With the Raptors home schedule finished after beating Orlando on Sunday at the Air Canada Centre, they traveled across the border to play in front of a friendly crowd in Detroit, and they’d once again be shorthanded as they rested players to prepare for the playoffs, now less than a week away. With the top seed now locked up, the last games are opportunities for the Raptors to get their rotation in rhythm and pad their win total, while also hopefully remaining healthy.
With Serge Ibaka getting the day off for rest, and Lucas Nogueira and Fred Van Vleet also sitting out due to being dinged up against the Magic, there were some rotational holes to fill on Monday night. The Pistons, however would also be missing Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin, and after being eliminated from the playoffs are looking to find some roster solutions as their season winds down to help them build into future years.
In the first quarter, the Raptors came out strong with Pascal Siakam filling in for Ibaka, showing their strength both behind the arc, where they got threes from Siakam and Jonas Valanciunas, who had a dominant offensive night against a weakened Pistons front line, in the opening minutes as they raced out to a 13-4 lead before the Pistons were able to knock down a barrage of their own jump shots as they matched the Raptors pace with hitting tough shots despite solid defensive effort from the Raptors. Despite Detroit’s ability to knock down nearly every look they got, the Raptors showcased their new offense, with every bucket in the first being either from behind the arc or inside the paint.
At the start of the second quarter, Toronto had Lorenzo Brown and Norman Powell in to play with the bench lineup, in the normal minutes given to Siakam and Van Vleet, and that version of the lineup struggled mightily. They weren’t able to get anything going on offense with the lack of space afforded due to not having enough threats that the Pistons had to respect, and at the other end Detroit continued to knock down tough shots. That lineup only played four and a half minutes, but managed to give up a 14-point deficit in that time frame, prompting Dwane Casey to go back to his starters earlier than normal, with Lowry, Siakam and Valanciunas being the first to re-enter. With them back in the game, the Raptors were able to stabilize and Valanciunas and DeRozan would combine for 13 points in the back half of the frame to help the Raptors trim it to just a three point deficit at halftime, with the Pistons starting to see some of their own shots go awry.
In the second half Valanciunas came out strong again, with the offense looking to establish him early and often, scoring another eight easy points, but the Pistons once again kept pace, through keeping their turnovers low, with only three for the game, and hitting eight free throws to make up for their shooting going cold. Occasional flashes of the brilliance of DeRozan and Lowry showed, with each player creating a lot of easy looks for teammates while not looking to push their own game too much, and at the back end of the third, when the bench re-entered, they once again looked to push their paint presence, with Jakob Poeltl scoring the last two field goals of the quarter to help the Raptors enter the fourth with a four-point lead.
In the fourth quarter, though, the Raptors bench did what they do, and with their defense holding the Pistons scoreless for nearly four minutes before a Eric Moreland free throw went down, the Raptors were able to run up a quick 19-point lead with 8 minutes remaining, with all of the Raptors points belonging to Poeltl, CJ Miles and Lorenzo Brown, who showed some of the poise at the end of the game that has had him being such an important piece for the Raptors 905’s title run this season. From that point onward, the Raptors were able to cruise to victory, in a game where, despite the players that Toronto was missing and an effort that wasn’t entirely consistent across the night, they simply had too much depth and talent for Detroit to handle.
In the scope of a memorable Raptors season, this one won’t go down as a particularly memorable victory, but they all count, and this was just another example of them being a team that knows how to get it done and manages to find ways to get the victory. With just one game left now before the postseason, and possible seeding implications for the Heat on Wednesday, the last game before they really start to count should be an interesting one.