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10 things: Dalano Banton’s career night leads Raptors to victory

Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 115-111 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

One — The Raptors collected their first win over the Pistons in three seasons and had to sweat to earn it. Toronto started strong and carried the lead throughout, but Detroit made a hard comeback push in the fourth quarter behind electric guard Jaden Ivey. A few clutch possessions on both ends from an inexperienced group were able to get it done for the Raptors in the end, so credit to them and to Nick Nurse for finding a lineup on the fly that got the job done.

Two — The biggest challenge for Nurse was to build a rotation with four of his top-eight players missing due to injuries. He pondered between Khem Birch or Christian Koloko to start at centre, but ended up opening the game with Dalano Banton and by shifting Thad Young to the middle. When Otto Porter Jr. left the game with a toe injury, Nurse again had to shuffle his lineup and get even more creative, and called on Juancho Hernangomez to step up while also using a rare dual point guard lineup that kept the offence flowing for the reserves. The Raptors also got a significant chunk of their offence by playing through the post, whether it was O.G. Anunoby using his size advantage to score, or through clever interior passing that led to clean layups behind the Pistons’ defence.

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Three — Banton had the best game of his career by some measure, finishing with 27 points while also adding in three steals and two blocks. Banton’s aggression was notable from the start, as his first basket was a fast break layup where he ripped down the rebound and beat three Pistons defenders in a race to the basket. He scored in a variety of ways, knocking down three triples off catch-and-shoot chances, wheeling away in transition, and by cutting behind the defence.

He built up enough confidence that in the fourth quarter, Banton was able to beat his man off the dribble for a floater, hustle back to poke away a steal that led to him finishing a layup, and then a lead timely drive where he was able to draw the second defender which freed up Scottie Barnes for the dunk. This is hardly a surprise to anyone who has seen Banton at the G-League level, but his aggression is always neutered when he is called up to play. The only way Banton becomes a consistent contributor is if he is aggressive, and his skillset is good enough to warrant more chances.

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Four — Banton’s shooting is noticeably improved. Again, this isn’t a surprise for those who kept track of the 905, where Banton was able to gain more repetitions and regularly took jumpers off the dribble. Banton is up 11 per cent to a respectable 36 per cent from deep, and he has shown more willingness to take them in rhythm when the ball swings his way. Nurse hinted that Banton has made some technical adjustments to his shot.

Five — Young continues to be a dependable option for Nurse in the starting lineup. His hustle and effort are never in question, as Young showed a double team on the very first play of the game before clawing away the ball for a turnover. He wasn’t as involved offensively from a scoring perspective, but his high-low passes helped the de facto stretch-five open the paint for easy cuts in behind. It was reminiscent of how Marc Gasol used to operate, where Nurse was fond of telling his team to feed Gasol at the top and then to just start cutting.

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Six — Nurse made a bold call to sub in two-way guard Jeff Dowtin Jr. in the final minute of the game. Dowtin Jr. was with the 905 but Fred VanVleet’s absence has necessitated more depth in the backcourt, and his role is to be the third-string point guard, yet Nurse trusted him in the biggest moment of the night. Dowtin Jr. cleverly stole a rebound from behind and was hacked in the throat by a Pistons defender which led him to fall over, but the officials bizarrely called it out of bounds instead. On the very next trip, Dowtin Jr. used his quickness and length to bottle Ivey’s drive, moving his feet to stay in front before unfurrowing his arms for the block at the basket, while also managing to save the rebound. Ivey led the comeback charge in the fourth and his quickness was giving other players issues, so it really leaves an impression that Dowtin Jr. was able to get the job done.

Seven — Dowtin Jr. also played well on offence in a dual point guard lineup with Malachi Flynn. Just like how he paired with Banton in Indiana, Flynn was able to get into his spots easier for scoring chances with another ball handler beside him to set the table. Flynn was able to attack spaces using the wide screens of Koloko, and showed a determination to sustain contact in the lane despite being undersized. Unfortunately, that same intensity didn’t translate to the defensive end, where Ivey made a point to hunt Flynn in the fourth quarter, which prompted Nurse to end his night prematurely despite Flynn’s offensive contributions.

Eight — Ivey also gave Barnes issues down the stretch. Barnes had done a great job of containing him to start, but could not shut off the taps in the fourth as Ivey repeatedly drove around Barnes to cause rotations in the paint that led to free throws and threes. Barnes was better in this regard to start the season, but has slipped back into the habit of playing too close on the perimeter and not moving his feet quickly enough to cut off the driver that troubled him last season.

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Nine — Chris Boucher has strung together three excellent performances off the bench after a rare blip last week. Boucher is always aggressive on both ends, and his scoring is vital when the team is without their top players. Boucher strung together an impressive stint where he knocked down three contested midrange jumpers off the bounce, along with his usual knack of getting out on the break and hustling for putbacks. He only needed one three to get to 20 points, which shows how well-rounded his scoring can be despite rarely ever handling or creating for himself.

Ten — The Raptors beat the Pistons’ zone defence fairly easily, which is an encouraging sign because they’re in for a heavy dose of it against Miami. Banton is great in the open floor, but he tends to stagnate and lose his aggression against the zone, which is a habit he shares with other young players on the roster. The Raptors will really need to get healthy bodies back, or catch fire from deep. Even against Detroit’s inexperience, the Raptors still only made eight triples.

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