TORONTO (NBA.com exclusive) -- On a night when the Toronto Raptors honored Charles Oakley and Alvin Williams, two of the toughest players to ever wear Raptors uniforms, the current squad showed they have some grit of their own and depth within their bench as they hung on late to take down the Detroit Pistons, 110-99.
"Our bench was outstanding," coach Jay Triano said. "I thought that they came in, they gave us energy, they ran up and down the floor, they got us stops and deflections. That was some of the best basketball that group has played."
While it was the Ben Gordon show early --12 points in the first quarter and 21 by halftime -- the Raptors trailed by as many as nine in the opening period before Triano went to his bench, leaving Andrea Bargnani as the sole starter on the court. An energetic lineup of Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli, Jarrett Jack, Antoine Wright and Bargnani resulted in a 27-8 Toronto run, a franchise record 44-point second quarter and a 12-point halftime lead.
That lead would evaporate in the fourth, with the Pistons coming back from a 17-point hole to take a 91-90 lead on a reverse layup by Will Bynum (16 points) with 7:52 left. On the Pistons' next possession, a questionable foul was called on Jack. When Jason Maxiell stepped up to the foul line and missing both free throws, former Piston Rasheed Wallace's catchprase "ball don't lie" came to mind.
After trailing by two, the Raptor defense went to work, with Bargnani (22 points and a career-high 12 rebounds) getting blocks on consecutive possessions as the Raptors hustled for loose balls, offensive rebounds and tip-ins. It paid off.
Jack and Wright were two of the biggest catalysts of change. Almost immediately upon the insertion of Wright into the lineup, the dribble-penetration of Gordon, Rodney Stuckey and Bynum was halted. In addition to his defense, Wright scored 12 points for the Raptors while Jack did a little bit of everything on both ends of the court.
Even as the Pistons in the midst of their comeback run, Triano said Wright passed on his chance to get back into the game. Wright told Triano to instead stick with the lineup that was working.
"I want to win," Wright said. "My whole career I've been on winning teams and I know what it takes. I've been on a team with guys who've given themselves up. When you've got a unit out there like Jack and Jose [Calderon] rolling, I said 'Coach, keep them out there.' They're doing everything they need to do, so keep them out there to keep the momentum."
In practice this week, Jack has been coming in early and staying late to watch game tape as he tries to figure out how he could help more on offense. He told the media to look for him to be more aggressive against Detroit and he was, finishing with nine points and six assists in his 31 minutes.
While he was in the game to close out Toronto's win, Jack relishes in his role as a reserve.
"I love to come off of the bench. I think that role suits me more and I think it's also more beneficial for the team," Jack said. "I think we have more than enough firepower in our first five. Jose, Hedo, Chris, and the way Andrea is playing, good gracious."
After playing a tough game last night against Orlando and clawing back from 17 down tonight, fatigue played a factor late for the Pistons. While Gordon had 21 by halftime, his scoring spree leveled off in the second half and he finished with 30. Charlie Villanueva added 16 and Stuckey had 13 for the Pistons.
"They pressed so hard to get back into the ball game. And they put so much emphasis on their guards to score the ball,"says Jack. "They really don't have anybody getting them easy baskets. When we really have to expend a lot of energy, to rest we can just throw the ball to Chris, space the perimeter and allow him to get them in foul trouble or take easy shots around the basket. They don't have that luxury at the present time."
Toronto's star, Chris Bosh, finished with 25 points and eight rebounds and was quick and to the point on why the Raptors won despite their inability to prevent Detroit's late push.
"It basically just comes down to if you want to win the game or not. Guys who don't want to win the game, they probably would have just let that [the run by the Pistons] bother them too much and there would have been problems after that."
Becoming the first Pistons opponent to top 100 points this season, the Raptors finished the game problem-free and will now shift their focus to the upcoming three-game road trip out West.