NEED TO KNOW
After an intense game Friday and going into what is expected to be the same Tuesday at home to Houston, the Raptors may want to rest someone, but it won’t be known until close to game time … Toronto’s getting Detroit on the end of a back-to-back. The Pistons won 129-93 in Cleveland on Saturday … A playoff preview? Could be with Detroit fighting for seventh and the Raptors almost locked into second in the East … Ellington has boosted Detroit’s three-point shooting since he joined the Pistons as a free agent in February, and has made multiple threes in six straight games.
The Pistons hammered the short-handed Cleveland Cavaliers on the road 129-93 on Saturday. They return home to face the team with the Eastern Conference’s second-best record, the Toronto Raptors, on Sunday.
“We played as well as we expected,” Casey said. “I wouldn’t put anything into the amount of points or the point differential. I promise it’s not going to be that type of game tomorrow.”
Detroit opened up a 33-point halftime lead and was never threatened in the second half, allowing Casey to rest his regulars. None of his starters played more than 27 minutes.
“Our guys came out with a professional approach,” he said. “We accomplished what we wanted to do.”
Reserve swingman Luke Kennard reached double digits for the seventh time in 10 games as he scored 26 points. Kennard’s point output was two shy of his career high.
“He’s growing right in front of our eyes,” Casey said.
Kennard hopes the team has the same approach on Sunday.
“We’ve just got to carry it over,” he said in a postgame television interview. “The way we played tonight, we played physical at both ends of the floor. We put together a full game and we just have to carry that over to tomorrow and the rest of the season.”
The Pistons pulled out an emotional 106-104 victory in Toronto on Nov. 14, Casey’s first game there since he was fired after last season’s playoffs. Casey earned Coach of the Year honors but Toronto’s playoff flop against Cleveland sealed his fate.
He knows that even a player as heady and skilled as he is needs to find his fit and Gasol appears to have achieved that just seven games into his Raptors’ tenure.
“Things are starting to slow down for me as well,” Gasol said when asked about his teammates adjusting to him after his 19-point, eight-rebound, six-assist night in the win over Portland. “Seeing the guys’ body language when they cut or they move. You can see how they look late now because they expect the ball might come and they know when they cut that way it opens it up for the next guy. Everything is tied together and it’s contagious. I like it and they like it.”
Gasol knew there would be a period of acclimatization but he also knew he didn’t need time to show off his passing skills. Those are immediately transferable in any scenario.
“That’s the first thing that is pretty natural, the first thing I’m comfortable with, my safe zone in a way,” he said of his passing game. “When I’m not comfortable offensively I know I can always go to be a playmaker. So even the first game in N.Y. I knew I could make passes, I could see those things. But now I can read everyone’s body language a lot faster and understand and have that eye contact and they do it more and more. You see now other teams are starting to adjust and now it’s a matter of adjusting again and see what opens up next. It’s good.”
The real and very obvious sign of comfort for Gasol on Friday was the scoring. Gasol was comfortable enough in the offence and with his teammates to go out and get his own in addition to being that facilitator.
“I feel a little bit more … concentration to integrate these new guys because they believe these new guys make us better,” Nurse said of his veteran core that includes Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and Serge Ibaka. “And they’re willing. They’re paying a little … more attention than they normally would at this time of year in the film sessions. They’re letting us keep them on the floor at practice a little longer than normal at this time of year.”
There is a sense that this group feels more confident about its post-season prospects than any before it. The absence of LeBron James in Cleveland is certainly a factor, but the overriding feeling of optimism goes much deeper. The Raptors — at 46-17, with the second-best record in the league going into a game Sunday in Detroit — know they’re good, but have 19 games to be as good as they can be for the playoffs.
“There’s 82 games (in a regular season) and for me these are just practices, and playoffs is when it’s time to lace them up,” Leonard said after his buzzer-beating basket in Friday’s 119-117 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.
Often, mid-season additions can juice a team’s intensity with an infusion of excitement that comes from added athleticism or a different look. Neither Gasol nor Lin is particularly athletic, but they have increased Toronto’s mental acumen more than can be measured. They are cerebral players fitting in with the veteran, cerebral group of Lowry, Leonard and Ibaka.
“Every game should prepare you for the next battle,” Gasol said. “You should find things to improve on, and I thought we did a lot of good things (Friday), but we can always improve on different areas and be ready for different challenges that teams present.”
The Raptors could use their vacant 14th roster spot to add some frontcourt depth/insurance. One player to keep an eye on is former Wizards C Marcin Gortat. Have heard there's mutual interest.
— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 2, 2019
“For sure. Every game should prepare you for the next battle,” Marc Gasol said after the game. “You should find things to improve on. I thought we did a lot of good things tonight, but we can always improve on different areas and be ready for different challenges that teams present. That team continues to move and does a great job of finding those two guys, and the other guys crash and present some challenges that are pretty good for you going forward. Not only playoffs but any game that is coming.”
It’s possible that disbelief in the Raptors’ ability to pull out games in these situations has proven inelastic after years of crunch-time play that, while decent, underwhelmed next to the team’s play in other situations. The memory of a close loss against former head coach Dwane Casey may stick out in people’s memory, as do a pair of late-game misfires in Boston.
Zoom out, though, and the Raptors have consistently performed well in games like this. The Raptors have now won a league-leading 11 games decided by three points or fewer, with just four losses in that sample. They are fourth in the league with a 19-10 record in any game that is within five points in the final five minutes and own a plus-8.9 net rating over those 132 minutes. (They also rank in the top 11 at both ends of the floor in those scenarios, to go along with being in the top seven at both ends overall.) Since the trade deadline, they’re 5-0 in such scenarios, with a monstrous plus-18.8 net rating.