In a sloppy, foul-filled affair, the Toronto Raptors (17-17) used another third quarter spark to pull away from a flawed Detroit Pistons squad for a 112-91 home win.
After shooting a meager 33.3% (16-48) in the first half, including just two made baskets over the final 8:35 of the second quarter, Toronto sprung to life immediately out of halftime. An 8-0 run in slightly more than a minute set the tone for what would go one to be a 34-20 third quarter and a 62-37 second half.
Although every Toronto starter scored in double digits, it was a solid bench effort that bailed out a foul-plagued Raptors' squad that finished with 30 fouls and six players sporting four or more personals.
The Four (Former) Kings
Their numbers don't exactly jump off the stat sheet, but the quartet of former Sacramento Kings that comprised the return in the Rudy Gay trade served as key contributors off the bench against the Pistons. All of John Salmons, Greivis Vasquez, Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson offered positive second unit production for a team that needed it, with Amir Johnson, Jonas Valanciunas, Kyle Lowry and Terrence Ross all dealing with foul trouble. Salmons did a bit of everything in guarding Brandon Jennings, handling the ball and making a pair of key shots (albeit missing six more), Vasquez stabilized the offence in the absence of Lowry, Hayes finished with seven rebounds while reminding some about what he does by diving to retrieve a ball headed out of bounds and Patterson continued to offer up reliable front court production.
In a game that features 56 combined fouls, you can bet that free throw shooting is going to be a factor. And when the difference in execution from the charity stripe is as pronounced as it was on Wednesday night, that's an awfully significant advantage for one team to have. The Raps made the most of their attempts, making 31-34 freebies, with Lowry (9-9) and DeMar DeRozan (13-16) leading the charge. On the other side of the court, you had the visiting Pistons making just 19 of their 35 chances (54.2%). The chief culprits in their free throw woes were Josh Smith (3-9) and Andre Drummond (2-6).
For those who noted the title of my "Bad" entry and reacted with the thought that winning ugly is still winning, that's exactly the point. Whether its fouls/free throw success or the hot/cold shooting, you can't discuss any of the weaker aspects of the Raptors' Wednesday night performance without at least acknowledging some of the positive returns. Sure, DeRozan and Johnson went 0-16 from the floor in the first half, but the two finished with 29 points and a combined +26 plus/minus mark. Yes, the club had some abysmal cold stretches, but they also scored 64 points off three-pointers and free throws. True, Drummond controlled the glass with 16 rebounds (five offensive), but he also finished a game-worst -24. In other words, when you win by 21 points, even "The Bad" can be "The Good".
You want random? How about this... Robin Lopez is apparently embroiled in a feud with the Raptor.
You could offer up a reasonable argument that any of Jennings, Smith, Drummond or Greg Monroe would represent an upgrade for anyone that the Raptors have at any of their respective positions. But as many predicted going into the season, chemistry and fit have been issues for the Pistons. The question now is whether they are issues that can be resolved. As talented as they are, it's difficult to foresee Jennings or Smith ceding shots or changing their games to allow their younger teammates to adapt.
This ever-important nine-game stretch continues with the Brooklyn Nets, who will be fresh off a date with the Miami Heat, visiting on Saturday (7:00pm, TSN2) on what is 'Drake Night'. For those wondering, the Raptors' Global Ambassador WILL NOT be performing on the night that bears his name.
Prediction: Raps 104, Nets 101 (19-7 this season)