Three quick observations from Wednesday night’s 129-105 win over the Toronto Raptors at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
OFFENSIVE EXPLOSION – On a night the Pistons were missing their five leading scorers, they opened with a 43-point first quarter – their highest-scoring quarter of the season and the highest in the first quarter in the last 25 years of Pistons basketball. They barely slowed down the rest of the way. Jerami Grant, Josh Jackson and Delon Wright missed the game – on top of Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin no longer being with the team – but the Pistons suffered from no lack of firepower. Mason Plumlee (14 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) and Dennis Smith Jr. (10 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists) both recorded triple-doubles, the first time Pistons teammates have recorded triple-doubles in the same game since Donnis Butcher and Ray Scott did it in 1964. Wayne Ellington led the Pistons with 25 points, one of six players in double figures. The Pistons fell behind 13-3, then went on a 22-6 run, all within the first seven minutes, and never trailed again. Toronto was nearly as ravaged by absences. The Raptors were without their first- (Norm VanVleet), second- (Pascal Siakam) and fifth-leading (O.G. Anunoby) scorers. Toronto got a season-high 36 from Normal Powell. Grant suffered a left quad contusion in Sunday’s loss to the Knicks. Dwane Casey didn’t rule him out for Thursday’s rematch with New York, but at the same time said the Pistons would be cautious and mentioned the week off following that game before play resumes following the All-Star break.
McGRUDER’S MOMENT – Dwane Casey has been effusive in his praise of Rodney McGruder for the way he’s mentored young players and kept spirits high despite seeing the court rarely this season. All of the absences made it a given that McGruder would be in the mix against Toronto and he came off the bench ready to roll. McGruder contributed to the 69-point first half with 11 points and five assists and he finished with 20 points, three rebounds and six assists. McGruder, 29, fought his way into the NBA after going undrafted out of Kansas State in 2013, cracking Miami’s roster finally in 2016 and winding up a starter in 65 games that year when the Heat recovered from a 11-30 start to finish at 41-41. He spent last season with the Los Angeles Clippers and came to the Pistons in the deal that netted them the No. 19 pick used to select Saddiq Bey in the November draft. While he’s a natural shooting guard, McGruder pinch-hit for the Pistons at point guard earlier this season when injuries struck and played small forward against Toronto. Led by McGruder and Saben Lee’s 20 points apiece, the Pistons bench – the league’s highest-scoring unit – outscored Toronto’s 56-27.
ELLINGTON’S BACK – After one of the top handful of shooting months in Pistons history in January, Wayne Ellington suffered from regression to the mean in February. Ellington shot 52 percent from the 3-point arc in January and had a streak of seven games where he made at least four 3-point shots, becoming only the eighth player in NBA history to do so. It looks like Ellington is going to like March a whole lot better than February because he came into March like a lion, hitting 8 of 11 from the arc – all of Ellington’s shots came from the 3-point line. Led by Ellington, the Pistons connected on a season-high 20 3-pointers, topping the previous high of 18. The Pistons hit 9 of 11 3-pointers in the first quarter alone. Svi Mykhailiuk hit four apiece hit 5 of 9 and Rodney McGruder 4 of 6.