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Raptors 905 116, Austin Spurs 87 | Box Score
Assignees: Jakob Poeltl, Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo (905), None (Spurs)
Attempting to discern development through small, short-lived NBA windows is a difficult task. For the bulk of the season, it’s been the only way to evaluate Toronto Raptors rookies Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl. Siakam was thrust into a major role early on but has played sparingly over the last few months. Poeltl has oscillated between the backup and third-string center jobs, providing encouraging glimpses in only the small bursts allowed. But the Raptors’ occasionally thin roster situation, lengthy road trips, and a desire for the young players to gain NBA exposure has kept the freshmen developing mostly out of site, away from Raptors 905 and the D-League.
With both the 905 and their parent club returning from five-game road trips Monday to play a doubleheader at the Air Canada Centre, it was a prime opportunity to get Siakam and Poeltl some extended run. The logistics were easy, with the rest of the team going through shootaround just upstairs on the 300-level, and it would be no issue to have both available later in the day (Fred VanVleet performed the rare D-League-NBA double-dip earlier in the year). As a handful of Raptors and staff watched on from the front row on the baseline, Siakam and Poeltl were given the chance to show how they’ve come along since their respective one-game visits to the 905 earlier in the year, in which each posted a double-double.
As the Austin Spurs found out quickly, their development is coming along just fine.
The 905 went to both bigs early and often, dotting E.J. Singler and Brady Heslip threes around their work in the post. The rookies combined for 14 points and five rebounds in the opening nine minutes, shooting 7-of-12 and kicking in five rebounds, two assists, and a Poeltl block. The 905 had racked up a 27-20 lead in front of a loud, shrill March Break crowd full of children, and the 905 looked set to put forth a much better effort than in their last ACC outing.
It was a major change from their Dec. 20 game at the ACC, when they were run off the floor.
“Yeah, guys came out and really competed,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said of the change in demeanor. “It’s always a little nervous for these early games, guys are a little sluggish, but I thought we came out with good energy. Jakob and Pascal came out and were big for us. We look down, and he’s plus-40 and plus-33, we’ll take that every time.”
That fast start temporarily went awry, though. While the addition of assignees should in theory make the 905 bench, already a major strength, even better, the shake-up seemed to take the bench group out of form. The Spurs closed the quarter on a 7-2 run, then opened the second on a 10-2 run. Poeltl and Siakam staggering back in settled things, with a nice touch from Siakam on a push shot and a strong rim-run from Poeltl helping get the offense going again. Another Heslip three followed to cut the Spurs lead to one, sending Austin running for a timeout. That breather, not a Siakam missed alley-oop, could slow the momentum, though, as Sheehey cleaned up the miss, Siakam bounced back with a bull-rush of a drive in transition for a foul, and the 905 pulled back ahead by six entering halftime. (The rookies finished the half having combined for 20-and-10, with the two best plus-minus marks on the team.)
The second half continued that momentum, with Singler working well in facilitator mode and continually looking the way of the 905’s dominant interior presences.
“A coach is probably not supposed to have favorites, but he’s my favorite,” Stackhouse said of Singler, who added eight rebounds and seven assists on a night his shot wasn’t dropping.
They even took that presence outside a bit, with Siakam knocking down a corner three to extend the lead to a game-high 14 midway through the frame. This time, the 905 didn’t lose their footing when the NBA bodies subbed out, with Heslip and Sheehey helping carry the load and John Jordan hitting a buzzer-beating half0court heave to secure a 23-point lead heading into the fourth.
The Spurs offered little resistance from there, with the 905 mostly cruising down the stretch (enough so that Axel Toupane even tried to throw Jordan, a former Slam Dunk Champion, an impossible lob on a back-door cut). A late timeout saw Toupane and E.J. Single playfully shoving Sheehey, who dropped 20 off the bench, around. The Raptors in attendance filtered out. And then Heslip closed it out with his eighth triple of the night, good for a game-high 33 points. All told, the 905 tallied 27 assists on their 44 field goals, shot 55 percent on threes and 49 percent overall, and held a decent opponent to 41 percent the other way.
Coming off of their first two-game losing streak in a long time, the 905 spoke before the game about the need to bounce back and make sure bad habits weren’t creeping in. Consider them eradicated, at least for one day. The 905 looked every bit the championship contender they’ve emerged as over the course of the season, and the blowout victory moves them to 32-11, two games up on any other team in the D-League and one-and-a-half games from clinching home court through the first two rounds of the playoffs. The losses now simply serve as a teaching tool for the stretch run.
“To come back and have the showing that they did today in the early game, it’s good,” Stackhouse said. “But it was good. Those losses was good. ‘Cause now, if I was coming here off a 12-game winning streak, practices would be really weak this week. Now we lost, I can go back and say we lost two out of three, so now we can really lock in and try to take advantage of these three days.”
The bounce-back will also afford the 905 some luxuries over the final seven games. Stackhouse is planning on getting a few of their key players rest in order to get Negus Webster-Chan and Goodluck Okonoboh some playing time, and to make sure the team enters the postseason at 100 percent. The goal of locking up home court comes first, though, and it’s the next major milestone the 905 should accomplish in a storybook sophomore season.
- Bruno Caboclo was in street clothes for this one. The Raptors recalled him midway through the second quarter, but it has nothing to do with tonight’s game – his right shoulder was wrapped in ice after the game, and he’s considered day-to-day. Caboclo slept on the shoulder funny, missed a game last week, then returned, but was sore again Monday, hence the late scratch. The expectation is that he’ll be good to go when the 905 resume play Saturday.
- Jakob Poeltl finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds in 33 minutes, turning away five shots and posting a team-best plus-40. Considering he’s been playing regularly as a spot-duty backup center with the Raptors, it’s little surprise he looked advanced for the D-League level, even if his stat line doesn’t necessarily pop. He only took seven shots, deferring to Siakam on offense, and Poeltl instead used his screen-setting and defense to make a difference. Poeltl thinks the game at a really high level already, and while Lucas Nogueira probably deserves another chance at some point in the future, Poeltl’s given the Raptors little reason to go away from him.
- Pascal Siakam scored 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting, with nine rebounds, four assists, and a plus-33 mark in 32 minutes. The energy he brings to a game was palpable at the NBA level, but in the D-League, there are far fewer players who can match his speed and athleticism. It’s still not the prettiest of offensive games, but Siakam showed a lot of nice tools once again here, making some smart reads, getting out in transition, and flashing range to the corner. He’d probabyl be well-served by spending a bit more time with the 905 to further polish his offense, which was the initial plan for him. He can be a good NBA player in the not-too-distant future.
- The 905 set a new D-League attendance record int his one, with 18,099 announced as on-hand. The organization was hoping that a March break crowd could help them re-set the record, one they broke on Dec. 20, only for Santa Cruz and then Oklahoma City to break it later in the year.
- At Mavericks shootaround, Dwight Powell referred to Brady Heslip as “a bucket.” I thought that was a pretty funny descriptor. With his 8-of-9 night from long-range, Heslip is now 162-of-378 on the season, good for 42.9 percent and a 17-three edge on the D-League 3-point leaderboard.
- The 905 are short on home games from here, but if you wanted to attend Saturday’s afternoon game or their March 30 home finale at Hershey Centre, you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 for a discount.