TORONTO — With Allen Iverson watching in the locker-room, the short-handed Detroit Pistons exposed some holes in the Toronto Raptors’ lineup.
Tayshaun Prince had 27 points to lead the Pistons to a 100-93 win over the Raptors on Wednesday.
Chris Bosh had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Jose Calderon contributed 24 points and eight assists and Andrea Bargnani kicked in 12 points off the bench.
But otherwise, no one else on the Raptors was particularly effective.
"We didn’t get that third scorer to really step in and score enough for us," head coach Sam Mitchell said. "First three games, we’ve had that."
A win would have given the Raptors (3-1) their best start in franchise history. Afterwards, they seemed convinced that the game was within reach.
"If we just played a little bit better, maybe we could have won the game," Mitchell said.
Added Calderon: "We’ve got to get better, and that’s it."
If he had played, Iverson might have had a field day with these Raptors.
The 33-year-old former MVP, traded to Detroit from the Nuggets on Monday for guard Chauncey Billups, forward Antonio McDyess and project Cheikh Samb, couldn’t play because Billups had yet to travel to Denver for his physical.
The Raptors had a hard enough time containing the Pistons’ other guards.
Rodney Stuckey started at the point and haunted Calderon all night long, getting into paint at will and finishing with 14 points. Richard Hamilton added 22 points and, along with Prince, played lockdown defence on Toronto’s wings.
"Rip and Tayshaun, they just kicked our butts," Mitchell said.
With 2:02 left, Calderon nailed a 21-footer to cut Detroit’s lead to 92-88. But after the teams traded stops, Prince hit a tricky hook shot in the lane to put Detroit up 94-88.
It was just one of many seemingly unlikely shots that Prince managed to coerce through the basket.
"Tayshaun wasn’t missing a shot, man," Raptors forward Jamario Moon said. "He was on tonight. You’ve got to give him credit, take your hat off to him, he played a good game."
So did Bosh. While he typically struggles against Detroit, hard-nosed Pistons forward Rasheed Wallace was lined up against Toronto’s Jermaine O’Neal, leaving Bosh free to attack an error-prone Amir Johnson.
Jason Maxiell was also ineffective on Bosh. Early in the fourth, Bosh blew past him for a thunderous dunk that had the Air Canada Centre crowd of 18,602 on their feet.
But he didn’t have enough help.
For his part, O’Neal said he was frustrated that he couldn’t step up.
"I’m a little upset about it, because this is a game where the team really needed me to score," said O’Neal, who finished with eight points and three rebounds on 30 per cent shooting..
O’Neal is clearly struggling. Though the six-foot-11, 265-pounder brings a presence on the defensive end that the Raptors haven’t seen for a long time, he has yet to find his offensive game. After scoring 17 points in the season opener against Philadelphia, he has 24 points in the last three games combined.
"I’m just struggling, and we’ve been able to win games without me scoring," O’Neal said. "And then a night like tonight, where the team needed some baskets late in the game, and I wasn’t able to do it."
Mitchell preached patience with the big man.
"He’s doing a lot of good things, but he’s just still finding his way offensively," Mitchell said. "It’s going to take time."
Added Bosh: "To me, he’s an all-star player. We need to feed him the ball like he is, no matter what’s happening."
The Pistons might soon face a similar problem — integrating Iverson into a team that seems to be firing on all cylinders.
"They have been playing together for a long time and you put A.I. in there, he is a good player but at the same time he has to get his timing down with the rest of the guys," Bosh said.
If O’Neal struggled with timing, he still brought some much-needed physicality against a tough Pistons team.
Detroit led by as many as 16 points in the third quarter before Toronto ramped up their defence and clawed their way back in the game.
But this was Pistons basketball all the way — methodical and chippy. With punishing efficiency, the team hit dagger after dagger while getting big stops when needed at the defensive end.
Though he finished with only 11 points and 12 rebounds, Wallace was his usual chatty self, trash-talking with the Raptors and trying to goad them into making mistakes, while also hitting some huge shots when needed.
And he occasionally succeeded in getting under the Raptors’ skin. With 7:29 remaining in the third quarter, O’Neal tossed his headband to the ground after the referees failed to call a foul on Wallace.
Wallace, chiding O’Neal further, hollered skyward after drilling a three a couple plays later.
The volatile forward engaged Bargnani, too.
At one point in the second quarter, Wallace turned to Mitchell and warned: "You’d better get (Bargnani) off of me."
But the Italian forward more than held his own. When Wallace hit a 27-foot three-pointer to put the Pistons up 81-77 in the fourth, Bargnani immediately answered with a three-pointer of his own. The next time down the floor, Bargnani pressured Wallace into hoisting up an air ball.
He also registered a resounding block on a running jumper from Hamilton, but deflected the ball back to Wallace, who drilled the open shot.
"They got a couple breaks, and they executed them," Bosh said.
NOTES: Iverson ranks first all-time in scoring against the Raptors with 1,096 points. He’s also tops in steals (77) and third in assists (224). … Reserve guard Will Solomon played for the first time this season, checking in for Calderon at 1:29 of the first quarter. Solomon finished with four points and three assists. "I thought Will did fine," Mitchell said. … Bosh had four offensive rebounds to pass Antonio Davis and move into first place on the franchise’s career offensive rebound list with 969. Bosh is also the franchise leader in defensive and total rebounds.