‘An excellent team win’ – Pistons rip Raptors on a night of many stars

The Pistons understood offense would be a shared responsibility on a night they were without their five leading scorers. And share the Pistons did – to the tune of a season-high 40 assists.

“We just came out and said we wanted to play together and have fun. That was our main objective,” Rodney McGruder said after playing a significant role in the 129-105 win over Toronto on a night both lineups were depleted. “We did say, ‘Next man up.’ We’re missing several guys.”

Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose began the season as anchors of the first and second units and now neither is with the team. Jerami Grant and Josh Jackson took their places as centerpieces of the starting and bench units, but both were missing Wednesday – Grant with a leg injury that won’t have him out long, Jackson with a stomach ailment. Throw in Delon Wright, who took over at point guard for the injured Killian Hayes, and his 10.7 points a game among those not available to Dwane Casey for the matchup in Tampa against his former team.

So that was several “next men” Casey couldn’t wave into the game. McGruder had only appeared in 10 games but was called on for 26 minutes against the Raptors. He responded with 20 points, matched by Saben Lee to give the Pistons two 20-point bench scorers in the same game.

And that was perhaps the least eyebrow-raising of the many remarkable statistics the Pistons left for the record books.

  • Dennis Smith Jr. and Mason Plumlee both recorded triple-doubles, becoming the first Pistons teammates to do so in 57 years. It was Ray Scott and Donnis Butcher who turned the trick for the Pistons in 1964. Smith finished with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists, his third career triple-double. Plumlee racked up 14 points, 11 boards and 10 assists, his second triple-double of his career – both within the past month.

    “It’s definitely not something you want to lock in on because you start chasing that, you start losing sight, losing presence of mind,” Smith said of pursuing triple-doubles. “Just go out and try to make plays. My big thing has been trying to get rebounds of late, chase the ball, be a ballhawk.”

  • Wayne Ellington led the Pistons with 25 points. He took all of his shots – 11 of them – from the 3-point arc and made eight. The Pistons fell behind 13-3 in the game’s first three minutes but went on a 22-6 run to take the lead for good on the strength of Ellington’s golden arm. He hit three quick triples to spark that run.

    “That was major,” said Smith, a teammate of Ellington’s in New York last season. “Wayne being a vet, one of the best 3-point shooters I’ve ever been around, it was major for him to see those go in, as well. Get his confidence and put the energy into our offense.”

    “Everybody was ready to throw Wayne out with the bathwater, but one thing about shooters: They don’t forget how to shoot,” Casey said. “Babe Ruth struck out more than he hit home runs. You’re going to have tough nights. But you’ve got to stick with shooters.”

    The Pistons hit a season-high 20 triples in 41 attempts, including 9 of 11 in a 43-point first quarter – and nine in a row after missing their first two. You have to go back 25 years to find another such first quarter in Pistons history. Ellington hit 52 percent from the 3-point line in a remarkable January, then just 26 percent in a February to forget. March is off to a much more satisfying start.

    “It’s feeling good,” he said. “I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s feeling good. I did know I needed to be more aggressive, for sure. With those two guys being out, in terms of scoring they do a lot of that for us.”

  • And perhaps the stat that Casey found the most pleasing were those 40 assists in 48 baskets, including 24 on the first 25. That blew past the previous season high of 33. The Pistons had 15 first-quarter assists, one off the franchise record. The Pistons rank ninth in the NBA in assist ratio at 62.3 – the percentage of baskets assisted – so they’re following the Casey blueprint of drive-kick-swing. Wednesday’s 83.3 percent assist ratio will be hard to top.

    “If that ball moves, it’s going to find the right person,” Casey said. “And that’s what it did tonight. That was special.”

    In addition to Smith’s 11 assists and Plumlee’s 10, the Pistons also had two other players with big numbers, Lee with seven and McGruder five. Point guards Smith and Lee combined for 18 assists against five turnovers. Six players scored in double figures, including Svi Mykhailiuk with 17. Sekou Doumbouya came up one point shy of making it seven double-figures scorers. The Pistons bench outscored Toronto’s 56-27.

    The Pistons replaced Grant and Jackson – and Grant’s 23.4 points and Jackson’s 13.5 a game – with a collective effort.

    “Those guys, some of ’em haven’t had a lot of minutes,” Casey said. “A guy like Rodney McGruder comes in and gets things going. Dennis had a triple-double. Mason had a triple-double. It was just an excellent team win.”