Turnabout in Toronto
Pistons surge in 2nd half to make Calderon’s homecoming a winner
TORONTO – When the halftime buzzer sounded at Air Canada Centre, Jose Calderon headed to the locker room. The wrong locker room. The one he called home for the first seven-plus seasons of his NBA career.
“I went to the wrong tunnel,” Calderon grinned sheepishly after the game. “But they called me out really quick. It was just like three or four steps. That’s all.”
Those were the only three or four missteps of Calderon’s homecoming, which the Pistons made a triumphant one by putting up 33 fourth-quarter points with a group that probably hadn’t logged two meaningful minutes together all season.
Calderon finished with 19 points on 9 of 12 shooting to go with nine assists and just one turnover. He also received three rousing ovations – one when he was introduced before the game, once during a video montage played during a first-quarter timeout and again as he walked off the court following a postgame interview.
“It was emotional,” Calderon said after the 108-98 win in which the Pistons came from 11 down in the second half, built a nine-point lead with a 13-0 run early in the fourth quarter, then went on another 10-0 run after Toronto took a one-point lead on Rudy Gay’s 3-pointer with 4:32 to play. “I played against them (three) days ago – nothing similar. It was just a game. It was fun because it was my teammates on the other side, but tonight, I knew it. I had that weird feeling from this morning. Coming to this place … it was better than I expected.”
But the Pistons needed plenty of help for Calderon on a night Gay was smoking hot. Through three quarters, he’d already put up 26 points on 11 of 13 shooting. The Pistons mitigated his damage in the fourth quarter, though, limiting him to 2 of 5 shooting, with Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey drawing the assignment as Gay shuttled from power forward to small forward.
Khris Middleton joined Jerebko and Stuckey off the bench to go with starters Calderon and Greg Monroe as the Pistons outscored Toronto 33-19, shot 13 of 22, outrebounded the Raptors 12-6 and recorded eight assists against just two turnovers.
“That fourth-quarter group was tremendous,” Lawrence Frank said. “Great ball movement, really good spacing, very unselfish basketball. Defensively, in a game where both teams kind of struggled, to get stops on six of our last eight possessions, the bench with (51) points. That fourth-quarter group, those guys really, really impacted the game.”
“Khris is definitely playing well on both ends of the court,” said Monroe, who scored 24 points and passed for four assists. “He did a very good job on DeMar (DeRozan, 2 of 6 in the fourth); that’s a tough matchup for anyone. Tonight he definitely took the challenge. Jonas was just being his usual self, hustling, making hustle plays, getting us extra shots. And Stuckey again was aggressive and that helps us out a whole lot.”
Middleton finished with 11 points, making 5 of 6 shots, including a triple that came 16 seconds after Gay put Toronto ahead by one to spark the decisive 10-0 run. Stuckey had 18 points and six assists, allowing Calderon to play off of the ball to conserve energy for stretches on a night Frank milked 43 minutes out of his point guard. And Jerebko gave the Pistons 15 points and a team-best six rebounds, punctuating the win by dunking home Calderon’s missed triple with 33 seconds to play and Toronto within five points.
“He was great,” Frank said. “I thought he was going to nail that last three, but nine assists, one turnover, played a great floor game.”
Caldeorn’s biggest basket might have been the jump shot he hit with 4:47 left in the third quarter – the Pistons’ first basket of the second half. After shooting 62 percent in the first half, they missed their first nine shots after halftime as Toronto – which blew the Pistons out with a 36-16 third quarter at The Palace on Friday – established an 11-point lead and looked ready to pull away. The Pistons stabilized after that jumper, though, and pulled within four after three quarters.
“We kind of hit a slump, but we were able to regroup and take control,” Monroe said. “We did a good job of withstanding their runs today and responding with our own. Our guys showed a lot of fight. They definitely made some tough shots, some big shots, but guys responded. Everybody kept their composure.”
“We had a good night,” Calderon said. “Everybody was sharing that ball, moving. We got the stops at the end when we needed it. They killed us (three) days ago in that third quarter. When we share the ball, we’ve got a lot of guys who can score. We were running the same play for the last five or six minutes and different guys were getting shots. It was great. It was nice to see.”
As it turned out, it was also nice to be seen by a crowd that clearly conveyed its appreciation for Toronto’s all-time assists leader.
“Give the Toronto fans a lot of credit,” Frank said. “It’s great to show the appreciation, because Jose is a first-class guy. I was happy for him.”