Three quick observations from Friday night’s 103-87 win over the Toronto Raptors at Little Caesars Arena
GUTTER FIGHT – The Pistons were 3 of 19 from the 3-point arc with four minutes left in the third quarter when Cory Joseph had to heave one up off one foot to beat the shot clock after the Pistons won a jump ball. It was, inarguably, the worst 3-point attempt of their night … and it went in. It stopped a 9-0 Toronto run that had halved an 18-point Pistons lead and started a 14-6 close to the quarter that enabled the Pistons to take a 17-point lead to the fourth quarter. They went more than six minutes and 10 possessions without a point as Toronto put together a 13-0 run to pull within eight after the lead had stretched to 21, but Cade Cunningham’s clutch triple with 2:41 left restored the lead to 11 and ratcheted the pressure down a few degrees. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was a game the Pistons controlled early by taking the fight to Toronto with a physical style of play and defensive intensity. The Raptors shot just 32.6 percent overall and were a dismal 34.6 percent inside the 3-point line. Toronto had its six-game win streak snapped in its last game, a four-point loss to Phoenix, and the Raptors came into the game at 20-18 and in the East’s No. 8 playoff position. The Pistons are now 8-3 vs. Toronto under Dwane Casey and they’re 5-0 since start of 2020-21 season. Trey Lyles finished with 21 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Cunningham was superb with 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
FOUL FEST – What started off as a game with great flow broke down into a choppy, foul-filled game quickly. By the time the second quarter was a little more than five minutes old, the Pistons already had three players on the bench with three fouls apiece – two of them non-starters. Isaiah Stewart was limited to six first-half minutes with three fouls, while Cory Joseph and Cassius Stanley picked up their three fouls each in only five minutes apiece. Three other Pistons picked up two fouls apiece in the first half and five Raptors players were whistled for two first-half fouls. The first 26 possessions of the second quarter saw 19 fouls called. By halftime, the Pistons had been hit with 17 fouls and the Raptors with 13 and the teams had combined to shoot 34 free throws. The Pistons average 21 fouls – they picked up that many less than four minutes into the second half – and 21.5 free throws a game; Toronto averages 19.8 fouls and 20.4 free throws. Within the first two minutes of the third quarter, both Stewart and Killian Hayes were saddled with their fourth fouls. Hamidou Diallo picked up his fourth soon after. Toronto’s Pascal Siakam became the first player to get to five fouls when he picked it up early in the fourth quarter. The pace of fouls slowed greatly after the midway point of the third quarter, though, with the Pistons finishing with 25 fouls to Toronto’s 24.
ON THE MEND – The COVID-19 wave that washed over the Pistons might have ebbed, but they’re still without three of their rotation staples. Next to return figures to be Frank Jackson. Jackson went down in the Dec. 29 loss to the Knicks and the Pistons announced the next day he would be re-evaluated in seven to 10 days. Before that time lapsed, Jackson became the ninth Pistons player since late December to enter the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He’s now listed as “return to competition reconditioning.” According to Dwane Casey, Jackson’s ankle won’t be a thing that delays his return. “His ankle’s better. He’s just got to get back in condition. He had symptoms, so he’ll have to pass the cardiac testing.” In 33 games, Jackson has averaged career highs in minutes (23) and points (10.7) per game. He’s shooting 33.3 percent from the 3-point arc after a career-best 40.3 percent last season, but Jackson had recovered from a slow start. He shot 30.7 percent from three through November games but hit 37.5 percent in 12 December games. Casey said earlier this week that Olynyk was likely to return ahead of Grant and he hoped it would be relatively soon.