TORONTO - For Jose Calderon it was an emotionally strange day; for the Raptors it was another disappointing one.
With Monday's 108-98 home loss to Detroit, the Raptors (27-47) were officially eliminated from postseason contention and it was a familiar face that snuffed their playoff torch.
Calderon, making his return to the Air Canada Centre for the first time since the Jan. 30 three-team trade that ended his seven and a half year tenure in Toronto, scored 19 points and added nine assists as the Pistons (25-50) handed the Raptors their seventh loss in the last eight games.
"It's been weird since this morning," Calderon admitted. "Being in Toronto in a hotel, having a meeting this morning, coming down with a bus to the ACC. [It's a] different feeling. I don't know how to really explain the whole thing. It's just weird; it's a weird feeling all around."
Emotions were high from the moment Calderon -- the franchise leader in assists -- was introduced to a standing ovation. A video tribute to the former Raptors point guard, played on the big screen during the first timeout, sparked another rousing reception from the ACC faithful.
I think it's going to be one of the better moments in my career, for sure," a humbled Calderon said after the game. "It was a tough one because it was during a timeout, so I didn't know if I should check the board [while] coach was talking, or just saying thank you."
Defensively, the Raptors were a step behind all night, allowing Detroit to shoot 56 per cent from the field including 7-of-15 from long range. Greg Monroe had a team-high 24 points and the Pistons bench outscored Toronto's reserves 51-17, paced by Rodney Stuckey who scored 18.
"Tonight's game was about defence," coach Dwane Casey indicated. "[The] first team to play defence was going to win the game and they played it first. We [were] just trying to get defence in the game the entire night and just couldn't get there."
Rudy Gay scored a season-best 34 points on 13-of-18 shooting while Jonas Valanciunas added 17 for the Raptors, who were mathematically eliminated on Monday.
"It hurts because our goal was to knock on the door of the playoffs [and] get into the playoffs this season," Casey stated. "It hurts - it should hurt - but we still have eight games to go. Guys still have to compete, do their job, and we have a good group of guys that will do that."
Fast Breaking Points
- Jose's Return
It was certainly an emotional night at the ACC. A brand of emotion you don't often see from an NBA player, or Raptors fans, so the combination made for a refreshing storyline in an otherwise meaningless game.
As most professional athletes return to their former place of business we're so used to hearing a collection of cliches along the lines of, "it's just another game", but Calderon made no attempt (at least not a good one) to hide what this night meant to him.
For him, Toronto was the only NBA home he knew up until the mid-season trade sent him to Detroit. He gave a lot to this franchise and this city in his time with the team and he got a lot of love back for the way he played and carried himself game in, game out.
As expected it was a strange and, at times, unpredictable homecoming for the Spaniard, who was caught heading to the wrong locker room at halftime. As he told TSN.ca prior to Monday's contest, he's also been having some fun calling out his former team's plays. "DeMar (DeRozan) [asked] Kyle (Lowry), 'what was the play'," Calderon recalled from Friday night's match-up in Detroit. "And I'm like, 'you don't know the play? I know the plays'."
"It was definitely weird," DeRozan said after facing his former teammate for the second time. "I wish all the best for Jose with the rest of his career. I was glad the crowd gave him a standing ovation. That was big, I was happy for that."
That's not something you see on a regular basis, not from Raptors fans. As Pistons coach Lawrence Frank pointed out before the game, most of the franchise's longest tenured players haven't been welcomed back with open arms. "I think this will be a little bit different than some of the other former Raptors," said Frank, who was coaching the Nets when Vince Carter made his infamous return to Toronto.
To their credit, Raptors fans haven't had a lot to cheer about or a lot of players to cheer for. Sure, Calderon should take some blame for the team's sub-par record during his seven and a half year tenure. And sure, he has never been and never will be much of a defender in this league. That said, he brought it every night for the team. He worked hard, he was the consummate professional, and he improved, eventually excelling in the areas of the game that still make him a great point guard and leader. The reception he received was well deserved.
Despite the emotional roller coaster, he still managed to do his thing. A vintage Calderon line: 19 points on 8-for-12 shooting, nine assists to one turnover. He was a big part of Detroit's victory.
"We've seen that from Jose all the time," Casey said. "He got the guys in the right position and made those passes."
- Rudy's Reclamation
A week ago many wondered if we had seen the last of Gay this season as reoccurring back pain forced him out the game in New York and sparked speculation that the team could decide to shut him down until next year. With the season winding down the spotlight has been focused on Valanciunas and the rookies (rightfully so), but Gay has quietly put together a very nice, and impressively efficient stretch for the Raptors.
With the exception of Sunday's loss to the Wizards -- where he was saddled with foul trouble -- and the injury abbreviated game against the Knicks, Gay has strung together a number of dominant performances, capped off with Monday's gem in which he shredded Detroit's defence. Unfortunately, Gay and the rest of his teammates couldn't match that level of intensity on the defensive end, which ultimately cost them the game.
You can debate whether or not it's in the team's best interest to allow him to play through his back ailment -- many already have -- but it can't hurt to have him finish off the year strong, going into the summer and next season with momentum, feeling good about himself. It's also encouraging to see him knock down his jumpers from long distance, he's eight for his last 11 from three-point range including a perfect 4-of-4 on Monday.
The Stat: Gay has led the Raptors in scoring in 15 of the 25 games he's played in since the trade.
Notables and Quotables
Toronto and Detroit split the season series at two games apiece for the first time since 2001-02. ... Valanciunas has scored in double figures in 12 of the last 13 games, grabbing six or more rebounds in each of his previous 12. ... DeRozan scored 15 points to go along with seven rebounds and five assists. ... The Raptors were without forward Landry Fields, who was in Los Angeles for follow-up testing on his surgically repaired right elbow. ... Quincy Acy was activated for the game and played seven minutes in his first action since Mar. 1. The rookie scored four points and grabbed three rebounds in his return.
"We didn't execute on the offensive end. We got caught with a couple turnovers, we messed up on a couple plays and that hurt us and we couldn't slow them down when they got going."
-- DeRozan on the fourth quarter
"It came down to execution at the end on the defensive and the offensive end. This is a game we could have came out with a 'W' if we would have executed."
"Just being here a short period of time, [I've heard] about some of the things Jose has done and how much people in the city love him and rightfully so. He's been here a long time. He's done some great things here. I didn't know he held all those records, but that's honorable."
-- Gay on Calderon
"We've talked, he's worked his butt off, working on his game. I don't know if he's kind of not seeing the end of the season like most rookies do. I don't know what it is but we need him. We need him to continue to grow and develop. If we're going to give him those minutes he's got to come in and perform. I think he thinks he's going hard and playing hard but for whatever reason it's just that life and that bounce and that spirit and that fun hasn't been there. We're searching for it, trying to get it from him."
-- Casey on Ross, who was held scoreless in 12 minutes off the bench
The Raptors host the Washington Wizards (27-46) on Wednesday looking for revenge after Sunday's 109-92 loss at the Verizon Center.