The Detroit Pistons may be peaking at the right time, winning nine of 11 games to surge in the standings, and would probably feel confident about their chances if they match up with Toronto in the playoffs.
The Pistons, though, will likely have to get past the Raptors with their best player on the court when the games truly matter.
Blake Griffin scored 14 of his 27 points in the first quarter and Detroit finished with plays at both ends of the court to beat Toronto 112-107 in overtime on Sunday, taking advantage of Kawhi Leonard having the night off.
The Raptors rested Leonard less than 48 hours after he made the go-ahead shot in the closing seconds of their win over Portland.
“They’re just doing the right precautions to make sure I’m healthy down the road,” said Leonard, who has played in 46 of 64 games. “I only played nine games last year so the boost is like 200 percent or something like that. It’s all about the body. I know what the bigger picture is.”
The highly charged, closely contested game might be a first-round matchup in the Eastern Conference playoffs. It looked and sounded like the postseason in Detroit, where a lot of Raptors fans could be seen and heard all night.
“It was definitely a playoff atmosphere out there,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “I’m not sure how many fans were cheering for us, but they were loud.”
Both teams had chances to win in regulation, and in the extra period.
Reggie Jackson put the Pistons up 96-91 with 1:56 left and turned the ball over on a no-look pass on their next possession. Kyle Lowry scored Toronto’s next five points and OG Anunoby tipped in a shot with 25.6 seconds left to tie the score at 100.
Lowry had the Raptors’ first seven points in overtime, giving them a 107-102 lead with 2:22 remaining. The cushion wasn’t big enough.
The Pistons rallied and Andre Drummond made two free throws to put them ahead 109-107 with 46.1 seconds left. Lowry missed a contested layup with 7 seconds left and Detroit made free throws to seal the win.
“About the only thing he didn’t do really good was make that layup to tie it late,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “He was amazing.”
Lowry scored a season-high 35 points, grabbed seven rebounds and had five assists.
“He’s the head of the snake,” said Casey, who coached Lowry in Toronto.
Toronto’s Pascal Siakam had 21 points while Marc Gasol and Anunoby each scored 13 points.
Jackson scored 19 points and Drummond added 15 points and 17 rebounds.
“We matched their effort and intensity the whole way,” Drummond said.
Detroit led by 13 points in the opening quarter and didn’t trail until Gasol made a 3-pointer with 8-plus minutes left in the third.
The go-ahead shot came shortly after Toronto got fired up because Siakam and Danny Green were called for technical fouls for arguing with officials.
“We started playing better after that, but it cost us some points,” Green said. “They’re a tough team and they’re playing well.”
Detroit’s Zaza Pachulia was ejected after getting called for two technical fouls for screaming at officials and he will likely be disciplined by the NBA for bumping a referee.
“A veteran gets pushed in the back twice with no call and it is tough, but it is also tough to officiate in this league with all those bodies flying around and the emotion and passion,” Casey said.
Raptors: Jeremy Lin started in Leonard’s place and was 0 for 8 and scored only one point. …. Leonard went through a workout on the court before the game and studied previous games on a laptop in a front-row seat.
Pistons: Luke Kennard became the 10th player in franchise history to make at least five 3-pointers in two straight games and finished with 19 points. … Reggie Bullock, who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, made the winning shot as time expired on Nov. 14 when Detroit won at Toronto 106-104 as Casey made an emotional return to face his former team. … The regular season series finale is March 17 in Detroit.
Raptors: Host Houston on Tuesday night.
Pistons: Host Minnesota on Wednesday night.