The Toronto Raptors notched their 36th victory of the season on Wednesday night in a 101-87 win against the Detroit Pistons. It wasn’t a particularly pretty game. Neither team shot well. Each team turned the ball over 16 times.
Still, it was an important victory for Toronto because the team is in the home stretch of a playoff run with 19 games remaining. This is new territory for some of these players. They’re learning as they go with Raptors head coach Dwane Casey leading the way.
“A lot of our guys haven’t been there,” Casey said. “I’ve always preached that it’s a different animal. I hope they’re enjoying this, but still understand how hard it is getting there first. And after getting there, it’s even harder.”
One thing that makes everything easier is depth. Whether it’s surviving a key piece like Patrick Patterson being out, or providing a boost when the team needs a spark plug off the bench, depth is a necessary ingredient for any playoff run.
This season Toronto has been led by the play of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, but their teammates continue to fill in the blanks around them. DeRozan scored a game-high 25 points against the Pistons while Lowry finished with 19 points and six assists. Amir Johnson pieced together a 20-point, nine-rebound performance, as he has been finding his way back to being Mr. Dependable for the Raptors.
The highlight for Toronto was the play of Jonas Valanciunas. Matched up against Andre Drummond, the pair make up two of the most promising young big men in the game. While Valanciunas has been up and down this season and he continues to develop his game, he was able to pull down a game-high 13 rebounds. The team as a whole concentrated on controlling the boards— and limiting Drummond, who is averaging 13 per game.
Against the Raptors, Drummond scored 16 points, but was held to nine rebounds. Toronto outrebounded Detroit 54-39 on the night.
“We definitely had to box out,” Johnson said. “Drummond’s numbers are incredible. I think he has almost 350 offensive rebounds. He averages about five a game. Looking at all of the stats, that was definitely the key of the game: to get those guys off of the boards.”
In addition to Valanciunas and Johnson doing work on the glass, the Raptors remained focused on the game plan when their second unit came into the game.
“I thought the guards came back in and did a good job of helping out,” Casey said. “Putting a body on guys, sandwiching their bigs, and cleaning up the lane. I know Greivis Vasquez had eight rebounds and all of those were defensive. He did a great job coming back and helping on the defensive boards.”
Chuck Hayes also hauled down eight rebounds for Toronto to limit Detroit’s second chance opportunities.
“We had a day off and we knew that Detroit had a back-to-back so we definitely wanted to emphasize our energy,” Johnson said. “We went over our scouting report and our keys were to box out, and push the tempo.”
With 19 games remaining and a locker room full of contributing players willing to follow their coach’s lead, it wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing win on Wednesday night, but it was a good one.