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Falling Short, Shorthanded: The Raptors Replacements Succumb to a Hot-Shooting Detroit Pistons

11 mins read
Photo via Raptors Twitter

I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

I mean, I had no expectations for this game. How could you?

Louis Zatzman put it best in his Pre-Game summation: this game doesn’t feel like it should even happen. Toronto was missing a bulk of coaches and five players. Three of whom are four of their best.

So, I couldn’t, in good faith, watch this game with too severe of a critical eye.

Now, you may say to me, “But, Adon, Detroit was also missing several important dudes too,” (perhaps in a Hubie Brown inflection, perhaps not). Which is true, but if you take a closer look, you realize, that’s not making things even-steven.

Our bench is 26th in the league in scoring.

Detroit’s is 1st.

So we had to measure our expectations.

Some parts were known-knowns. Everyone and their pet hamsters knew that Norman Powell was going to get his. We knew Fleet Admiral Lowry would do his part – albeit less than I would have liked, I’ll get to that.

The question – the optimistic, fingers-crossed, throw-a-coin-in-the-well, please-please-please question – was: who was going to be the one, or two, or three guys to step up?

The answer was, flatly, nobody.

And, unfortunately, that realization came much too early.

The first quarter got off to a hot-potato start for both teams. Norman started the game and his thirty-six-point performance with a quick three, Lowry followed with one of his own. Norm had a subsequent should-have-been And-One and an actual And One. Even Baynes was getting in the mix early. Toronto was popping. It felt like things were going to be real cool, no youth squad, no problem; Norm, Kyle, and Co. got this.

But then Wayne Ellington woke up like Mount St. Helens. He kept the Pistons close hitting three threes in the first four minutes of the game. Apparently, the other Pistons just needed to observe how to shoot threes first; they followed Ellington’s lead hitting six more in the quarter. Six!

That had a lot to do with Toronto’s porous perimeter defence. Typically, the Raptors’ frantic defence is a cute characteristic of theirs. They force a drive, help, recover, rotate, closeout, and, ideally, give up a contested three. There was much less of all that and a whole lot of open threes and layups.

And that’s where my first of few criticisms lay. Powell – bless your soul, Powell – played defence like he’s the kid in the outfield toiling with dandelions. He stood in no-person’s-land on rotations and gave up several backdoors or relocations on the weakside. He didn’t know, or forgot, what to do on off-ball actions. It was tough to watch and it reaffirmed how grandiose the defensive interoperability is among Freddy V, Siakam, OG, and Lowry to be able to hide Powell’s issues.

So, there was that, but there was also the issue of Mason Plumlee suddenly becoming Vlade Divac.  By the seven-minute mark, he already had three assists and finished the night with ten. Their pick and roll and double screen actions were much deadlier than ours, despite us having the better ballhandlers, simply because Plumlee’s playmaking ability after a roll unzipped any semblance of the Raptors defence.

Conversely, Baynes had some moments, but he bobbled passes and moved cumbersomely when he was able to hold on to a pass.

By the end of the quarter, Detroit was a volcanic 16/22 and Toronto 11/18. Trouble was, nine of those sixteen Detroit shots were threes.

Quote of the Night:  Jack Armstrong, on his own accord:

“Let’s go for 40. You know how much I love 40s.”

Do we, Jack? Do we..?

Norman was going for forty early. He was cooking. But the problem became apparent that Norm is – and may always be – just a scorer (his first assist came in the mid-fourth quarter). With Lowry off, and Norm and Boucher leaned on to keep the team afloat, their team offence cratered. Norm, Lowry, and Boucher scored nineteen of their twenty-three in the quarter.

The Pistons thankfully cooled from three, but bench guards Saben Lee and Rodney McGruder combined for fourteen points and four assists, getting whatever they wanted at the rim.

Our bench just couldn’t keep it together. Stanley Johnson jumped at everything that remotely resembled a shot and Matt Thomas was less than an impediment to penetration. The team also gave up six offensive boards. In the quarter, Johnson, DeAndre’ Bembry, Thomas, and Boucher were -8,-8, -6, and -6 respectively.

Only four Raptors scored in the first half; the rest were a combined 0-10.

Down nine, there was hope that the third quarter could resemble the first. Well, it did…for the Pistons. For the Raptors, it was a mouthful of dry crackers.

Detroit got back to banging threes (6/12 in the quarter; Ellington finished with eight for the game) and the Raptors sputtered. Powell kept rolling – he ended up shooting a supreme 14/20 for the game – but everyone else fell off.

Lowry started to look frustrated – he kicked Sekou Dembouya in the head (Jack euphemistically called it “gamesmanship”). His reliance on flow and, as Samson Folk said in our podcast yesterday, letting the ball come to him was not working. That was, in large part, because no one else was doing anything.

Bembry brightened up for a moment having a couple of sweet takes to the rim and precisely finding the open man, but that was it. Kyle’s only bucket came from a half-court heave at the end of the third quarter.

The fourth quarter was rather uneventful other than Sir Rodney McGruder talking some smack at Norm (which leads me to believe, Dear, Watson, that McGruder was the culprit in the first half when Norm got a tech squawking back at the Detroit bench). But, don’t worry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green already settled this:

Really, my only other, real criticism – other than my deeply suppressed, but burbling anger over Terence Davis’ game in its entirety [I’ll say no more] – was Kyle’s lack of aggression. I know it’s not his nature. But if there was one game, one night, one very anomalous situation where he could have gone Alpha-scorer, tonight was the night.

He admitted it as much in the post-game,

“I really could’ve shot a lot more. I shot 11 times but I wanted to play the right way just to keep everybody involved. I take a little bit of heat on myself because I should’ve shot more. I should’ve been more aggressive.”

Ya think? I get easing into it. Let Norman fry and see who else might get it going. He gave many a Raptor ample opportunity, as did Scariolo for that matter, but, at some point, Kyle needed to go Game Six-NBA-Finals mode and take over. The game was out-of-hand before he even had a chance to contemplate it.

Look, this was what it was. Little more than a summer league game or an inter-team scrimmage – almost a Team Ignite experience. A couple of veterans with a bunch of young’uns trying to establish themselves. I get that. I just really, really wanted someone to shine through. Anyone.

Most looked nervous. Thomas was hesitant until the second half. Yuta Watanabe rushed things and had such a meh start to the game that Scariolo cut nearly all of his second-half minutes. Terence…nevermind. Paul Watson and Stanley gave pretty much nothing.

Boucher had eighteen and eight, but I was surprised by that. I thought rookie, Isaiah Stewart, overpowered him at both ends of the court. A lot of Boucher’s points came from finishing other guys’ plays or putbacks.

But I mean, hey, like Scariolo said, “tonight was just not [the bench’s] night.”

It happens. There was a lot of pressure on them to perform and they didn’t. Only Thomas and Boucher scored, and Thomas’ points were mostly inconsequential.

For Detroit, it was their night. Sir McGruder had twenty points and five assists with two steals. Vanderbilt Rookie, Saban Lee, looked awesome; he had twenty and seven assists. And, Stewart put in six points, six rebounds, and two blocks. They stepped up; the Raptors did not.

That’s it. Forget it. Move on.

It was an unusual game in extremely unusual circumstances.

Toronto’s got to board a plane, fly to Boston, and battle the Celtics tomorrow night.

There’s no time to lament failed expectations.

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