BAD BOY DINOS DEFENCE
Toronto went into Detroit and put on a “Bad Boys”-like performance. Toronto was by far the more physical and defensively engaged team. The Raptors scored 22 points off turnovers thanks to great perimeter defence by Cory Joseph, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross, Norman Powell and Kyle Lowry. In contrast Detroit had just three fast-break points because Toronto hustled back on defence. The defence struggled at the outset but turned it on following the lead of the second unit as Toronto held Detroit under 44 per cent field goal shooting in each of the last three quarters. The Pistons, whose offence is predicated on three pointers, was held to 28.6 per cent from beyond the arc. In recent days Toronto’s coaching staff has stressed close-out technique on three-point shots and for at least a night it paid off.
RAPTORS’ ROAD WARRIORS TRAVEL
Toronto improved to 17-10 on the road and 24-8 against the East — both numbers bode well for the Raptors come playoff time. The other factor that will help Toronto’s playoff hopes is how its crowd travels. Once again, “We the North” nation travelled south and took over the Palace of Auburn Hills. “Let’s go Raptors” was heard early when the game was close and “We want Bruno” was heard when the game was out of reach. It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Raptors will play Detroit in the first round of the playoffs. If they pass that test they could very well see Boston, and if Toronto finds its way to the Eastern conference final it’ll likely face Cleveland — all destinations Raptors fans will be able to get to in droves.
TERRENCE ROSS’S TORONTO RAPTORS
Terrence Ross came out aggressive scoring 10 points in his first 13 minutes on 4-of-5 shooting. Ross finished with another strong outing, putting up 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting while grabbing four rebounds. Ross has scored in double figures eight times in the last 11 games and the Raptors are 15-4 when he scores 10 or more. The Raptors are just 2-4 in games that Ross hasn’t played. This would have been crazy to say a month or so ago but the Raptors go as Terrence Ross goes.
This game was referendum on the move GM Masai Ujiri made in the off-season and the one he may or may not make at the trade deadline. Cory Joseph has been a revelation, and his 15 points on 7-of-9 shooting combined with his stifling defence gave him a plus-24 in 24 minutes against Detroit. Many thought Joseph was overpaid and overrated strictly based off his Canadian passport, but he’s turned out to be Ujiri’s best off-season acquisition by far. The last player left from Ujiri’s last trade deadline deal with Sacramento in 2014 is Patrick Patterson. He’s rumoured to be a possible Raptor in play as Toronto looks to upgrade the four spot. Patterson was plus-23 on just 3-of-4 shooting from the floor. Not many players can affect the game without taking shots but Patterson has become an elite screener, above average passer and much improved defender. Playing against Marcus Morris, Patterson made a statement that he didn’t want to be traded for Marcus’s brother Markieff. Both players have been maligned at times but their intangibles can’t be overlooked or understated.
Despite being much more competitive than they were last year the New York Knicks have fired head coach Derek Fisher after five straight losses and dropping nine of 10. Phil Jackson’s long time confidant, Kurt Rambis, takes over as interim coach. Fisher was one of Jackson’s favourite players and is referenced favourably in his books. Nobody expected New York to be much better than its 23-31 record, but Fisher had never coached a game in his life before he was given a five-year contract worth $25 million. His off-season altercation with Memphis Grizzlies’ Matt Barnes while away from the Knicks during training camp visiting Barnes’ estranged wife in California didn’t help the optics for the struggling coach. With Fisher out, the “Zen Master” will look to get ahead of the Lakers in the impending sweepstakes for his former player and current Warriors assistant Luke Walton. Why does this matter to Raptors fans? Toronto will receive the Denver Nuggets’ or Knicks’ first-round pick, depending on which team finishes with a better record. The Knicks, who boast the 10th worst record in the league, are ahead of Denver by two games in the standings. The Knickerbockers could very well go further into freefall with the added instability.
This run is no longer a fluke — the Toronto Raptors have won 14 of their last 15 games.