The Toronto Raptors (32-15) won their 11th straight game on Saturday night over the Detroit Pistons, although it wasn’t quite the comfortable romp that some of their previous triumphs have been. What was a 20-point lead at the midway point of the fourth quarter thanks to one of the Raptors’ customary surges in the final frame soon dwindled to just four points as the Pistons refused to go away and the home side took their foot off the gas. However, Toronto did just enough to keep Detroit from making it a one-possession affair and held on for a 111-107 victory.
The Pistons could easily have called it a day after the Raps jumped out on a 17-6 run to open the fourth and Andre Drummond was hit with a technical upon his exit from the game after fouling out. But it was the Raptors who got a little too casual over the final half of the fourth, as Brandon Jennings scored eight points and Aron Baynes notched seven while leading the visitors on a 29-13 run the rest of the way. Thankfully for the Raps, the hottest team in the NBA had already compiled a significant lead on the strength of an aggressive attack that resulted in 47 free throws and 29 points on 10-21 shooting from DeMar DeRozan.
Still, a win is a win, and the Raps have now cobbled together 11 of them in a row, including a clean sweep of their seven-game home stand. After having reached new heights by franchise standards, the win streak has now veered into the wider territory of Toronto professional sports, matching the biggest win streak in Blue Jays history and surpassing any that the Leafs, Argos, Rock or Toronto FC have ever achieved. Remarkably, as heard on last night’s TV broadcast, the Raps have now equaled their win total against above .500 opposition from last season.
Drummond vs Biyombo
If previous battles between Drummond and Jonas Valanciunas were any indication of how Saturday would go, the Lithuanian big man would need help in stopping Detroit’s man beast. Fortunately for JV, help came in the form of both foul trouble and Bismack Biyombo. While foul issues limited Drummond to under 28 somewhat passive minutes, it was Biyombo who really neutralized the soon-to-be first-time All-Star. Biyombo posted 12 points and 13 rebounds in 21:10 of floor time, gaining a slight edge over the 11 points and 12 boards from Drummond despite playing more than six fewer minutes. He also significantly outdid Drummond, who finished well below his season averages of 17.2 points and 15 rebounds, in plus/minus (+15 to -18) and free throws (6-8 compared to an agonizing 1-9) while registering three blocks to just two by the UConn product.
Getting to the line
The All-Stars represented in Saturday’s game highlighted the biggest disparity present between the clubs. Where DeRozan and Kyle Lowry carried their typical free throw proficiency to a combined 18-22 performance from the line, Drummond’s 1-9 showing dragged down the overall effort of his team, which has struggled from the charity stripe all year long. The Raptors made 35 of their 47 freebie attempts (74.5%), leading to foul trouble for Drummond, Baynes and rookie Stanley Johnson. Meanwhile, Detroit made just 20 of 34 tries (58.8%), further lowering their NBA-low free throw percentage to 64.8%.
Detroit never actually wound up with a chance to go ahead late in Saturday’s game, but how dramatically the tide turned over the last six minutes wasn’t lost on Dwane Casey. “We have to make sure we value playing at home and treating our fans to quality basketball, but that last quarter wasn’t quality,” Casey said blunty after the game. “You give up 35 points, and turnovers and lack of focus, human nature letting human nature take over down the stretch is not winning basketball.”
Toronto has now played every team in the Eastern Conference this season, and the results are pretty promising. They’ve beaten every club but the third-place Chicago Bulls (incidentally, Cleveland has also beaten all but Chicago) and own a 23-8 record within the Conference.
It’s not online, but Toronto Life offered its readers a nice little peak inside Drake’s Sher Club in its latest issue, showcasing the flashy, ACC-located, member’s only lounge while also name-dropping some of its esteemed denizens. On Saturday, with Drake in the house, the Global Ambassador was reportedly hosting a group that included former UFC champion Rashad Evans in the club named for Drake’s maternal grandparents.
Not every win streak can forge on into double digits. The Raptors 905 mark was stopped at six games thanks to a 100-83 loss to the Erie Bayhawks one night after a 132-127 Friday night win over the Delaware 87ers. Against Delaware, Ronald Roberts exploded for a monstrous 27-point, 21-rebound effort to lead the 905-ers. On Saturday, Melvin Johnson III (22 points) and Bruno Caboclo (19 points) stood out, but they proved no match for Brampton native Melvin Ejim (27 points), Adreian Payne (26 points, 11 rebounds) and the Bayhawks.
It may sound crazy right now, but you could make an argument for the Detroit Pistons being better built as a long-term playoff threat than the Raptors right now. Hear me out – for as well-built as Toronto is right now, it’s hard to foresee DeRozan or Lowry getting much better than they currently are, and it’s not as though young talents like Biyombo and Cory Joseph, as good as they are, profile out to budding superstars (we shall see, Bruno, we shall see). In Detroit, you have a young core led by the dominant Drummond and explosive Reggie Jackson (where he was in the fourth quarter on Saturday, we don’t know) and including young talents in Johnson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. You could see head coach Stan Van Gundy configuring his club in the image of his former Finals-reaching Orlando Magic, with Drummond playing the Dwight Howard role surrounded by a bevy of shooters in Jackson, KCP, Brandon Jennings and others.
Sluggish finish, tough travel and a sneakily feisty opponent who have already beaten the Raps once this year could spell a tricky outing in Denver against the Nuggets on Monday night (9:00pm, SN1).
Prediction: Nuggets 106, Raps 100 (record this season: 28-18)