Toronto — Looking at the Pistons and Raptors is an interesting study in contrast.
Detroit is trying to make its talented pieces fit while Toronto traded away its high-priced, ill-fitting piece and has flourished since sending Rudy Gay to Sacramento weeks ago.
Whether the Raptors wind up in the lottery — which is where they were projected to land after the trade — remains to be seen, but the Pistons look intent on beating them to lottery land after their 112-91 loss at Air Canada Centre Wednesday night.
Kyle Lowry led the Raptors with 21 points — on just eight field-goal attempts — nine assists and five rebounds, while Brandon Jennings led the Pistons with 22 points and nine assists. But it took Jennings double the shot attempts to get there.
The third quarter, and second half in general, led to the Pistons’ sixth straight loss and eighth of nine overall, after they had earned a halftime lead by holding the Raptors to just 33 percent shooting.
The Raptors outscored the Pistons, 62-37, after halftime, shooting 50 percent while the Pistons made just 14 of 43 shots from the field (33 percent).
Their opponents from the North erased a four-point lead in the first minute of the third, as the Pistons’ poor shooting again caught up with them and the Raptors took advantage of open shots they’d been afforded all evening long.
“I think the third quarter was the difference for them, for us,” Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks said. “They pushed it, got some easy baskets. They got on the 8-0 run and I took a timeout and we never recovered.”
The Pistons haven’t been able to survive without strong guard play and Wednesday was no exception. Jennings struggled again from the field — his third straight such outing — which canceled out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope being active on both ends.
The first-round pick scored 13 in the first half, making six of seven shots, but he took only one after the half. He and Kyle Singler were the only Pistons to shoot better than 50 percent. The team shot 39.5 percent.
Jennings, Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum combined to shoot 12-for-39 from the field (31 percent).
“Second halves have been our killer this whole year,” said Stuckey, who returned after missing three games to score 14. “Play phenomenal the first half and then stop sharing the basketball.”
Raptors guards Lowry and DeMar DeRozan weren’t necessarily hot from the perimeter themselves, but they got to the line, making their first 15 attempts. DeRozan made 13 of his 16 free throws but was just 3-for-15 from the field.
Overall, the Raptors made 31 of their 34 free throws while hitting 11 3-pointers, totals the Pistons can only dream. They shot just 25 percent from long range and made just 54 percent from the line.
The Raptors outscored the Pistons by 33 points in those two categories, and with 3-point specialist Steve Novak only playing in garbage time, seem to have shooting to spare.
The Pistons can only hope to have such luxuries, as their inside play hasn’t been consistent enough to make up for what they lack on the perimeter. Greg Monroe went scoreless after halftime, with just one shot attempt. He and Smith shot an identical 5-for-12 from the field.
“I don’t think Toronto did anything that differently,” Monroe said. “The calls that were made, as far as offense (changed).”
At this point, the players seem unclear as to what their identity should be, as to what they should turn to during tight times.
“We have to play unselfish on both ends,” Smith said. “It’s proven when we won games. We helped each other on the defensive end.”
When Smith was asked if there was anything they could turn to, he said, “Not right now. We just have to be able to get ourselves out of this rut and winning a game will definitely help.”
The Pistons abandoned their inside game in the second half, making it easy to defend as there was little to no need for the Raptors to extend their defense.
“In the first half, we got a lot of early posts,” Cheeks said. “We ran some early offense to get inside baskets and shots. The second, we didn’t get a lot of stops.When you’re not, it’s not gonna afford you a lot of ‘quick pace’.”
Lowry, who’s emerged this season, especially since the trade of Gay, played an efficient game without hogging the ball, setting up teammates like Jonas Valanciunas for paint opportunities and Terrence Ross for corner threes.
Valanciunas made Andre Drummond look foolish on a couple possessions, as Drummond bit on simple pump fakes and the center went around him for consecutive dunks in the third quarter as the floodgates again opened.
And unlike Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, there was no desperate comeback from the Pistons—no heartbreak, no bad shot from Smith to come up short either — but yet another puzzling performance from a team that’s seemingly on the verge of disaster.