Raptors905 Post-Game

Raptors 905 grind out defense-first victory in opener

Raptors 905 100, Greensboro Swarm 87 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet (905), Aaron Harrison, Christian Wood (Swarm)

What a difference a year makes.

Entering the season with reasonably high expectations despite the understanding that their high-end talent might be right for the plucking, Raptors 905 began their sophomore season with a bang Friday, locking the expansion Greensboro Swarm down over three-and-a-half quarters for a 100-87 victory.

A year ago at this time, it was the 905 scrambling to find a quick footing as an expansion outfit, and while they turned in quite a debut performance, they wound up on the wrong end of an 83-80 battle with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Fast-forward to now, and the 905 are no longer searching for players and wondering who might suit up on a given night. Instead, they’re looking to build on an extended training camp that solidified strong cohesion between the six players who were in Summer League, offseason workouts, and Toronto Raptors training camp together.

The Swarm, meanwhile, had the benefit of a pair of NBA assignments, and Aaron Harrison and Christian Wood (a combined 12-of-34) tried to shoot the freshman back into the game as they fell behind. With few defined positions on the roster and an ability to switch all over the floor or zone up without losing size anywhere, the 905 usually had an answer, whether it was at the rim, with strong closeouts, or with smothering perimeter defense that forced a steady diet of late-clock attempts. Nothing, not even success or identity, is permanent in the D-League, but if there’s a takeaway from the season opener, it’s that head coach Jerry Stackhouse has his squad ready to defend.

Of course, this being the D-League and all, nobody was happy with the team sending the Swarm to the line 41 times, even if it came with a 33.8-percent mark from the floor.

“We got bad officials in practice, you know what I’m saying? That’s the coaches,” Stackhouse joked. “First game, I thought we did a good job defensively, we held them to 33-percent shooting. But again, we put them on the line too much. We take that away, get a little better in transition, but I like the start.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the 905 leaned heavily on the players they’re expected to lean on when they have them: Fred VanVleet, Brady Heslip, Axel Toupane, and E.J. Singler each took between 10 and 13 shots, but those are very reasonable numbers, and all 12 players on the active roster got into the game and took at least two field-goal attempts. VanVleet and Heslip took turns running the offense early, and while VanVleet was a terror coming out of halftime to help fight off a Swarm push (he had seven of his 20 points in the third), it was Heslip who put the game away with his outside shooting (5-of-10 on threes overall and 4-of-6 in the fourth) down the stretch.

For VanVleet, this was about taking Norman Powell’s approach to the 905 and applying it to his own game. It was clear almost immediately that VanVleet is good enough to be playing at a higher level, and rather than coast on that talent, he pushed himself, hitting the deck for loose balls, unveiling an array of funky drives, and looking for teammates early and often.

“It’s just an opportunity for me to play,” VanVleet said of his approach on assignment. “My mindset is: Every time I step on the court, I play like it’s my last. Obviously, it took an adjustment period from getting sent down in the first place. It took a day or two to get mentally right, and like I said, when it’s game time, I’m ready to play no matter where it’s at or who it’s against.”

Sound familiar from 2015-16? VanVleet even pulled out a Kyle Lowry special, pulling up quickly in transition for a jumper in a two-for-one situation. Like Lowry, VanVleet still wasn’t pleased with a 20-point, six-rebound, seven-assist performance since it came with three turnovers.

“It’s a process, obviously. You’ve still gotta learn guys,” he said, pointing out the team’s . “For me, personally, I turned the ball over too much, just being sloppy. Hopefully, I’ll tighten up as I get back in game form. I haven’t played in a while, so it was good to be back out there.”

Toupane, meanwhile, didn’t have his sharpest shooting night, but the luxury of having so many drive-and-kick options around a single center was obvious, with VanVleet, Toupane, Heslip, and E.J. Singler all swinging the ball almost to a fault in the halfcourt.

Fighting off a non-contact foot injury suffered in practice Thursday, Bruno Caboclo came off the bench and contributed mostly on the defensive end, finishing with just six points. Stackhouse didn’t seem too concerned, noting that he wasn’t even sure Caboclo would be available. He drove home the need for Caboclo to lock down the sets a little better – “He has a semblance of what to do,…” – and Caboclo seeing some time at the five here means he’s likely juggling three positional reads. (The 905 played 28 minutes without a center, using Caboclo, C.J. Leslie, and Jarrod Uthoff as make shift combo-bigs. Antawine Wiggins also saw some time in the frontcourt and continues to impress defensively.)

Stackhouse was excited at the prospect of having real game-tape to go back and watch now. Even with a win, it doesn’t seem like it would be Stackhouse of Saturday’s practice was  celebratory one, not with another game Sunday.

“I feel like we can be better,” he said a likely preview of how he’ll end every post-game scrum all year.

Notes

  • I’m letting the notes carry a bit more of the load here because I’ve been really under the weather all day and still need to watch Raptors-Nuggets. I’m wondering if it might not be a more effective format, anyway. Feedback appreciated!
  • Edy Tavares isn’t expected to join the team until early next week. He’s waiting on some paperwork to get squared away. I’d expect J.T. Terrell to be the player the 905 waive to clear a spot for him (I’m not looking into John Jordan and Goodluck Okonoboh being the inactives much, and they really like Webster-Chan).
  • Webster-Chan was likely the most popular player on the team and got the loudest cheers short of maybe Stackhouse. Checking in with “416” tattooed on his left arm – the Scarborough native told me he’s not going to get a matching 905 piece – upwards of 30 Webster-Chan fans screamed and cheered, then did so again as his first D-League bucket rattled around the rim and in.
  • OK, Masai Ujiri was also pretty popular. Sitting just a few seats down from your boy, he was very cordial and engaging with the not-insignificant number of fans who tried to have a chat or snap a pic.
  • GameOps were really on point in this one. DJ Andre 905 is back, the new host (Kalina, formerly of the Dance Pak) did a nice job, there was a children’s hip-hop dance crew doing a routine to Panda, there was Inflatable Stripes, and even dog races at halftime! The only complaint may be that the mega-loud intro fireworks left some residual smoke at court-level when the game started, but that was minor. Go to a 905 game if you can. They’re a lot of fun.

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