Somewhere around the middle of the third quarter it seemed to click in the collective minds of the Raptors.
Defend like we can, they appeared to think, and this game’s going to be over.
And so it was.
With about eight minutes of aggressive, ball-hawking, swarming, disruptive defence, the Raptors pulled away from the Detroit Pistons in front of a typically pro-Toronto crowd at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday night.
Toronto’s 112-99 win, their third in a row, became a near certainty during a run late in the third quarter when the Raptors simply clamped down defensively on the Pistons.
The Raptors outscored Detroit 26-15 in the third quarter — Serge Ibaka had 13 himself in the period to almost match the Pistons offensive output — and it allowed them to survive a lull that saw them go 2-for-15 from the floor in the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter.
The win did not come without significant cost, however.
Marc Gasol left after eight minutes with a strained left hamstring, and Norm Powell had to be helped to the locker room with about three minutes left after he hurt his left shoulder trying to fight through a Blake Griffin screen. Powell missed 21 games last season with a shoulder injury.
“It’s super-concerning,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters post-game. “It looked like he was in a lot of pain.”
It wasn’t a very smoothly played game by any stretch of the imagination, with the Raptors fighting foul trouble most of the game and the referees calling four technical fouls amid a series of befuddling whistles that took any flow out of the night. But in the end Toronto’s superior talent, and better defence, was the difference.
Kyle Lowry had the 15th triple-double of his career: 20 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds. Ibaka played extended minutes after Gasol went out and added a season-high 25 points, while Pascal Siakam chipped in a game-high 26.
- Limping off: Gasol lasted less than eight minutes of the first quarter before he sustained a sprained left hamstring and had to leave the game. The veteran centre pulled up lame going back down the court without getting hit and limped immediately to the locker room. Gasol had appeared in every game this season and is averaging 6.8 rebounds and 8.8 points.
“Those two guys are really in a nice groove right now,” Nurse said of Gasol and Powell. “A win with a heavy price.”
Any extended absence would put a severe strain on the Raptors frontcourt, which isn’t particularly big to begin with. Ibaka would move into the starting lineup, leaving only Chris Boucher and unproven rookie Dewan Hernandez as backups. The Raptors could use Siakam at centre in a small frontcourt with OG Anunoby or even Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in the other frontcourt spot.
- McCaw time: Patrick McCaw was once again the first backcourt player off the bench, replacing Lowry about eight minutes into the first quarter, as he continues to be a key piece for Nurse. McCaw may not fill up the offensive columns in the boxscore, but Nurse loves his defence and the intangible he provides. At six-foot-seven and athletic, McCaw can guard multiple positions and is a disruptive defensive force.
“He just goes out there and plays well,” Nurse said this week. “Even (Saturday) night when he was 1-for-7, that is one of my favourite nights. He goes 1-for-7 and I say he had a great game. He did. He is impactful. And he’s experienced now, right? He’s been around a little bit, and I think he’s started in the Finals at least once.
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“He’s got three rings. He’s on his way to catching Bill Russell,” the coach added, joking about the 11-time NBA champion centre of the Boston Celtics.
- Up next: The Raptors are back home to face the Washington Wizards at Scotiabank Arena on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
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