Given Detroit's struggles to find a reliable backup point guard this year, it's almost painful to see the type of player that Mike James has become with the Raptors. He kept pace with MVP candidate Chauncey Billups all night on Wednesday, finishing with 24 points and 11 assists with one steal; Billups, meanwhile, finished with 26 and 10. Both were red-hot from outside -- James went 5-of-7 on his threes; Billups, 4-of-4.
But while the individual battle was close, the team battle was decidedly in Detroit's favor for much of the night. Toronto played hard and did their best to get back in the game whenever the Pistons threatened to pull away, but in the end they couldn't overcome the Pistons' knack for making a timely stop (11, count 'em, 11 blocks) or hitting a timely three-pointer (nailing 10-14 as a team)
Case in point: Antonio McDyess missed a free throw in the closing seconds of the first half, but the Pistons emerged with the offensive rebound and capitalized with a Tayshaun Prince three-pointer at the buzzer. Had the Raptors rebounded and capitalized with a quick score, they could have entered haltime with a mere three-point deficit; instead, Detroit enjoyed an eight-point lead. It was right then that you pretty much got the feeling that the breaks just weren't going to be there for the Raptors all night.
Tayshaun Prince tallied 21 points with six boards, one assist, one steal and a couple of blocks. I've really liked what I've seen from him in recent games. He's not just settling for jump shots (though he's making his fair share, including 2-3 from three-point land against the Raptors), but he's also making a concerted effort, especially early in games, to get in the lane. He's obviously not much of a banger in the paint, but with his long arms, he's a beast to defend once he gets down low.
Rasheed Wallace was relatively quiet with 10 points, but he made his presence known with eight boards and two blocks. He missed both of his three-point attempts but went 5-of-8 on his two-point tries. It can't be understated just how effective he can be when he posts up on a regular basis, a message he's apparently taking to heart by attempting five or fewer treys in his last four games. (I know what you're thinking -- five three-point attempts is still a lot, right? Well, it is, but it's nothing compared to those games he has now and then when he attempts nine, 10, 11 or more)
Another big story has to be Flip Saunders' dedication to finding a solid rotation. Instead of spreading the minutes thin between Antonio McDyess, Tony Delk, Maurice Evans, Lindsey Hunter and Carlos Delfino, Saunders opted to simply give the first three extended minutes.
McDyess (who saw even more playing time when Rasheed got into foul trouble) played 33 minutes, scoring 16 points and grabbing six boards, not to mention two steals and two blocks. Delk shot just 4-11 from the field but 3-4 from long distance to finish with 11 points in 22 minutes. He also grabbed four boards with four assists with a steal and a block. Like Ian, I've warmed up to him. I don't buy him as a playmaker who can get everyone involved like a true backup point guard should, but he's tenacious on defense and dangerous from long-range.
As for Evans, well, I still grind my teeth whenever I see him play more than Delfino. In 16 minutes, he scored just two points with a couple of boards and two dimes. He never complete stuck out as a liability, but who will with teammates like his? I don't think he has nearly the same polish on either side of the ball as Delfino. Evans has played a combined 52 minutes the last three games, and all he has to show for it is six points and six rebounds. In that same span, Delfino has played all of 14 minutes and tallied eight points.
Am I missing some kind of intangible that Evans brings to the table? Has my thinly-veiled admiration for Delfino's game blinded me to some type of glaring weakess in his game compared to Evans? Please, enlighten me in the comments.
Chris Bosh, who abused the Pistons for 37 points in the last meeting, was held to 15 points on 6-18 shooting. He did contribute 11 boards (including five offensive rebounds) and a couple of blocks, but he wasn't nearly the horse he was before. The difference? Saunders put Ben Wallace on Bosh for most of the game.
The Pistons have a day off on Thursday before traveling to New York on Friday and Charlotte on Saturday. Usually those back-to-backs are a little scary, but those are two of the most winnable road games the Pistons will have all year.