Raptors 905 106, Greensboro Swarm 104 | Box Score
Assignees: None (905), Aaron Harrison, Christian Wood (Swarm)
The Greensboro Swarm appear to have learned a great deal since visiting the Hershey Centre for the Raptors 905 season opener less than three weeks ago.
With the 905 visiting this time around, the Swarm showed more fight and a bit more control throughout the rotation, their players a little more certain of their roles and the system a little more on-point. The 905 learned last year how quickly the learning process can unfold, and they also learned that development may take some time to materialize in the form of wins. It was the 905 teaching that lesson this time around, because as improved as the Swarm looked, the 905 were still able to escape with a 106-104 victory, a 7-2 record, and a clean three-game sweep of their first road trip of the season.
The Swarm opened on a 6-0 run, but to their credit, the 905 kept the plot about them and quickly tied the game up on a pair of E.J. Singler buckets and an Edy Tavares trip to the line. That quick burst seemed to settle them, and then Tavares blocking a major dunk attempt from Christian Wood marked an upswing on the defensive end for the D-League’s third-ranked team on that side of the ball. But frustrating the Swarm into turnovers and difficult shots was short-lived as the second unit began to filter in. Axel Toupane made his presence felt quickly with a bucket in semi-transition, but Tavares committed an inbounding violation book-ended by two quick Swarm buckets, and another Tavares miscue (an illegal screen) marked the end of his first shift. A more athletic and switchy lineup closed the quarter from there, pushing the lead to six by the end of the first quarter.
The second quarter opened with the 905 moving the ball willingly around the perimeter as the Swarm broadcast team drooled over the unselfishness of hometown head coach Jerry Stackhouse’s club. The 905 entered the game third in the league in assist percentage, and Stackhouse could even be seen pleading with his team to shoot with fewer passes as back-to-back possessions went deep into the shot clock after several hands touched the ball. That didn’t exactly turn the game into a shootout, with the game grinding to a bit of an offensive halt into halftime thanks in large part to steady turnovers on both sides.
C.J. Leslie checked back in and brought a nice offensive spark – he has quietly been perhaps the 905’s best all-around player so far this season – then drew a key charge. Will Sheehey got fouled on a 3-point attempt to give him a team-high 10 points at the half (and 15 for the game) and pushed the 905 lead to 10, but the Swarm caught the 905 taking an early breather, closing out the frame on a 7-0 run that included a buzzer-beater to cut the lead to three, snuffing out any momentum for the visitors.
From there, Brady Heslip caught fire, helping account for 18 points in the first seven minutes of the third quarter. He hit four triples during that stretch, on his way to 20 points in the half and 23 on the night, and he dished three of his seven assists to get teammates easy buckets. Greensboro is a decent matchup for Heslip, and he’s started to find a comfort level and balance between attacking and distributing on this road trip, an important development both for this team when Fred VanVleet isn’t on assignment and for Heslip’s NBA chances. (He’ll be back to more of a combo-guard role when VanVleet returns, but this is surely increasing Stackhouse’s confidence in leaving the offense in Heslip’s hands. Stackhouse knows he’ll have multiple players on the floor who can help initiate at any given time, and they’ll continue to mix using Heslip as a distributor and using him as a spot-up threat to space things out.)
Even with the Canadian’s hot start, the back-and-forth continues, with the 905 failing to extend their lead into double-figures.That inability to put it away nearly proved costly. The Swarm once again chipped into the lead early in the fourth, the 905’s depth not quite as big an advantage as usual without assignees. That opened the door for Xavier Munford to bring the teams even with a pull-up mid-range jumper, then put the Swarm ahead for the first time since the first quarter with a huge three with eight minutes to play.
You know things have started going poorly when Heslip follows a Singler missed three with an incredibly rare airball, and then Tavares travels on a hand-off. The 905 eventually got their heads on, with Leslie making a beautiful dish to the corner to Sheehey, then Stackhouse opting to go small by shifting Leslie to center. That adjustment made sense given the flow of the game, and it opened up the floor a bit on offense while letting the 905 scramble a bit more on defense. Leslie’s a solid defender, but the lack of a natural center left the rim somewhat unprotected, and Munford (I remain fairly shocked he’s not in the NBA) and Archie Goodwin took advantage, pushing their lead to a game-high six.
Stackhouse went back to Yanick Moreira in response, and Toupane and Heslip traded buckets before the former set up the latter for a go-ahead three with just under a minute to go. Moreira then found a cutting Uthoff with a nice pass for an easy dunk, enough of a cushion for the 905 to hang on as Greensboro played the fouling game and the 905 defense held stout (despite some ill-timed misses at the line and what we’ll kindly call ‘questionable’ defensive rebounding late).
The Swarm definitely didn’t make it easy on the 905 – a lot tougher than the opener, to be sure – but it’s probably for the best that the 905 were able to measure themselves in another tight close-out situation, this one on the road. Even without the benefit of assignment players, the 905 showed the requisite poise to win a game they weren’t necessarily at their defensive best for. That’s an important step as this team continues to grow together, even if it comes with plenty of film-room material for the first practice back in Canada.
- Tavares is a factor in help scenarios, but his man-to-man defense still needs some work. Mike Tobey, effective though he is, should not be able to post him up and score uncontested in the middle of the floor or be able to get inside positioning on the 905 glass. At the other end, I’m pretty sure even you could throw a lob that Tavares could catch. He has nice hands, and while he doesn’t jump particularly high, he controls himself well in the air, presenting an ample target.
- Toupane isn’t long for this team. After a somewhat cool start to his season (he was dealing with an ankle injury and even missed a pair of games), he’s really found his stride, playing even better than he was when he was called up a year ago. Defensive versatility is his calling card, and he’s improved his attacking and distributing enough that he’s been working as one of the team’s primary ball-handlers with Fred VanVleet not on assignment. D-Leaguer’s really can’t handle him once he turns the corner, and the 905 have some nice plays designed to run him off of quick screens with a head of steam. Through seven appearances, averaging 15.1 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.1 teals, and the 905 have been very effective when he’s on the floor.
- The 905 practiced at UNC this week, with Stackhouse bringing the group to his old stomping grounds. The guys really seemed to enjoy it based on their social media, and it’s these kind of things (and going to Niagara Falls with Rasheed Wallace or doing Zumba with Stackhouse’s wife) that can help separate Stackhouse from other coaches and making the 50-game grind a little more fun.
- In fun news for the 905, Delon Wright confirmed today that he’ll be headed to the D-League for a rehab stint at some point, something that was long expected to be the case. He’s hoping to be cleared for contact when he sees a specialist next week, which means he could be seeing rehab games around the holidays (the 905 have a four-game home-stand from Dec. 27 to Jan. 4).
- The 905 now return home to host the defending champion Sioux Falls Skyforce on Friday in what should be a really good test. If you want to check it out live, you can go to this link and use the promo code REPUBLIC905 all season long, as the 905 are hooking RR readers up with discounted tickets (including for the two Air Canada Centre games).