Dalano Banton had 27 points to lead the way, but it was a full team effort to ward off a late Pistons run.
Dalano Banton, making just his second career start, led all scorers with 27 points on 9-for-16 shooting, also adding five rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks.
The win improves the Raptors to 8-7, while the Pistons continue a learning year — and one that will surely see them in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes — as they now sit at 3-12 and at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Banton was the headline for Toronto tonight. Deservedly so, too, as he played an all-out 25 minutes of cutting and pushing the tempo. The win, however, came as a total team effort for the Raptors.
With Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr. and Precious Achiuwa all sitting out, and Otto Porter Jr. missing the second half with left foot soreness, Nick Nurse got all 11 available players into the action. Unexpectedly, it was the Raptors bench who picked up serious offensive slack. Chris Boucher started 5-for-5 from the field on his way to 20 points in 31 minutes, while Malachi Flynn was steady for 12 points, four assists and three rebounds. Toronto’s bench outscored Detroit’s 55-41, a huge win for a team coming in with their skeleton crew.
Leading the Pistons, meanwhile, was Jaden Ivey. Thanks to a sensational fourth quarter, the flashy fifth overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft finished with 21 points, eight assists and four rebounds — ably leading the team with Cade Cunningham sidelined. Bojan Bogdanovic chipped in 18, while Marvin Bagley had 16 and five rebounds.
Despite alluding pre-game to either Christian Koloko or a now-healthy Khem Birch being the starting centre, Nick Nurse decided to go with Banton in Gary Trent Jr.’s usual spot. The result was an all Vision 6-9 starting unit (6-8 to be precise), with Banton joining Scottie Barnes, OG Anunoby, Otto Porter Jr., and Thad Young.
Those five set the tone of the game with a frenetic defensive opening. Two steals in the first two Detroit possessions went the other way for Raptors baskets, and that was swiftly followed by a whole lot of Banton — who had his hands on the basketball a lot for being the last addition to the starting unit.
It wasn’t all great, as the Rexdale native also had two turnovers in the quarter, but his combination of cutting and pushing — even earning a 1-on-3 basket to cut into an early Pistons lead — kept an anemic shooting lineup racking up points. A Dalano three midway through the first gave Toronto a 15-14 lead, which they followed up with an 8-0 run late in the frame to head into the second up 27-23. The Raps would shoot 50% in the frame, and Banton had nine of his game total 27 points.
With the bench trickling in, it was Chris Boucher who made the next statement. As a rare midrange step back illustrated, Boucher was given some freedom with his offensive game and thankfully capitalized. A three-pointer from Chris made it 41-32, but it was finally time for Detroit to muster a response.
A 10-4 Pistons run midway through the quarter came as the result of strong rebounding. Against a frontline of Birch, Boucher and Juancho Hernangomez, burly bodies like Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren started to feast on put backs. Detroit would get back within four, but Nurse subbed Birch out (he played just four minutes) and the Raptors bounced back.
Speaking of bounce!
The dunk of the season contender from OG, who was sensational throughout (more on that later), sparked the Raptors to a 58-51 halftime lead.
With Porter ruled out during the break, Toronto came into the third quarter with just ten available players — but still were able to put the hammer down with their rangy starters.
A Banton steal-and-score ended a 7-0 run to start the second half, forcing a Pistons timeout. While Detroit would chip away after, Anunoby really started to put his fingerprints on the game. Through an array of bullying moves — post-ups, back-downs and straight line drives — he buried himself into the offensive paint to wrestle momentum back. As OG led the second unit, a Malachi Flynn triple with 1:47 left in the third stretched Toronto’s margin back to 86-72.
Of course, though, the Pistons would make a game of it in the fourth and put a nice scare into the Dwane Casey curse believers. Jaden Ivey started to hunt mismatches — first, Malachi Flynn; later, Scottie Barnes — and either scored himself or found open teammates. An Ivey transition dunk cut Toronto’s lead to seven, and further gaffes on the offensive end for the Raptors allowed Detroit to come back further. Dribble penetration was an issue all quarter, as the Pistons would get as close as one point, until the waning moments of the game.
With less than two minutes left, Nurse brought 11th man Jeff Dowtin Jr. back into the game — four points in 15 minutes tonight — and assigned him to Jaden Ivey. The result was just what the Raptors needed: two successive stops at the end, keeping Ivey outside of the paint, holding Toronto’s lead at two possessions. A scary open three for Bogdanovic made it close, but Dowtin’s last stop came on Detroit’s last possession, sealing the win.
Now, some thoughts.
OG is a monster
We knew this, right? Still, if you only watched OG Anunoby tonight and ignored everything else around him, you’d be left in amazement — these were 37 tough ass minutes.
The box score did OG’s game dirty, showing just two blocks and no steals. Make no mistake, though, the defensive story of the game was Anunoby’s continuous disruption — mostly through deflections or score-saving blocks.
This is an impressive enough play on its face, but an off-hand swat across the offensive player’s body just as he takes off? That’s grown man strength at full speed.
I already touched on OG’s offense, and a 6-for-19 outing won’t jump out at you. He got to the line for seven free throw attempts, though, and made sure the Pistons were worried about him by bullying their bigs at the rim — especially in the third quarter.
With more and more attention sent OG’s way as the game went on, Banton and Thad Young were afforded space to score, cut and pass effectively in crunch time. This was the superstar showing the Raptors needed with four starting-level players on the injury report, and kudos to OG for providing it.
Now, on the other hand...
Scottie disappearing again
The conversation about whether Scottie Barnes (eight points, five rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes tonight) is injured or just not playing well isn’t that interesting, and he’ll almost assuredly be better than he is now as the season progresses. The Raptors need to help him out, though.
For five fourth quarter minutes, Barnes was put on an island guarding Ivey on the perimeter, and was blown by every single time. On offense, he consistently faded into the dunker spot when not given the ball early in the shot clock, and had two critical fourth quarter turnovers when the play was for him.
Part of this is fairly on Scottie to be more aggressive and keep a consistent effort while on the floor. The cracks in how he’s used are starting to show too, though, and it’s something to watch as Barnes tries to break out of his current slump.
Thad Young, glue guy
I’ll finish with another player whose game absolutely sung tonight, even if it didn’t show up in the box score.
Since Nurse bumped him from DNP-CDs into the starting unit, Young has once again proven his role on this team. Without a true point guard in the starting lineup, the Raptors used Thad as an almost Tim Duncan-esque high post creator tonight. His creative passes to cutters and skip passes to shooters from that position were beautiful, and necessary, for the Raptors tonight — as he totaled four assists to go with six points and six boards.
Thad won’t always be a 26-minute per night player, but odds are that when the games get more important — just like last season — he’s going to be on the floor more. The fact you always know what you’re getting, even if it doesn’t jump off the page, is a nice warm blanket.