Raps put in their place

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:59 AM ET

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- You know the game is all but over for the Raptors when the normally demonstrative head coach Sam Mitchell does his arguing while sitting on the bench.

That was the situation late in the third quarter last night at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

The Raptors, riding a three-game win streak, played tough with the experienced and talented, and often yappy, Pistons for much of the game, but then wilted under the intense Detroit defence in the third quarter, enroute to a 103-89 loss.

The Pistons led by as many as 18 in the third, but Toronto clawed back to within 10 late with most of the starters, including point guard Jose Calderon and forward Chris Bosh, on the bench.

"The guys just didn't have it -- Jose and (CB) and (Anthony Parker)," Mitchell said. "And we have a game (tonight)."

Calderon and Bosh had been logging some heavy minutes of late and the coach thought it was prudent to rest them for tonight's very winnable matchup at home against the Sacramento Kings. Trailing 75-57 with just under four minutes left in the third, Mitchell went deep into the bench, dusting off the likes of Joey Graham and Juan Dixon.

"We (the starters) weren't playing well, that's the bottom line," Bosh said. "(Mitchell) put in a group that was going to come in and hustle and knock them around a little bit and they did a good job of getting us back in the game."

Bosh finally returned with about six minutes left, with the Raptors trailing 88-77, but could not change the game in Toronto's favour.

He finished with his 19th double-double of the season, 16 points and 11 boards. Rookie forward Jamario Moon contributed 11 points and five rebounds, while former Piston Carlos Delfino had 14 off the bench, as did Jason Kapono.

Detroit shooting guard Richard Hamilton shot the lights out, scoring 39 points, a season high and tying a Toronto-opponent high for the season. He added six assists and four rebounds, while point guard Chauncey Billups, who led the Pistons yack attack, along with Rasheed Wallace, scored 20 points.

The Pistons shot 50% from the floor, and 8-for-13 from beyond the three-point arc, while only committing 11 fouls, to 20 by Toronto. The Raptors shot 44%.

"They were going through Rip Hamilton, and he had the hot hand all night," Bosh said. "We didn't do a very good job of making him shoot contested jump shots and they got on a roll."

Raptors starting centre Andrea Bargnani has been singled out lately for his poor play. In the four games leading up to last night's contest, the 2006 first overall draft pick had scored and recorded rebounds in single digits. Still, Mitchell defended him yesterday, insisting that Bargnani is playing hard, despite his mediocre stats and seemingly indifference on the court at times. He finished last night's game with zero points and five rebounds in 16 minutes, shooting 0-for-4 from the floor.

"Andrea's improving, but everybody keeps saying, 'he's not playing like he did last year.' I don't want him to play like he played last year," Mitchell said. "Because last year he stood 30-feet from the basket and played. We don't need that Andrea. Because if he stands up 30-feet from the basket, we can put (anyone) on to guard him.

But he has to evolve now. He has got to learn how to play the game. He has to rebound, be more of a defender."

Still, there have been times, including the last three weeks, when Mitchell has been anything but all embracing toward Bargnani. He has given the Italian the cold shoulder recently because he hadn't been working hard enough in practice.

"I'm not running for prom king," Mitchell said. "My job is to try to get the best out of him. And if there are days when I need to be a prick to get the best out of him, I'll be a prick. If there's days I need to put my arms around him, and tell him how much I care about him and love him, I'm going to do that."


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