Toronto — The worry about a Pistons emotional letdown was valid, as dealing with the aftermath of losing Brandon Jennings for the rest of the season was bound to have some effect some 24 hours later.
But even before Jennings' season was lost, their defense had begun to show significant slippage recently, and it haunted them from the jump, as the Pistons seemed to show very little inclination to defend with cohesiveness or toughness Sunday against the Toronto Raptors, losing their second straight, 114-110 at the Air Canada Centre.
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said before the game it didn't matter who would be playing point guard if they didn't bring the requisite effort on the defensive end and his words proved prophetic.
The Raptors shot 53 percent, with all five starters making at least half their shots, and scoring 56 points in the paint, a number that should be unheard of against a team that employs Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe in its frontcourt.
"We played well offensively. We just played no defense," Van Gundy said. "We couldn't stop them at all. If you can't win scoring 110 points then you don't deserve to."
Jonas Valanciunas again feasted in the paint, scoring 20 with 11 rebounds while DeMar DeRozan, who missed the earlier meeting with an injury, scored 25 and grabbed six rebounds.
Whether it was blown assignments or a player taking a shortcut by gambling when he should've stayed solid, the Pistons didn't make the home team feel them on the defensive end for the second straight night.
The Raptors took the blueprint from the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic, and only the Pistons' offensive effectiveness prevented the Raptors from going up 30 like the Bucks did Saturday night.
"I don't know but we've now had three straight games — the Atlanta game we guarded well — but we've had three straight games where we have not guarded," an exasperated Van Gundy said. "So I don't know. I don't know if the guys in the locker room really, really ... I know they want to win.
"They're putting forth energy and effort. I don't know if they're willing to dig in defensively and do the hard work and put their bodies in front of people and on people and get the job done defensively. I don't know. Maybe they do. We'll see."
At least on this night the Pistons had a decent enough reason to rely on their offense. Monroe scored 21 with 16 rebounds and four assists while D.J. Augustin finally looked like the player who was depended upon to score for the Bulls last season.
"When you're able to come out early and play a lot of minutes, you get more comfortable," Augustin said. "Coming off the bench is harder for any player. You get a rhythm quicker and able to play through that rhythm."
Augustin put on a show against Dallas a couple of weeks ago, and returned to the form that will be needed if the Pistons are to stay afloat in the Eastern Conference, scoring 35 with eight assists, hitting five triples in nine attempts — a contrast to shooting 28 percent from three before the game.
Augustin sank two free throws to cut the Raptors lead to three with 52 seconds left, but the Pistons couldn't get a stop to get the game closer, after entering the fourth trailing by 10.
The Raptors took a 13-point lead, much in the same fashion they did on Jan. 12, when the Pistons came back to stun them on the road, taking advantage of defensive miscues while the Pistons roared back methodically, never allowing the Raptors to get fully comfortable — but perhaps never close enough to make the Raptors choke.
"It's discouraging to be that close and not be able to get any stops. It's just discouraging," Van Gundy said.
He nearly had a coronary on the sidelines after defensive lapses from Jodie Meeks and Drummond.
Drummond (14 points, eight rebounds) swatting a Lou Williams floater to the third row late in the third quarter was the first time he could say he had an impact on that end. Problem was, on the ensuing inbounds pass, Kyle Lowry hit a jumper after a defensive lapse by someone else.
Even defensive-minded Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (16 points) had his problems guarding DeRozan, often jumping in the air and fouling the jump shooter as opposed to staying solid.
It didn't help that he and Meeks couldn't hit much until late, when Caldwell-Pope hit a triple and then had a four-point play that cut the lead to two with 15 seconds left. As a whole, the duo combined to shoot 4 for 17 from 3.
"He's struggling from 3 and 2," Van Gundy said of Meeks.
The final score will say it was a solid effort on the road after an emotional shocker, but a deeper look reveals if the Pistons don't get their defense together, this great turnaround will all be for naught.