DeRozan, Raptors KO Pistons in opener
Toronto — It was the start of a new season, but Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy was worried that he might get a replay of the preseason finale.
Having lost to the Raptors by 11 last week, the Pistons got a rerun in the season opener.
This time, though, DeMar DeRozan had a starring role, going for a franchise opening-night record 40 points, boosting Toronto to a 109-91 win over the Pistons on Wednesday night at Air Canada Centre.
DeRozan scored 21 points (on 10-of-14 shooting) in third quarter and Jonas Valanciunas dominated the middle, posting a career-best 32 points and adding 11 rebounds.
“DeRozan had a great night and we did a really poor job on Valanciunas and we got outrebounded by 11,” Van Gundy said. “That has nothing to do with those two guys having a great night and making shots — they did the same thing to us in the exhibition game.
“They just punked us on the boards. The rebounding was a major concern, 54 points in the paint was a major concern and 29 free-throw attempts was a major concern. That means a team took it right at you.”
Tobias Harris had 22 points and Marcus Morris 17 points and nine rebounds for the Pistons but they didn’t have an answer defensively for Valanciunas in the paint or DeRozan on the perimeter.
Andre Drummond (16 points, six rebounds) took a Valanciunas elbow to the face in the early minutes and played only seven minutes in the first half because of the blow and later picking up two fouls in the first five minutes.
Drummond was taken to the locker room to be examined for a concussion. He returned, but not until the Raptors had taken a lead late in the half.
“I was really shaken up and it took me a minute to compose myself and had to come back (to the locker room) for a little bit,” Drummond said. “I came back and it was five minutes left in the second quarter and it’s tough to get back into the swing of a game being out for so long.”
The Pistons still were in it late in the second quarter, following two free throws and a three-point play by Harris, cutting the lead to 49-46 with 3:04 left in the half. The Raptors answered with a 9-0 run, sparked by a 3-pointer by DeMarre Carroll and a drive by DeRozan.
That pushed the lead to 58-46 at halftime — and the Pistons never got the deficit within single digits the rest of the way.
“We couldn’t make a dent. At one point we were down 10 or 11 and had two wide-open 3s in the same possession,” Van Gundy said. “That was our last chance to get it under 10. They’re a good team and dominated us tonight. We’re going to have to learn from it and go back and get a lot better.”
Playing without Reggie Jackson (knee tendinitis), last season’s leading scorer, the Pistons jumped out to an 11-4 advantage in the first three minutes. They hit five of their first six field goals, including six straight points on a jumper by Harris, a lay-in by Drummond and a jumper by Morris.
After Drummond’s second foul, Valanciunas hit of six straight free throws, igniting a 13-2 run, with seven consecutive points from DeRozan, staking the Raptors to a 17-13 lead at the 6:24 mark.
With Drummond’s foul trouble, backup center Aron Baynes entered and picked up two quick fouls and the Raptors streaked to a 29-12 run to finish the period. Morris and Harris kept the Pistons close in the second quarter, with back-to-back baskets by Morris, cutting it to 34-30, and a jumper by Harris after five straight points by the Raptors.
DeRozan ignited in the third period, when he scored more than half of his points, on an array of pull-up jumpers and drives to the basket, including a string of 12 of the Raptors’ 15 points during one stretch.
“Everybody knows what DeMar can do. Once he gets it rolling, that midrange game is really dangerous,” Drummond said. “He was taking contested twos and swishing them. It wasn’t like they were hard shots off the glass. They were rhythm shots that he takes every day and he’s just a hell of a player.”
Van Gundy took some of the blame for not altering the defensive strategy on DeRozan and making him take tougher shots.
“We didn’t have anybody who could make anything tough on him tonight at all,” Van Gundy said. “We probably should have run a second defender more and we didn’t — that’s a mistake on my part.
“We didn’t make it difficult on him at all. His shots were mostly relatively easy — for him.”
The Pistons cut the lead to 11 on back-to-back baskets by Harris, but the Raptors extended the lead to 17 with a 9-0 run, including consecutive baskets by DeRozan.