With a grind-it-out victory over the Detroit Pistons, the Toronto Raptors are suddenly on a four-game winning streak for the first time since November 2010.
What’s even zanier? They’re doing it without two of their best players.
While Andrea Bargnani and Kyle Lowry continue to sit on the bench in suits, recovering from their respective injuries, the Raptors are playing their best team basketball of the season and it’s paying off in the wins category.
While the game against the Pistons wasn’t the prettiest basketball you’ll ever see — aside from Jose Calderon’s 17 assists, including 10 in the first quarter — it was another night where the team played together and found a way to win down the stretch as the Pistons tried to rally late.
Even more important than the victory are the performances the team is getting from key reserves. In the four games since Alan Anderson has returned from a foot injury that kept him out of the lineup for 17 straight games, the team is a perfect 4-0. John Lucas is finding his rhythm and rookie Terrence Ross looks comfortable.
After a disastrous start to the season, was worse than anyone could have imagined, the team has their roughest stretch of the schedule behind them and are taking advantage of the time at home against other struggling opponents. Even more, they sound like they believe in each other and are playing like it too.
Greg Monroe scored a career-high 35 points for the Pistons and Detroit also grabbed as many offensive rebounds (22) as defensive rebounds. Still, the Raptors found a way to win.
With a four-point advantage and less than a minute on the clock, it was Amir Johnson playing on an ankle that had just been re-taped who forced a turnover on Rodney Stuckey. Toronto made their free throws down the stretch, connecting on all six of their attempts in the final 25 seconds to seal the victory.
The Alan Anderson effect
It started out as a joke, but in all seriousness, this team plays much better when Anderson is in uniform and available to be on the floor. While he’s usually being credited for his work on the defensive end of the floor, he’s been getting buckets in his first four games back too. Against the Pistons, he scored 16 points off of the bench, adding three rebounds, an assist and two steals in 26 minutes. Most importantly, Anderson hit two back-to-back threes midway through the fourth quarter that bumped the Raptor lead from five to 11.
Jose Calderon’s success as a starter
It’s been discussed before, but Calderon has been a huge part of the past four victories for the Raptors…while playing the role of starter. With 17 assists (and only two turnovers) — just two off the Raptors franchise record that Calderon currently holds with Damon Stoudamire — Calderon has again led the way for the Raptors on the offensive end of the floor.
Yes, the Raptors got the victory against the Pistons, but rebounding was a definite concern as the Pistons outrebounded Toronto 44-33 with a 22-9 edge on the offensive glass.
Amir Johnson’s ankle
In the air for an offensive rebound, Amir Johnson came down on Greg Monroe’s foot and rolled his ankle. It was the same ankle he injured against the Grizzlies in Memphis that he had an MRI on two weeks ago. After the game he received extensive treatment before hobbling gingerly to his locker. He expressed regret about the injury and said that the ankle was just starting to feel better from the Memphis sprain. The team will have an off-day tomorrow following the back-to-back, but Johnson had already set up extra treatment sessions and was hopeful that he will be available for Friday.
Sharing the ball and playing a team game
Since the return home, the Raptors have been moving the ball much more and it’s paying off. In addition to Calderon’s 17 assists, the team had 26 assists as a whole on 35 made field goals. The ball is moving and the reward is open shots. What’s even more impressive is that the team is taking care of the ball. Despite making the extra pass all night, Toronto had just six turnovers as a team.