Lewenberg: Raptors take care of business after tough loss

Josh Lewenberg
3/13/2014 12:30:35 AM
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TORONTO - Forty-eight hours after a disheartening loss in Brooklyn, and moments after their bounce-back victory at home over the Pistons, a collection of Raptors players and coaches gathered in the locker room to watch the tail end of the Nets' one-point victory over Miami.

With less than 20 games remaining and a postseason berth all but locked up, the scoreboard watching is well underway.

The red-hot Nets pulled within three games of Toronto for top spot in the Atlantic Division on Monday. In defeating the defending, two-time champion Heat Wednesday - for the third time this season - they continue to keep pace with the Raptors, breathing directly down their necks.

As Dwane Casey and his players watched Brooklyn close out its seventh victory in eight games, the Raptors' coach delivered a strong message to the troops.

Don't look back.

"We can watch that but if we don't take care of our business it's not worth a crap," he said after his team did just that, defeating the Pistons 101-87 at home Wednesday evening. "I'm more concerned about what we do and how we're playing and how we've got to make up for Patrick (Patterson) being out and losing leads more so than anything else."

The Raptors, despite Monday's loss, still control their own destiny and they sure looked like a team in the driver's seat against an inferior opponent in the reeling Pistons.

Detroit is a befuddling case of disjointed talent. Despite swinging for the fences over the summer - signing Josh Smith and trading for Brandon Jennings - Joe Dumars and company have struck out this season. Chemistry is a hard thing to quantify in a team sport like basketball, as the post-trade Raptors can attest to. You either have it or you don't.

When the Pistons began to come apart - as they tend to do - in the third quarter and then again in the fourth, the Raptors came together.

"I thought [the bigs] were battling and our guards came back in, what we call 'cracking down', and cracked down to help the bigs" said Casey. "I thought that was huge. It's a five-man job."

Toronto was paced in scoring by DeMar DeRozan, who had a game-high 25 points, as well as Amir Johnson and Kyle Lowry, chipping in with 20 and 19 respectively. Still, it was as much a collective effort as Casey could have hoped for, especially with the injured Patterson out resting an elbow sprain.

With the intimidating frontcourt duo of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond to contend with, the Raptors had four players pull down eight or more rebounds, including reserves Greivis Vasquez and Chuck Hayes.

The Pistons came into the game ranked first in offensive rebounds, first in paint points and second in second-chance scoring.

"We had to box out," said Johnson, who grabbed nine boards on the night. "We looked at all the stats and that was definitely the key, to get all those guys off the boards. They definitely have a big lineup and that's what we did."

The Raptors "cracked down" - as Casey says - in the second half, besting Detroit 29-13 on the boards, holding the visitors to one offensive rebound. They also outscored the Pistons 24-14 in the paint and 15-0 in second-chance points over the final 24 minutes.

On a night in which Brooklyn stole headlines with an impressive win over an elite team, the division-leaders took care of business. The Raptors have heeded their coaches warning, at least to this point. They haven't looked back.

With 11 wins in its last 12 games against opponents with records south of .500, Toronto continues to hold serve. They're not looking for style points so long as they come away with the prize.

"A lot of our guys haven't been there," Casey reiterated. "Like I've always preached, it's a different animal. I hope they're enjoying it but yet still [understanding] how hard it is, getting there first and then after you get there it gets even harder."

"It's good, it's exciting, it's great for our fans," he continued. "It's something our fans haven't been through in a while but again, we've just got to take care of our business."

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