Pistons win one for Casey on Bullock's buzzer-beater
Toronto — It seemed that the result of the game would be secondary to the storyline of Pistons coach Dwane Casey returning to Toronto to face his former team for the first time.
Casey did get a video tribute and a standing ovation from the Toronto fans but got something more — the Pistons’ best win of the season.
Reggie Bullock hit a lay-in at the buzzer and the Pistons overcame a 19-point second-half deficit to take an improbable 106-104 victory over the Raptors before a sellout crowd at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday night.
Box score: Pistons 106, Raptors 104
The crowd was stunned at the outcome, as the Pistons (7-6) clawed their way back in the final 15 minutes, behind Stanley Johnson’s defense on Kawhi Leonard and Blake Griffin’s 30 points and 12 rebounds.
An elated Casey clapped and joined the celebration on the far end of the court, as the Pistons won their third straight on the road and ended their six-game losing streak against the Raptors (12-3).
“I felt good for the players because we were 19 (points) down but didn’t give up or give in and they kept scrapping,” Casey said. “That’s got to be who we are each and every night and we’ve been working on that. Tonight, we were successful with it, against a very good team.”
Johnson scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, but he pressured Leonard into a turnover on the Raptors’ final possession, giving the Pistons the ball back with 2 seconds left.
Glenn Robinson III had a shot on an inbounds play but it was blocked with 1.2 seconds remaining. Jose Calderon inbounded to Bullock, who got the shot off in time and left the Raptors fans in a stunned silence.
“I was pretty much running our set. We called the play and I saw the opportunity to slip to the basket,” Bullock said. “I just tried to get it off my hands and just float it in — and it went in.”
The Pistons fueled the comeback with their defense, forcing the Raptors into eight turnovers in the fourth quarter and holding them to just 16 points. The 13-point margin in the final period proved to be the difference.
“Defensively, our second unit right before the end of the third quarter, went on an 11-2 run but our defense locked down and it gave us a chance,” Casey said. “We’re playing an analytical game; we’re not shooting the ball really well right now but if you play tough defense, you give your offense a chance to go.”
The Pistons looked to be out of it near the end of the third quarter. Greg Monroe scored a pair of baskets and gave the Raptors an 85-66 lead at the 3:13 mark. The Pistons dug in and started their rally from there.
Ish Smith hit back-to-back baskets and Bullock followed with a 3-pointer. That closed the deficit to 88-77 entering the fourth quarter. The Pistons started the final period with an 11-4 run — with baskets by five players — to pull within 92-88 on a jumper by Reggie Jackson (13 points and six assists) with 7:57 left.
The Pistons had another 12-2 run — with all the points by Jackson and Johnson, who hit a pair of 3-pointers — and moved ahead, 100-97, at the 4:29 mark.
Leonard scored on a drive and split a pair of free throws to tie it at 100, but the Pistons got a putback by Andre Drummond and a jumper from Griffin to move ahead by four. Kyle Lowry (14 points, seven assists and seven rebounds) scored on a drive and Leonard added a jumper to tie it with 38.6 seconds left.
Leonard finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and four assists and Pascal Siakam and Greg Monroe had 17 points each for the Raptors
Here are some other observations from the Pistons’ big win:
1. The good news for the Pistons was that Griffin was a one-man crusade on the offensive end, going 13-of-22 from the field. The bad news is that he was the only consistent offensive threat they had, until Langston Galloway (13 points) and Johnson got going. After averaging eight points in the last two games, Griffin connected from 3-point range again (3-of-8) and the Raptors had trouble guarding him in the paint and on the perimeter.
2. Drummond usually plays well against the Raptors and center Jonas Valanciunas. Things came slowly to him on Wednesday night. Valanciunas took the play to Drummond early, making Drummond defend in the post and connecting easily at the rim for easy baskets. Drummond picked up his second foul in the third quarter and didn’t attack the boards with the energy that he usually does. He finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds but he wasn’t as effective as he normally is. The Pistons were outrebounded, 49-41 — which is a rarity — and the Raptors had several second opportunities at the basket.
3. The numbers aren’t eye-popping for Stanley Johnson but Casey saw the value in his game, leaving him in down the stretch to guard Leonard. It worked. Defensively, Johnson found a good stride, stopping Valanciunas on a switch in the paint and getting an offensive foul then a steal while guarding Leonard. Johnson’s two corner 3-pointers were critical in getting the Pistons back in the game. Johnson didn’t start, but he was an integral part of the win.
4. After a solid game against the Hornets and Hawks and finding his 3-point range, Bullock struggled again, going 2-of-9 overall and 1-of-7 on 3-pointers and not playing down the stretch in favor of Langston Galloway. He did connect on the winning basket but his up-and-down play has to be a concern.
5. Leonard is the real deal. He weaved in and out almost effortlessly to get to the rim and to create other opportunities for his teammates. The Raptors still are jelling and figuring out how to fit Leonard and Danny Green in with their other pieces but it’s going to work out as the season progresses. They play a fast-paced style and get good shots for their shooters, something the Pistons can emulate.