TORONTO — The doom and gloom that surrounded the Toronto Raptors just a week ago feels like a distant memory.
DeMar DeRozan scored 23 points and Jose Calderon added 17 assists as the Raptors won their fourth straight for the first time in over two years with a 97-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.
The surprising win streak comes on the heels of a six-game slide that included a dispiriting road trip, injuries, a suspension and general manager Bryan Colangelo calling the team’s play “unacceptable.”
Since then the Raptors (8-19) have beaten Dallas, Houston and Cleveland, to go along with Wednesday’s victory, for the club’s first four-game surge since Nov. 17-24, 2010.
“Right now we’re finding ways to win and that’s the most important thing for our group,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “Now we’re believing we can win, we’re trusting each other, and we’re pulling for each other.”
Emerging swingman Alan Anderson has been instrumental in the win streak, scoring 58 points over his last three games after returning from a foot injury. The veteran had 16 points Wednesday and had fans at Air Canada Centre roaring when he connected from downtown twice midway through the quarter to stretch the lead to 88-77.
“(Alan) brings a lot because he’s got experience,” said DeRozan. “Even if it’s not in the NBA. Playing in Europe, you got to be tough minded, tough as nails, and that’s one thing about him. His mentality is: go get it done.”
Calderon has also been exceptional over the streak, raising uncomfortable questions about who should be the starting point guard when Kyle Lowry (torn triceps) returns from injury sometime before Christmas.
Calderon came into the game averaging a team-high 16.3 points and 9.5 assists over the last four games, and had 10 assists in the first quarter alone against Detroit.
“When you are playing with more confidence you know where your teammates are,” he said. “We realize how to play to be successful. If you’re in that (losing) situation and you don’t turn around, you’re just going to keep losing like we were doing. At least we are competing at that’s what we got to do.”
Greg Monroe had career-high 35 points and 10 rebounds for Detroit (7-21), which has dropped six in a row and is a paltry 2-13 on the road this season.
“We are trying to find what we need to do to get back on track,” said Monroe. “I don’t think we’ve fallen totally off of track, the way we’ve been losing hasn’t been horrible games. We are right there, a little bit more we have to do to finish games and attention to detail coming down the stretch.”
The Raptors came into the fourth quarter leading 73-71, but opened up a seven-point lead on a clutch three by Anderson and an Amir Johnson hook shot.
Detroit clawed back to make it a four-point game with under three minutes left, but Calderon hit a three of his own to get the lead back up to seven. Toronto ran down the clock with long possessions and timely rebounds to seal the win and put the Raptors over .500 at home this season (6-5).
Calderon kept the offence moving in the third, finding DeRozan and Ed Davis, who combined on 12 points, to give Toronto a 63-60 lead midway through the quarter. DeRozan returned the favour and dished to the Spaniard for an open three, pushing the Raptors’ lead to six with four minutes left.
Toronto opened the second with a 27-23 edge but eased off defensively around the post as Detroit made a 6-0 run with three straight layups to pull ahead 35-34 five minutes in.
The Raptors gave up 22 offensive rebounds in the game.
“That really sticks out and we have to do something about that,” said Casey. “That’s the only area where I was disappointed.”
But the Raptors bench responded in the second, with guard Terrence Ross connecting from downtown and two mid-range jumpers before John Lucas III drained a jump shot to make it 43-41 with just over four minutes to play.
Pistons rookie Kyle Singler tipped in a rebound in the final seconds to tie the game 49-49 as DeRozan finished the half with a game-high 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
Jonas Valanciunas had a strong opening quarter with a dunk and a bank shot before stealing the ball from Monroe to set up DeRozan’s triple to make it 19-18 Toronto at 3:53.
Valanciunas threw down another dunk a minute later and made both free throws in the final seconds to finish the quarter with eight points and two rebounds. The rookie centre finished the night with 12 points and five boards.
The Raptors shot 64.7 per cent in the opening frame, with Calderon serving up nine assists.
“He’s our Peyton Manning. He’s our quarterback. He sees everything,” Casey said of Calderon. “Knocking down those threes don’t hurt either. I can’t say enough about Jose.”