By Lindsay Dunn
What a difference a day makes. After giving up a 123 points in a loss to the Thunder at home, the Raptors rolled into Detroit and held the Pistons to just 75 points for the 12 point win. Now that’s how it was envisioned Toronto would play after acquiring PJ Tucker and Serge Ibaka at the trade deadline. Stifling defense that held the Pistons to just 9 fourth quarter points.
The Toronto Raptors have been terrible in back-to-back sets this season as they headed into Detroit for the back-half of their most recent set after getting embarrassed by the Thunder the night before. An 8-8 record in the front half of back-to-backs had been followed by 6-9 the next night as Toronto has been blitzed for over 120 points in these sets seven times this season. After Thursday’s game head coach Dwane Casey felt the need to apologize and the players had a team meeting to hash out their feelings.
“I want to apologize to our fans to everybody tonight about the way we played tonight,” uttered coach Casey after the loss to the Thunder on Thursday night.
The final score flattered Toronto as at one point the Raptors were down by as much as 32 points.
“We had a chat,” a politically correct DeMar DeRozan said postgame. “It’s a simple as that. We expressed to one another our thoughts and that is that.”
Coach Casey wasn’t as reserved with his words. “That exhibition of basketball was unacceptable. The effort, the competitive spirit wasn’t there. That team came out and played like it was a championship game. We played like it was a mid season game and again it is not acceptable.”
The Raptors shot poorly as a team, but it was allowing Mr. Triple-Double Russell Westbrook freewheel his way to his 34th of the season with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 16 assists that really hurt.
One of the few highlights of the game involved a Raptor, but wasn’t a highlight many Raptors fans would like to watch again. Westbrook made a half-court pass that went through Cory Joseph’s legs and connected with Victor Oladipo who put it in the basketball with a layup. “I just saw him and Taj running,” Westbrook told Pro Bball Report. “ I saw them running all night and I passed the ball and it got through some traffic.”
A hard-nosed defensive specialist, Tucker has quickly become a vocal leader on the Raptors and he didn’t hold back his feelings after the game.
‘We can’t have efforts like this,” Tucker said. “It’s not about making shots it’s about us having competitive spirit and playing all these games like playoff games.”
“A lot of people talked,” Tucker said about the players only meeting. “It was a good conversation. Enough talking though. We have 14 games left it’s time to put it to action. It’s time for guys to go out and show that we care and that we care about each other and we want to do something special here. We have the team to do it.”
The Raptors offense was missing-in-action to start the game in Detroit, but the Toronto’s much maligned of late starting unit wasn’t about to let this game get away. The Pistons were held to just one field goal for almost six minutes to start the game and only 13 points in the first quarter.
Tucker has been preaching defense since his arrival in Toronto and he’s been in the ear of Raptors All-Star DeMar DeRozan. It must be working too. DeRozan may have played his best defensive game (ever?) in the win over Detroit.
“I talk too much,” Tucker had explained soon after coming to Toronto. “Defense is half talking. Serge (Ibaka) talks, DeMarre (Carroll) talks, DeMar doesn’t talk as much, but I got him talking a little bit. I think the more (DeMar) starts talking on defense too, we’ll be even better. Once he gets comfortable with it.”
DeRozan was looking pretty intense on defense in Detroit and it’s doubtful if Tucker really cares if it was comfortable. All Tucker cares about is the win.
Lindsay Dunn has been a TV sports and entertainment reporter for the past decade. She is currently based in Toronto and covers the local scene including the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayDunnTV