Raptors 905 take first loss of season despite strong showing from Poeltl

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Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Photo Credit: Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 91, Maine Red Claws 100 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, Jakob Poeltl (905), Demetrius Jackson (Red Claws)

It wasn’t going to go swimmingly for the entire season. Maybe they had hoped for the entire season-opening home-stand. The Maine Red Claws had other ideas for Raptors 905 on Saturday, giving them a taste of their own defense and frustrting the 905 into their first loss of the season, a 100-91 decision at the Hershey Centre.

The two sides played evenly throughout, almost mimicking the parent-club Toronto Raptors in Milwaukee a night early, a tight game without long enough runs for either side to wrestle control. The 905 quickly shook off one heck of an opening punch from Maine in the first quarter, and the two sides entered the third and fourth within a possession of each other. The Red Claws slowly built a lead over the fourth quarter, though, putting the 905 on their heels down double-digits for the first time all season in the game’s closing minutes.

To their credit, the 905 didn’t back down, with a Fred VanVleet lob to Jakob Poeltl and then a Poeltl transition dunk cutting the lead back to eight. It proved too little, too late, as even with four shooters around Poeltl, the 905 couldn’t come back swiftly enough. A late possession was indicative of how the game went for the team offensively, as VanVleet missed a three, E.J. Singler missed a clean look, and Poeltl missed a mid-range baseline jumper all on the same possession before Will Sheehey finally scored. It was a great effort and ultimately a basket, but it was arduous and inefficient to get there, the final result coming too late to change the end-game.

That was the story for most of the afternoon, with the 905 struggling to 40.2 percent from the floor and an uncharacteristic 2-of-18 on threes, most of them good looks, that hamstrung the drive-and-kick part of the gameplan. Outside of VanVleet, who was 9-of-21 for 23 points and missed a few drives through contact around the rim, nobody really got into an offensive groove, though the bench, as has been the trend, tried. That put even more pressure on the interior, where head coach Jerry Stackhouse had hoped to establish his trio of 7-footers early and often. Yanick Moreira played primarily at power forward and saw a handful of post touches, while Edy Tavares was used as a cutter in big-big scenarios. The 905 are still figuring out how to use Tavares, but the early signs suggest they’ll be creative, and Moreira seemed more than game guarding on the perimeter, as expected.

While the 905 struggled from long-range and around the rim, especially as they tried to close out, Stackhouse was far more concerned with the defensive side of the ball. The Red Claws shot 45.1 percent, an opponent season-high, and the 905 were once again a little friendly sending an opponent to the line.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. I think there’s some things we need to clean up,” Stackhouse said. “Our defense wasn’t as sound – it got better as the game went on – but we started off not playing our defense.”

Poeltl, meanwhile, fought off sleepiness and rust to finish with 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting, and he added a game-high 15 rebounds. For as many positives as he showed on offense, including a couple of really nice passes mid-post move or to cutters when facing up, it was his defense that stood out. Those who saw him in brief Raptors duty surely noticed his lateral quickness and his ability to be a factor on the perimeter, and that was on full display against a very small Red Claws outfit that didn’t require Poeltl to defend on the block much. Instead, he hedged onto guards, trapped on side pick-and-rolls, and did well to help and recover back on to his man in the paint.

That’s not to say Poeltl was poelfect. The adjustment to a few of the intricacies of the 905 defense, particularly when it comes to icing the pick-and-roll, gave him some trouble and led to a little bit of foul trouble.

“It was solid. It wasn’t my best performance, I thought,” a modest Poeltl said before expanding on the unfamiliarity. “They do have some differences in the defensive system. It’s hard to get adjusted to that without even practicing with the squad. I tried my best, and sometimes I called out the wrong stuff on defense, but I think that happens.”

For the most part, though, things went about as well as the team could have hoped with Poeltl’s first run in weeks. The rookie was just thrilled to be back on the floor and eager to get some repetitions and conditioning in.

It was fun. Finally got a run in again. It felt good, just being out there playing with the guys.” he said. ” It’s not easy to sit on the bench and watch games all the time, especially when you’re on the road and don’t really practice…So I was really happy to just get out there and play basketball again.”

There’s never really a good time for a loss, but the nature of the D-League is that any success on either end is likely fleeting. The 905 made easy work of three expansion teams in a row to start their year, and while Maine had appreciable offseason turnovers, the Red Claws have an established system and improved to 5-2 with the win. Though the 905 were hardly lacking for effort, Stackhouse almost seemed excited to take a loss early on as a teaching tool and a reminder that the team hasn’t accomplished anything yet in the season’s opening weeks.

“It’s good. A little adversity here in the season to let us know we’re not a complete team yet,” he said. “I don’t think anybody in our locker room, nor I, thought we were gonna go undefeated this season…Sometimes a loss is good for the focus.”

The D-League breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. With a day off Sunday to rest and a wealth of new film to help iron out the wrinkles Monday, and the 905 should continue trending upward despite Saturday’s setback.


  • Poeltl estimated he only got about four or five hours sleep after the late arrival home last night. He was really excited about the opportunity to get some conditioning work in, as practice time was scarce on the road-trip. Stackhouse referred to him as the most “egoless” player in the first round (along with Brandon Ingram) and was palpably excited to have him with the team.
    • Stackhouse couldn’t confirm yet, but he’s hoping to have Poeltl down for the Tuesday and Thursday games, too. Barring a change in the rotation at the NBA level, of course.
  • DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, DeMarre Carroll, Norman Powell, and Pascal Siakam were sitting courtside for this one. It seems like the smallest thing, but last year’s 905ers spoke a lot about how much the support of their teammates, in person, meant to them (they seemed to get a kick out of Powell involving himself in the out-of-half huddle, too). It’s great that the team supports each other like this, and it’s one of the benefits of having an affiliate so close. Ross’ son has all of the swag, by the way.
    • Here’s Poeltl on the teammates coming out in support: “They could have been at home or with the family or whatever, but they come out here and support us. It’s definitely cool.”
  • A lot of CanCon on the Maine sidelines – head coach Scott Morrison, formerly of Lakehead, has been one of the rising stars on the D-League coaching circuit, and he brought in Patrick Tatham from Ryerson to be one of his assistants this year. Jason Calliste, an Oregon product out of Scarborough, also plays for the Red Claws and had five points.
  • The 905 play Tuesday and Thursday, both at home at 7:30, before hitting the road for the first time this year.

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