Raptors roar to red-hot finish, overcome 20-point deficit to beat Pistons

Ish Smith scored 16 points but the Pistons saw a 20-point lead evaporate in their loss to Toronto.
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – The Pistons are cramming a lot of teeth-gnashing losses into the dying days of the season and The Palace’s last stand.

This time it was Toronto erasing a 12-point deficit in the final 7:26 and finishing on a 28-13 sprint from there to push the Pistons to the very brink of playoff elimination with four games to go.

“God, I don’t even remember getting a stop in the fourth quarter,” Stan Van Gundy said after the 105-102 loss, a game in which the Pistons led by 20 points in the second quarter and never trailed until Serge Ibaka’s 3-point shot with 1:21 to play. “And it was easy. We were slow on our rotations. We defended pretty well for three quarters and then just awful defense in the fourth.”

Toronto hit 16 of 24 fourth-quarter shots and 3 of 7 3-pointers, so the Pistons did get a few stops. But after Tobias Harris hit the triple to give the Pistons the 89-77 lead, Toronto scored on 12 of 13 possessions from there through DeMar DeRozan’s 19-foot jump shot with 25.6 seconds left put the Raptors ahead 104-100. They hit 12 of 14 shots in that stretch, two of them triples and a third a layup and-one for Kyle Lowry.

“They got hot. They scored 37 in the fourth. That’s uncalled for, obviously, for us,” Ish Smith said. “We’re going to have to go back and look at our defense and see what we messed up.”

Six Raptors scored during those 13 possessions, led by Lowry with nine points and DeRozan with six.

“We broke down defensively, maybe two or three stretches,” Marcus Morris said. “As a whole, we didn’t do what was in the game plan. I kind of gave up a shot or two.”

Morris was limited by foul trouble, but spent most of his 19 minutes guarding DeRozan. Just as in their March 17 meeting – in which the Pistons also lost a fourth-quarter lead, that time due to a season-low nine-point fourth quarter – the Pistons limited DeRozan’s scoring by doubling him to get the ball out of his hands. He scored 14 points in the first meeting, 12 this time on 5 of 17 shooting.

“But he had 10 assists,” Van Gundy said. “We did a good job with it for a while, but then we weren’t hard enough on the traps and they started picking us apart, running us around. We weren’t hard enough on our rotations, so they were getting whatever they wanted – layups, threes, whatever. So we got out of the blitz and then we didn’t do a good job containing him. Nothing we did in the fourth limited them at all. For three quarters, the defense was pretty good. And in the fourth quarter, it was horrendous.”

Lowry, Toronto’s other All-Star guard, returned from a nearly two-month absence with a wrist injury and didn’t exactly ease back into the lineup. He played 42 minutes and finished with 27 points and 10 assists. He was 4 of 4 in the fourth quarter with four assists, a steal and no turnovers.

“I’ve played with Kyle since my rookie year,” Smith said, teammates with Lowry in Houston. “I knew he was going to come out and be aggressive. He played well, hit some big shots. He does what Kyle does.”

The loss leaves the Pistons at 35-43 and in 11th place, three games behind Chicago, Miami and Indiana – all 38-40 – in addition to Charlotte, 36-43. The Pistons lose the tiebreaker to all of those teams except Charlotte.

“We’ve just got to try to finish out strong,” Morris said. “Hopefully, a couple of teams lose, but games like tonight, we have to have.”

“Tonight was a great start, but we played three quarters and that fourth quarter we allowed them to get up in us,” Andre Drummond said. “They made it real tough for us. A lot of turnovers were caused (six of their 15 in the fourth) and they came down and scored pretty much every possession or got fouled. Losing doesn’t feel good, but this one’s got to stick with us. This is the second time it’s happened to us.”

And combined with the Brook Lopez buzzer-beater to lose at Brooklyn two weeks ago, the Miami tip at the buzzer to lose last week, the overtime loss at Milwaukee in their last game out when they led by 10 with five minutes left in regulation, the Pistons absorbed another loss that will be part of the epitaph unless a miracle finish requiring an improbable set of circumstances involving multiple teams delivers them to the postseason.

FAST BREAKDOWN

Three quick observations from Friday night’s 108-105 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at BMO Harris Bradley Center

SLAM DUNK – When the Pistons scored 75 points in losing to the Raptors at The Palace on March 17, they scored just nine points in the fourth quarter. They matched that in the first three minutes this time and had 33 after one quarter. They hit 75 with two minutes left in the third quarter and led by 12 with seven minutes to play. But this time it wasn’t their offense that betrayed them in the fourth quarter, but their defense. Toronto shot 16 of 24 in the fourth quarter and scored 37 points, finishing the game on a 28-13 sprint. Toronto closed the second quarter on a 20-10 run to slice a 20-point deficit in half, then opened the third quarter on a 6-0 run to pull within four. The Pistons pushed it back to 15 late in the third quarter and went up 12 on a Tobias Harris triple with seven minutes left, 89-77. Serge Ibaka gave the Raptors their first lead of the game with 1:21 to play on a triple, but Marcus Morris answered to tie it 12 seconds later. But a Jonas Valanciunas hook and a DeMar DeRozan jump shot sandwiched around Ish Smith’s missed jump shot put the Raptors ahead by four points and they held on for the win. The Smith-Beno Udrih tandem at point guard gave the Pistons solid production, finishing with 24 points (16 for Smith), 14 assists (eight from Udrih) and just three turnovers. The Pistons held DeRozan, fifth in the NBA in scoring at 27.3, to 12 points on 5 of 17 shooting largely by forcing the ball out of his hands with double teams, but half his points came down the stretch. The loss all but extinguished the Pistons’ fleeting playoff hopes alive, dropping their record to 35-43 with four games remaining.

FREE THROW – Reggie Bullock got the start at shooting guard for the Pistons in place of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who missed the first half due to the birth of his son. The Pistons kept Caldwell-Pope on the active list, even though Stan Van Gundy wasn’t anticipating him to be in the arena. Reggie Jackson was made inactive for the fifth straight game and rookie Michael Gbinije was out due to illness. Caldwell-Pope arrived at the bench area midway through the second quarter and hopped on the stationary bike. He then started the second half and played 17 minutes, finishing with two points in 17 minutes. Bullock finished with seven points, two boards, a steal and an assist. Darrun Hilliard started the second quarter at shooting guard and scored six points, making himself available on a cut for a dunk, following up with a steal that led to another dunk and then making a strong move that produced two free throws. The Pistons got 11 points combined from the position in the first half from Bullock and Hilliard on 4 of 6 shooting.

3-POINTER – Stanley Johnson’s early-season struggles and various injuries to Reggie Bullock gave Darrun Hilliard a shot at the rotation in the first half of the season, but he’s been used almost exclusively to finish out one-sided games since then. Hilliard also struggled with his chances at the rotation and has had a disappointing second season that was perhaps triggered by a back injury suffered last summer that idled him for two months. Stan Van Gundy used him for six minutes to start the fourth quarter of Thursday’s win over Brooklyn and Hilliard, who didn’t get in the game at Milwaukee, left a positive impression. The Pistons will have a decision to make on Hilliard this summer that could be influenced by their ability to retain one or both of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bullock, each headed for restricted free agency. The Pistons hold an option on the third year of Hilliard’s contract. They also have rookie Michael Gbinije under contract for next season and Van Gundy is intrigued by Gbinije’s potential as a 3-and-D player with perhaps the most perimeter defensive potential of anyone on the roster this side of Caldwell-Pope.

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