Fans in Toronto have been known to show their rancour when ex-Raptors make their return, but that wasn’t the case for Jose Calderon.
Unlike the boos that regularly rain down on former Toronto stars Chris Bosh or Vince Carter, Calderon was showered with adulation prior to the Detroit Pistons’ 108-98 comeback victory over Toronto on Monday.
Calderon had 19 points and nine assists for Detroit in his first game back since being traded in a three-team deal that brought Rudy Gay to Toronto from the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 30.
But old habits die hard for the 31-year-old Spaniard, who played in Toronto for seven and a half seasons. He needed to be reminded where the visitors’ dressing room was, as cameras caught Calderon headed toward the wrong locker-room at halftime.
“I went to the wrong tunnel, but they called me out real quick and it was just three or four steps,” said Calderon.
The longtime Raptor, who remains the franchise’s all-time leader in assists (3,770) and free-throw percentage (.877), was given a brief standing ovation after he was introduced before the game. He smiled and waved to the 17,115 in attendance at Air Canada Centre.
Calderon got a longer ovation midway through first quarter after a video tribute, but he was focused in the midst of a Pistons timeout huddle and could hardly acknowledge the outpouring of love.
“It was a tough one because it was during time out, so I didn’t know whether to check the board, coach was talking, or just saying thank you,” said Calderon. “It was great, thank you.”
Greg Monroe had 24 points for the struggling Pistons (25-50), who won for only the second time in 15 games. Rodney Stuckey scored 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to lead Detroit’s rally.
Gay poured in 34 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and six boards for the Raptors (27-47), who have dropped seven of eight and were officially eliminated from playoff contention with Monday’s loss.
“It hurts,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “Our goal was to knock on the doors and get into the playoffs. A couple of weeks ago we saw that light, but it faded when we could not take care of games against Washington, Cleveland and Milwaukee.
“Unfortunately it is over now. It hurts.”
Calderon was instrumental in Detroit’s fourth quarter comeback. The Raptors’ four-point lead disappeared early in the final frame as Pistons reserve Jonas Jerebko of Sweden dropped in four points before Khris Middleton put Detroit ahead 83-81 with a reverse layup, forcing Casey to call time.
It didn’t do much good as Calderon connected on a two and Middleton did the same to give the Pistons their biggest lead of the game, 90-81 at 7:42.
Toronto came alive to go on a 13-3 run with two straight DeRozan buckets and a Gay three, making it a 96-94 game with three minutes to play.
But Detroit wouldn’t go away, as Rodney Stuckey hit a three followed by Jerebko’s two from the corner and once again the Pistons led 101-94 with 2:29 to play. The Raps cut the lead to five with a minute to play but didn’t get any closer.
“It was a game of runs,” said Casey. “We need to close out these games.”
Detroit sputtered early in the third and the Raps took advantage. Gay drained a three before Valanciunas added a deuce to give Toronto a 60-54 edge. The big Lithuanian was battling fellow rookie Andre Drummond all night, but got the best of the Pistons centre with a putback to stretch the lead 70-59 midway through the third.
The Pistons didn’t hit a shot from the field until Calderon’s jumper at 4:47, but that sparked a 10-2 run and Detroit crawled back to cut the lead to 79-75 by the end of the quarter.
Calderon paced Detroit in the second, pulling down a defensive board before scoring on a layup and a contested jumper to tie the game at 35 four minutes in. Toronto’s bench came in and Sebastian Telfair knocked down two straight threes, forcing a Pistons timeout with the Raps leading 44-41. Calderon added four more points down the stretch to finish the first half with 14 points and Detroit up a point.
The first quarter was back and forth with DeRozan dropping in six points to put Toronto up 18-17 with two minutes left. The Raps then went on a 6-0 run starting with Gay’s slam, but finished the frame down 25-24 after Calderon finished a unobstructed driving layup then assisted on Monroe’s layup.
Despite the video of Calderon taking place during one of his timeouts, Pistons coach Lawrence Frank was impressed with Toronto’s tribute.
“Toronto fans, very classy,” said Frank. “It’s great they showed their appreciation because Jose’s a first-class guy. I was happy for him because I know how much he loved it here. Here’s a guy who never had anything negative to say about Toronto, he always embraced it and still does. There’s no bitterness.”
Toronto will next take on the Wizards at home on Wednesday night.
Notes: Toronto Blue Jays Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus watched from courtside, as did Toronto FC manager Ryan Nelsen. ... The Pistons were without starting forward Jason Maxiel (eye surgery) and reserve guard Will Bynum (hand). ... The Raptors were without reserve guard/forward Landry Fields, who is in Los Angeles to receive follow-up testing on his surgically repaired right elbow. Fields, in his first year with the team, missed almost two months early in the season due to elbow surgery. He’s averaging to 4.9 points and four rebounds per game.