Toronto — On the schedule, the Pistons’ weekend back-to-back games against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference looked to be the most daunting pair of games this season.
Even coming off a two-game win streak, the Pistons had a rough road ahead of them, playing home against Cleveland and at Toronto, which entered with a 10-game win streak.
Playing without starting forward Ersan Ilyasova (groin) provided an added level of difficulty.
The Pistons tried to grind, but it turned out to be too much to overcome, as the Pistons fell to the Raptors, 111-107, on Saturday night before a sellout crowd at Air Canada Centre.
It’s the second straight defeat following Friday’s loss to the East-leading Cavaliers at The Palace.
Brandon Jennings had a season-high 22 points off the bench, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 points and Reggie Jackson 13 for the Pistons, who continue their three-game road trip facing the Brooklyn Nets on Monday.
The Raptors feasted on free throws, hitting 35 of 47 in the game, a point of emphasis for Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, after the Cavs went 27-of-29 on Friday.
“It starts with not being able to contain people off the dribble. We’re just fouling too much and it’s something we haven’t done all year,” Van Gundy said. “The Denver game, last night, tonight — way too many free-throw attempts.
“We gave a lot of fouls at the end and they’re in the 30s shooting free throws — and that’s way too many.”
The Pistons (25-23) never led but cut the lead within two or three points on several occasions in the third quarter. They trimmed a 10-point advantage to three after a triple from Marcus Morris (13 points), a jumper by Caldwell-Pope and a coast-to-coast drive by Jackson.
Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan (29 points) answered with a layup and followed with two free throws to boost the lead to seven.
The Pistons closed to 70-68 following a layin by Jackson and a putback by Aron Baynes, along with a jumper by Jennings, but that was as close as they’d get the rest of the way, as Jonas Valanciunas split a pair of free throws and DeRozan added a dunk to push it back to five.
In the last 2:41 of the quarter, the Raptors went on an 8-2 spurt, with four points by Bismack Biyombo (12 points, 13 rebounds) and two of four free throws from All-Star Kyle Lowry (18 points) for an 81-72 lead entering the fourth.
The Pistons had their chances but couldn’t convert down the stretch when they got close.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” Jennings said. “A couple calls didn’t go our way here and there and we still fought to the end.”
After Stanley Johnson started the final period with a jumper, the Raptors put the game away with an 11-0 run — matching their franchise-record 11-game win streak.
Cory Joseph, who finished with 16 points, had six during the string and Andre Drummond (11 points and 12 rebounds) scored the Pistons’ only two baskets during a four-minute stretch, while the Raptors stretched the lead to 98-78.
Drummond fouled out at the 6:37 mark, drawing all six of his fouls in the second half. He also got a technical foul as he headed to the bench.
Without Drummond, the Pistons struggled and weren’t effective on the boards or in the post.
“Andre’s not dominating on the boards — he’s just not,” Van Gundy said.
“We need him to rebound. He’s averaging 15 but lately those numbers are way down. He had the New Orleans game and two games ago with Philly. He’s got to get to rebounding the way he was and it has to be a focus of his.
“Everybody’s focus has gone to free-throw shooting instead of to the fact that he needs to be a dominant rebounder. I don’t think his head is where it needs to be right now.”
Johnson was called for a flagrant foul to cap the run at 6:19, but the Pistons mounted a comeback with a 15-3 run.
Baynes had a dunk and Johnson added a lay-in and a 3-pointer by Jennings followed by another Johnson bank shot cut the lead to 101-93 with 1:48 remaining. Jennings hit another 3-pointer — his fourth of the game — trimming the deficit to seven with under a minute remaining.
Jennings’ fifth 3-pointer, in the final seconds, along with a steal and layin by Darrun Hilliard got the Pistons within four, but the Raptors made their free throws to put the game away.
“They kept coming. (Van Gundy was trying to sub his guys in to clear his bench then all at once, we gave them life with bad turnovers,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.