Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
Raptors 905 109, Santa Cruz Warriors 83 | Box Score
Assignees: Alfonzo McKinnie, Bruno Caboclo (905), Damian Jones (Warriors)
Two-ways: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown (905), Quinn Cook, Chris Boucher [inj] (Warriors)
Raptors 905 wanted to send a message.
With all 26 G League teams in Mississauga for the annual G League Showcase, the 905 entered with more momentum than maybe any team in the league, winners of nine in a row. With that streak in the balance, a playoff push now rolling in earnest, and an opportunity to test their players under brighter lights in a greater competitive environment, the Toronto Raptors opted to put their best foot forward, sending their full contingent of regular NBA talent to square off with the Santa Cruz Warriors.
What they laid plain over 48 minutes against a division-leading Warriors team is that this winning streak is not a mirage, and that they’re serious about trying to defend their championship. A 109-83 victory saw the 905 keep up their excellent work on the defensive end, show the offensive improvements they’ve made since they’ve had Lorenzo Brown more regularly, and leave little question that their 5-10 start is well behind them. Brown looked like a star, as he often has, this time in front of more important faces, multiple 905ers may have opened eyes, and the team moved into sole possession of the Eastern Conference’s top wild-card spot at 15-10 at exactly the halfway mark.
“I’m proud of those guys,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “These guys sticking together, kinda weathering through the adversity. A lot of young guys in there that really grew up over these last few weeks, and now they’re able to go out there and perform at a high level. I’m proud of ’em, each and every one of ’em.”
The opening minutes were true to the tournament’s name and a genuine showcase of what’s made the 905 unbeatable for the last few weeks. Brown led a reinvigorated offensive attack, Kennedy Meeks operated from the block and stole second chances on the offensive glass, Alfonzo McKinnie unleashed a nifty step-back fadeaway, and Bruno Caboclo calmly sank a pick-and-pop three. If those in attendance were a little slow to bring their own energy on Day 2 of the event, McKinnie woke the Hershey Centre up with what would have been a massive tomahawk dunk, were he not fouled. It found back rim instead, and McKinnie split a pair on his way to eight points in the quarter.
It was at the other end where Stackhouse’s work was really on display, the league’s No. 2 defense frustrating it’s No. 3 offense. The Warriors were down Georges Niang to a call-up, to be sure, but the 905 did a great job keeping Quinn Cook from getting into the teeth of their defense, and plenty of help converged on the paint to make the rim largely off-limits. Meeks continued to look much improved as a pick-and-roll defender, adding one of the team’s four blocks in the quarter, and Shevon Thompson filled that role when he sat. Were it not for James Southerland hitting all three of his 3-point attempts, the 905 may have pulled away early on.
As it was, the 905 held a four-point lead, one that it appeared Malcolm Miller had made seven on a late three until Winston Shepard banked in a buzzer-beater. The bench helped expand the edge a bit, with Thompson and Miller doing nice work on the glass and Davion Berry and Fuquan Edwin contributing threes. Damian Jones was a problem inside at both ends, though, blocking a pair of shots, throwing down a put-back, scoring on a dump-off, and drawing a foul in transition all in about the span of two minutes. Jones found himself in foul trouble, though, allowing the 905 to get into the paint to secure a handful of offensive rebounds (including five on one possession) and allowing Brown his nightly takeover stretch, scoring nine in the quarter to put the 905 eight at the break.
“We were just a little bit a step slow in the first half with some of our defensive rotations,” Stackhouse said. “But I think we really figured it out in the second half. Guys did a good job helping for each other, really scrambling when we made a few mistakes. Man, this team was 45 percent, we got ’em down to 36 percent for the game, so it’s really good, man.”
Both sides came out shooting well to start the third – can Southerland miss? There’s no evidence he can – and Brown continued dominating on offense and doing a nice job on Cook at the other end. Cook is smart enough to use that extra attention, throwing lobs to bigs or finding cutters when the hedge comes, especially low, but the 905 were forcing Santa Cruz out of their prefered M.O. That allowed the Raptors to get ahead by double-digits. The Warriors are good, though, and pushed right back, going on a 10-0 run to draw back within five only for Meeks, Miller, and Berry to gang up to pull right back away. Cook began pressing to no avail, Miller went to work inside, and Thompson sent a buzzer-beating layup attempt into the second row, and the 905 had full control with a 17-point lead entering the fourth.
The Warriors tried to get back into it by switching to zone for a stretch, betting the 905 were unlikely to continue hitting 45 percent of their threes as one of the league’s worst 3-point shooting teams on the year. More than any defensive scheme, the game was gummed up by a pair of coach challenges in a short span, really testing DJ Andre 905’s stamina in front of league execs. Jones tried to fire Santa Cruz back up with a dunk against Thompson but missed, then lost the rebound, and a Fuquan Edwin three the other way confirmed the game’s blowout status. A Thompson hammer that got called a charge would have threatened to just end the game there.
The starters still came back in, which Brown seemed to take as an opportunity to throw some tremendous and-one style pocket passes, which he followed up with a Rajon Rondo-fake in transition. The 905 closed with their best five – all four Raptors and Meeks – and the close-out was rote until Stackhouse called on the bench to run it to the wire. The Warriors wound up with just 31 second-half points, good for a 90.2 defensive rating for the 905, and the team’s shooting stayed hot enough from outside to leave a comfortable cushion at the end. It was a thorough victory, and the 905 were happy afterward to have carried over their recent hot streak to the Showcase environment.
“I’m pleased, man,” Stackhouse said. “I’m pleased with how we’re playing right now, how we’re continuing to be stingy and be greedy with what we wanna do defensively, and the results have shown.”
The 905 get another chance to show their growth on Saturday at noon on the final day of the Showcase, just two days before the two-way signing window closes.
- Assignment notes
- The Raptors changed course Wednesday, deciding to send assignment players to the Showcase for the first time after saying for the last few weeks that it wouldn’t be the case.
- Bruno Caboclo had a quiet offensive night, taking just six shots on his way to eight points. He added six rebounds, two steals, two blocks, and an assist, and he could have had a second assist on a nice side-low feed across the block that wasn’t converted. He continues to be a strong defensive presence (plus-16 again here) and shoots with confidence despite a recent slump (2-of-3 on threes here), so the team’s willing to live with his occasionally ill-advised drives left. It’s been interesting hearing the variety of opinions on Caboclo over two days here.
- Alfonzo McKinnie doesn’t really need to showcase much at this point. He didn’t finish well in this one but hit a pair of threes to nudge his percentage closer to 40 on the year, and the improvements he’s made as a team defender were there. It was a light rebounding night by his standards since everyone else was controlling the glass, and he finished with 13 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown is too good for this level, really. Opposite one of the best guards in the G League in Quinn Cook, Brown helped to shut him down as a scorer while balancing his own scoring and playmaking wonderfully. He scored 24 points and dished 12 assists, taking over for two different chunks of the game. If there’s a complaint, it’s the five turnovers, an issue he’d mostly ironed out lately. He might need to do the double-header tonight and see minutes with the Raptors.
- Malcolm Miller had a strong showing off the bench, hitting three threes on his way to 15 points. He was also a bigger factor on the glass (nine rebounds) and inside (catching low in transition, attacking the offensive glass and finishing) than he has been the last few games. 2-and-D is his early-NBA outlook, but he also got to show off his improvement putting it on the floor and making the next pass, dishing a pair of assists.
- Kennedy Meeks and Shevon Thompson were an absolutely destructive pairing inside, combining for 26 points and 31 rebounds. The 905 outrebounded Santa Cruz 61-41 (23-17 on the offensive glass), and both players were major problems despite Damian Jones playing opposite them. Meeks (17-and-18) was really, really good…Davion Berry continued scoring well in a bench role, adding 10 points and hitting a pair of threes.
- Warriors notes: The Warriors without Georges Niang, who earned a two-way deal from Utah yesterday…Terrence Jones was not with the team due to the death of his grandmother…Damion Lee shot the ball terribly but does a lot of nice things off the ball…James Southerland had a 24-and-10 double-double and was really the only player the 905 had an issue with…Quinn Cook finished with nine points on 13 shots and dished 12 dimes.
- Over at The Athletic, I dished out mid-season report cards for the 905. RR readers can get 20 percent off a subscription here.
- The 905 have another G League Showcase game at home Saturday at noon. You can use promo code RRSHOW at this link for discounts off of all the games.