The Detroit Pistons’ first game after a depressing loss to the Charlotte Hornets was a passport-required visit to the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors. During Dwane Casey’s heavily-discussed reunion, they trailed by as many as 19 points in the second half, gave up 70 points in the paint, shot 11-of-30 from three-point land, coughed up the ball 17 times, and last, but certainly not least, they left the North with an unfathomable 106-104 win.
It was, quite easily, the best watch since Blake Griffin’s 50-spot.
The Raptors had no answer for Griffin’s versatility, while Stanley Johnson comfortably answered each Kawhi Leonard question and Ish Smith ran circles around the step-slow Raptors’ defense. It was Dwane Casey’s night, and those three made it a night to remember.
The bulldozer did what bulldozers do.
Griffin’s 30 points, 12 rebounds, three assists and two eyebrow-raising blocks kept the Pistons alive, and within striking distance, despite not much else offered by his teammates for what seemed like an eternity.
The question is, how do you want it?
The Pistons version of “Big Three” shined down the stretch, but more importantly, their skill set started to finally mesh:
Leading to this misdirection:
It’s a building block and should be considered measurable progress.
It’s a back-and-forth battle (in which there are no winners) between Reggie Jackson and Stanley Johnson for the Pistons player who absorbs the most heat from the fanbase. Last night, though, there was nothing but high praise for Johnson, and rightfully so.
Johnson put the clamps on the Raptors All-Universe forward Kawhi Leonard in the fourth quarter:
Leonard scored seven fourth quarter points, but committed five (!) turnovers thanks in large part to the active and alert Stanley Johnson. I challenge you to find 42 more impressive Stanley-seconds from a single game than the compilation you just watched. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
If the assertive defense was the dessert, then the two late-game corner-threes were the delicious cherries on top:
It doesn’t matter that I don’t like cherries, because I did last night.
In total, 12 points, two threes, two steals in 22 minutes off the bench. Now DBB faithful, let me ask you this: his uptick in performance since joining the bench DOESN’T mean he’ll get rewarded with a starting spot, right? Right? It’s not a punishment to come off the bench, it’s a role.
Unfairly overshadowed in the lovefest for Griffin and Johnson was Ish Smith’s frantic, and much needed, push of the Pistons’ pace.
Eights points and five assists might not seem like much, but Smith’s roadrunner demeanor demanded the Raptors to retreat on defense at an exhausting rate:
I’m tired just watching.
Smith hounded Raptors’ ball-handlers and single-handedly nixed PNRs. His recovery from a ball-screen is an underrated but valued commodity:
About the smartest switch you’ll see on the perimeter:
At 7-6, the Pistons are who we thought they were.
Can they be more?