely new level to this team we’re unaware of. Ross and Patterson have operated as glue guys, players incapable of leading a team on their own but fitting in exactly where the team needs them at a given time. Much of that seems related to confidence. Both players are shooting far better in 2016 than they did early in the season, and that’s carried over to other areas of their games.
The only real downside to last night’s game was Luis Scola, who looks older and less able to compete at a high level with each passing game. He finished the night with three points and two rebounds in just 20 minutes. Scola’s still a good, well-rounded player, but he can be exposed by teams with one of two things: extremely athletic bigs, or extremely skilled bigs. The Pistons had both, and Scola found it difficult to effectively help on Drummond as well as follow Ersan Ilyasova around screens on the perimeter.
The Raptors have one more game before the All-Star Break