TORONTO – The Toronto Raptors showed early in the season they would have no trouble scoring. Now they’re starting to believe they can play solid defence, as well.
Chris Bosh had 25 points and 16 rebounds as the Raptors won their season-best fourth game in a row, 102-95 over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday afternoon.
Toronto broke out to an early lead, and didn’t crumble when the Pistons made a game of it in the second half.
“I think we are playing with a little more confidence now,” Raptors head coach Jay Triano said. “We are getting more guys involved and we are starting to help each other and understand our defensive roles a lot better. As a result, we get stops, which lead to run-outs, which leads to confidence and then everything starts rolling.”
Toronto (15-17) improved to 8-6 for the month, assuring itself its best December showing since 2003.
The Pistons (11-19) dropped their seventh in a row before a sellout crowd of 19,800 at the Air Canada Centre.
The Raptors defeated the Pistons 94-64 last Wednesday in Detroit but expected to face a more difficult task on Sunday with the return of stars Tayshaun Prince, Richard Hamilton and Ben Gordon.
Hamilton and Gordon led the Pistons with 15 points each as the Raptors saw a 19-point halftime lead shrink to one with 5:47 to play on Prince’s turnaround fade-away jump shot.
“We knew they were going to come back,” Triano said. “We settled for jump shots, which we have a habit of doing. When we do that and miss them they lead to longer rebounds, which lead to run-outs and sometimes mismatches at the other end. We know they have some talent and they started making shots.”
Andrea Bargnani gave the Raptors some much-needed breathing room, scoring five straight points on a three-foot hook shot, a free throw and a 19-foot jumper. The Pistons were never closer than three points the rest of the way.
“We did show some composure but I thought we let up a little bit too,” point guard Jarrett Jack said. “We got off to an early lead because we were doing all the little things, rebounding, boxing out, taking good shots and taking care of the basketball.
“All those things I mentioned went away in the third quarter. Those things we definitely have to correct if we want to be a good ball club.”
Jack made four free throws down the stretch to preserve the win, and finished with 17 points and five assists.
“We kept our cool,” Jack said. “We’ve got a rhythm right now. Everybody is in sync with one another. Wins in the NBA aren’t easy to come buy. We just happen to have four in a row. We just have to keep that rhythm going.”
Jonas Jerebko and Rodney Stuckey added 14 each for the Pistons, who opened the month with a five-game winning streak but have fizzled mightily since.
“We had our chances tonight,” Gordon said. “With all the injuries and guys coming back, I still thought we had a chance to win the game. We just didn’t convert on plays that we needed to.”
Bosh said he and his teammates knew they had to capitalize on Detroit’s recent struggles.
“We have been playing some teams that have been struggling,” Bosh said. “And we have been taking advantage of the opportunities that we have had. We just have to keep going and hopefully it will build us some confidence and get guys involved.”
It’s the first time Toronto has won three games over the Pistons in a season in the team’s 15-year history. The Raptors also beat the Pistons 110-99 in Toronto on Nov. 4.
Prince, who was out with a small ruptured disc in his lower back, made just his fourth appearance of the season. So, too, did Hamilton, who has been out with a sore right hamstring. Gordon, who scored 30 points in Detroit’s loss in Toronto in November, was back after missing Wednesday’s game with a sprained left ankle.
Notes: The game took two hours 49 minutes, longest for a regulation-time game in franchise history. The previous record of 2:45 was set in the Raptors’ franchise opener Nov. 3, 1995 against the New Jersey Nets. … Toronto’s Marco Belinelli fouled out for the first time in his career with 6:24 left in the game. … Jerebko fouled out with 4:44 left in the game. … Raptors point guard Jose Calderon sat out the game with an injured left hip. He has not played since Dec. 11 and head coach Jay Triano is still not certain when he will return. … The Raptors are home Wednesday to the Charlotte Bobcats then visit Boston on Saturday before returning home for a game against San Antonio the next day.