Raptors destroy lowly Pistons, set franchise record for assists in a game

The Raptors held at least a 30-point lead for the majority of the second half, going up as much as 40 in the fourth quarter.

TORONTO, CANADA - NOVEMBER 19: Scottie Barnes #4 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after sinking a basket against the Detroit Pistons during the first half of the game at Scotiabank Arena on November 19, 2023 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The Toronto Raptors set a franchise record with 44 assists on Sunday at Scotiabank Arena, en route to a commanding 142-113 win over the Detroit Pistons.

The Raptors held at least a 30-point lead for the majority of the second half — going up as much as 40 in the fourth quarter — against a Pistons team with the worst record in the NBA. The 142 total points is also the third most Toronto has scored in a regular-season game in franchise history.

“It was just one of those games where the ball was on a string for us,” said Jakob Poeltl, saying it’s nice to see their record isn’t behind one player having a 20-assist game. Instead, six players had at least four dimes each.

“Everybody was sharing the ball, moving the ball. You create a lot of easy shots that way, and we found ways to break down their defence. It feels like we just made the right read throughout most parts of that game.”

Head coach Darko Rajaković says that during halftime, when the team already had 23 assists, he emphasized to continue their momentum — that they shouldn’t finish the game and see they only had seven assists in the second. He says the team did a “really good job” but still “thought that we had even more opportunities to find an open man and move the ball.”

All season, the Raptors have been solid at sharing the rock, averaging the second most passes per game (312) in the NBA and the fourth most assists (29). Despite that, Rajaković continues to emphasize that they need to make those passes count more by attacking the paint.

On Sunday, he found his team to be "really aggressive" in that respect, as they finished with 70 paint points. He says from the start, they were aggressive at attacking the rim, which collapsed Detroit's defence and contributed to open looks from deep. Same goes for the team’s defensive efforts, which naturally led to transition opportunities.

Toronto took its first 20-point lead with about nine minutes left in the second quarter after going on a 25-6 run. The majority of it was fuelled behind Scottie Barnes and the bench players, like Precious Achiuwa, who contributed 10 points in that stretch. Barnes says the start of the second quarter is a point of emphasis for the team, especially with him leading the second unit.

Overall, Barnes was outstanding all game. The third-year rising star finished with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting (3-of-4 from deep), to go with a game-high 9 assists, 7 rebounds, and an eye-popping plus-37 in his 25 minutes of action.

“I just play the game and whatever comes to me, that's really what I take … no matter what it is, you know, comfortable doing it, everywhere out there on the floor," says Barnes, noting that he’s confident having the ball in pick-n-rolls, to playing off the ball.

Rajaković says that with Barnes, they’re continuing to find 2-3 points of emphasis in his game to take him to the “next level and become an All-Star player, which I believe he is.” He says at the moment, he’s a good driver to the rim, good at connecting with his teammates, and that using him in screen and rolls really opens a lot of opportunities for the team. Given that Barnes is 22 years old, and that he himself is a rookie head coach, it’s still “a process.”

Post-game, Rajaković joked around that having elite skills and traits like Barnes does can be a bit of a problem, since “you cannot be extremely good at everything.”

“I always say: if you're really good at one thing in the NBA, you're going to survive in this league. If you're really good at two things, you're a heck of a player, potentially starting. If you’re really good at three things, you're an All-Star. If you think you're really good at four things, probably you're out of the league and playing in Europe."

Barnes says he wants to continue improving on his shot, with him now hitting his three-balls at a 39% clip, a career-high.

OG Anunoby credits Barnes’ ability to continue working on his game on both ends, as he’s always been a well-rounded player.

On Sunday, Anunoby made his return to the Raptors lineup after missing the last three games after cutting his finger doing “household chores.” Post-game, he didn’t want to go into detail about what exactly he did that contributed to the laceration, but says it’s “getting better everyday.”

“I had to get five stitches. … it was gushing,” said Anunoby of his hurt finger on his right shooting hand.

On Sunday, Anunoby finished with nine points on 2-of-11 shooting. But it was on the defensive end where he was especially missed.

Barnes credits Anunoby especially for “slowing” down Cade Cunningham, by not allowing him to get to his spots. The first-overall pick in the 2021 draft finished with 18 points (7-of-17 shooting), with only three of those coming in the second half.

“OG helps us so much, being able to have a physical strong presence, that moves his feet really well, defends really well,” said Barnes. “He guards everybody, one of the best, if not the best defender in the league.”

For the Raptors, it’s certainly a much-needed win after losing the last two games to powerhouse Eastern Conference teams. In a game that kicked off on a Sunday at 4 p.m., they also got off to a solid start from the jump, an issue that plagued them earlier this week against the Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks.

“You succeed in the NBA if you’re an everyday guy, if you're capable of bringing it every single day. If that's Sunday, 4 p.m., let it be Sunday 4 p.m. You got to be ready to go,” said Rajaković. “I thought that we did a really good job. Our starters set the tone, but also guys coming off the bench, everybody really took us to another level.”

The effort came against a Detroit team with a plethora of former top-10 picks, that's also finished with the East’s worst record in two of the past three seasons. The loss against the Raptors extends their losing-streak to 11.

Rajaković says he expects to see a different team next time, since Detroit was without some key pieces like Jalen Duren, Bojan Bogdanovic, Killian Hayes and a couple others.

The win puts the Raptors at 2-2 in this four-game home stretch, and 6-7 on the season. Up next, they’ll be on the road for four of their next five, starting with an In-Season Tournament game against the Orlando Magic on Tuesday.