AUBURN HILLS, MI — So, the new Raptors logo is going to take some getting used to. I’m sure most people will come around on it (two thirds of the reaction I received Friday was of the negative variety) and the way it was unveiled will never be used as a template for Marketing 101 courses, but I don’t think it’s that bad. Of course, I never really liked the Barney pajamas or the red dino logo (though the throwbacks look great and I still like the claw). Wish they would have gone back to the two-tone black and purple beauties (think Vince Carter slam dunk contest) those ones really were the best. But my opinion doesn’t matter, let’s take it to the players (who shall remain mostly nameless, because none of this was exactly on the record):
Me: “Do you like the logo?” One Raptor: “Nope.” DeMar DeRozan: (Shrugs shoulders, does the classic I’m not sure signal with his arms). Another: “Shouldn’t the new one be better than the old one? I like the old one.” Landry Fields loved the new one. James Johnson was a fan and Amir Johnson gave it one thumbs up, but admitted that he’d wear anything with Toronto Raptors on it so it wasn’t a big deal either way. Masai Ujiri and Jeff Weltman love it and everyone assured us that it will all look far better on the actual jerseys and merchandise. Speaking of that, can’t verify the authenticity, but this was making the rounds and it does look pretty good.
- “We the North” travels well. Before the game, most of the early-arriving fans (as in 75% of those there an hour before tipoff) were Raptors supporters. They were loud, had nice signs and even banners. Patrick Patterson signed a Canadian flag pre-game. Once the game started, even the Detroit media commented on the Raptors supporters, saying they actually brought some atmosphere to the morgue-like Palace for once. Of course, James Johnson had the best line, saying: “It felt like Detroit was hosting a Toronto Raptors night.” The “We the North” chants easily drowned out the “USA, USA” competition in an arena where they once booed the Canadian anthem during a Raptors-Pistons playoff series (the one where Chris Childs forgot the score). The best moment was when they twice chanted in support of Landry Fields, who had just taken a horrific spill that left him a bloody mess.
- Johnson showed some maturity in not getting himself into any trouble after getting checked by Andre Drummond following his massive dunk in Drummond’s face. Afterward, Johnson alternated between seeming ready to chase after the Pistons into the night and joking about the incident. He’s an interesting dude. His quotes were some of the best of the season. The aftermath was yet another example of the chemistry this group has. They have each others’ backs and as Kyle Lowry says, are a band of brothers.
- Why do the Raptors tend to play so much better later in games? “You get a reset. You get a chance to kind of start the game over and put our effect on the game big-time. We’re just coming out and coach is just really making our adjustments at half-time and making our changes and we’ve been going from there,” Lowry said. “You’ve got to put your effect on the game, you’ve got to put your will on the third quarter and that’s huge. You can kind of start the game and get the first run and make them call a timeout.”
- Lowry on if he minded getting a rest down the stretch? “I wanted to play, but once James got the dunk, honestly, I was like, you know what, ‘let them guys rock out, I can’t match that, so go ahead, y’all got it.’
- Stan Van Gundy isn’t having a good time, despite all the money the Pistons gave him to turn this mess around.The Raptors had a 26-9 run at one point. Afterward, Van Gundy weighed in: “We had absolutely no defensive will or resolve whatsoever. I mean 60 points in paint. You’re not doing anything defensively when you give that up.”
- One statistical quirk: Teams continue to stink at the free throw line against the Raptors. Detroit hit just 66.7% and opponents are hitting just 70.9% against them for the season. Only Milwaukee (70.3%) gets more help at the line.
- Amir Johnson played his 400th game for the Raptors, beating DeMar DeRozan, who has been stuck on 399 because of his injury. Fittingly, he was at the Palace, where his career started.
The Pistons selected Johnson straight out of high school, making him the answer to a trivia question (the last NBAer to go prep to pros), but on a deep, contending squad, he mostly had to watch and learn from veterans like Ben and Rasheed Wallace and Dale Davis.
Johnson eventually was dealt to Milwaukee, but never played for the Bucks, being re-routed to the Raptors for Carlos Delfino. Since then, he has grown into one of the league’s better defensive big man, with a sneakily effective inside game.
Before the game, Johnson did not even know about the milestone.
“Is it? 400? Wow. Yea, man. It makes me think how many NBA games I’ve played throughout the year. But it’s a blessing,” Johnson said.
“Six years with the Raptors, I’ve been through the ups and downs and I guess the only thing to do is keep on going, right?”
Head coach Dwane Casey called Johnson “Mr. Consistency,” adding, “what you see is what you’re going to get. His biggest nemesis has been health, more than anything else, but he’s a warrior and he goes out and gives you everything he has even though he’s hurt.”