Raptors 905 , Greensboro Swarm | Box Score
Assignees: None (905), Aaron Harrison, Christian Wood (Swarm)
Remember how the Toronto Raptors came out of the gate defensively against the Atlanta Hawks on Friday? Remember how they’ve defended, in general, to start most games of late, leaning on their offense and their offense alone to get going? They may need to play an exhibition game against their D-League affiliate to learn how a defensive tone gets set, because Raptors 905 are definitely not suffering from that same issue.
Entering Saturday’s game against the Greensboro Swarm, the 905 owned the D-League’s second-best defense, and they wanted to make that patently clear to their hosts out of the gate. When the Swarm called their first timeout, searching for answers nearly four minutes into the game, they remained without a field goal. Their lone point, in fact, had come on a technical free throw after Edy Tavares was whistled for a defensive three-in-the-key, away from the ball as C.J. Leslie was in the process of locking down Damien Wilkins at the elbow. The 905 had forced a variety of turnovers – bad-pass, shot-clock, carless – and built a 12-1 lead thanks to continued steady play from their starting group, and Leslie in particular.
As far as foreshadowing goes, those first few minutes didn’t give much away – that’s just good storytelling, to be honest – but they proved crucial, with that early edge being all that sustained the 905 through what slowly deteriorated into a shaky outing.
The Swarm eventually found the bottom of the net, but not particularly often early on. With Greensboro going small – Aaron Harrison was effectively the power forward as the team went four-out around Christian Wood – the 905 used their speed to dare the Swarm, who shoot just 31.8 percent on threes on the year, to fire away. Sagging back to protect against the drive and kick, the 905 paint was essentially impenetrable, and the Swarm finished the first quarter down 31-15 and shooting 29 percent.
That kind of lock-in is tough to maintain start-to-finish, and so the Swarm were able to find a bit of a groove in the second quarter. The lead stayed at a Tavares’ arm-length away, because the 905 continued scoring moderately well, sparked by Antwaine Wiggins and John Jordan off the bench (they combined for 25 in the game, and th e905 bench scored 50 in total). The 905 even managed to stretch that gap to as large as 22 points, but the Swarm chipped it back down to a manageable 60-47 halftime deficit. The Swarm still shot poorly, mind you, but a somewhat persistent 905 issue has been fouling too much, and that reared its head with a 19-5 deficit in free-throw attempts at the break, the only thing keeping the game out of blowout territory.
Out of the break, Will Sheehey connected on an and-one for three of his 12 points an Leslie continued to feast against the smaller Damien Wilkins, and the 905 quickly nudged the lead to 20. (Leslie was an absolute monster once again this game and may be the team’s best overall contributor so far this season. He finished with 20 points on 9-of-10 shooting.) As the 905 shifted to their all-bench unit, Harrison continued to try to keep the Swarm alive (he finished with 24 points on just 14 field-goal attempts) before ceding control to Archie Goodwin, who sandwiched an Axel Toupane missed layup with a pair of buckets to cut that lead to 10. Perry Ellis, against whom head coach Jerry Stackhouse played in college, then trimmed it to eight, where it stood entering the fourth.
The fourth quarter turned into one of the more entertaining quarters of the season (unless you’re Stackhouse, I’m sure), making briefly leaving a family event to cover it a little more worthwhile. Both sides traded buckets for the bulk of the frame, the lead mostly staying within an 8-to-12 band before Greensboro were finally able to break through that barrier and really threaten in the game’s final four minutes. Goodwin hit a tough runner and Harrison followed by drawing a foul, and the 905 once again found themselves in tough close-out territory, up just a point with 86 seconds to play.
Naturally, variance chose that opportunity for Brady Heslip’s first missed free throw of the season, opening Greensboro’s window even wider. Goodwin drew contact on a late drive, tying the game on the ensuing freebies. Roughly 47 minutes after the 905 opened the scoring, the Swarm had finally tied it up, erasing what was once a 22-point deficit. Things only got weirder from there – Toupane drove for a layup, Mike Tobey split a pair after getting fouled on an offensive rebound attempt, and then Toupane missed a pair of free throws, only for the 905 to get the rebound and then for Singler, who’s shot 80 percent or better at the line pretty much everywhere he’s played, to split a pair. The 905 got the stop they wanted up two, but Tobey came through with a put-back dunk. Tie game.
That set up one of the less likely end-game scenarios, with the 905 inbounding to Leslie at the top of the key. Leslie took a quick survey of the floor, realized he’s a torrid 12-of-70 from the NBA 3-point line across preseasons, Summer Leagues, and the D-League, and let it fly. It dropped, and the 905 had, in the most unexpected of ways, escaped with the win. A C.J. Leslie triple, with the game on the line in his home state, just like they drew it up.
Thanks to Navid Shahabadi for the highlight package.
And so with the Raptors are mostly cruising despite occasional stretches where their defense is in absentia, the 905 are thriving despite occasionally letting off the gas and making their close-outs more difficult than they’d like. Still, the win pushes them to 10-2, improving the league’s best record and extending their winning streak to a franchise-record seven games. Considering they’ve only had NBA assignees for their home games and have spent the bulk of the last two weeks on the road, their continued growth and refusal to lose is beyond encouraging. As expected, this team is very good, and they’ve meshed under Stackhouse faster than even he likely hoped.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be using Saturday’s second half as a message that the 905 can ill-afford any Raptors-like slippage based on their record from here on out.
- I had a lot of issues with tonight’s Facebook Live stream, which has been the case far more often than not so far this season. Can we please go back to YouTube streams? Thanks.
- Antwaine Wiggins had a funny turnover in the second quarter. He was looking for Sheehey on a skip pass in the corner, but Sheehey had cut away, and the ball very nearly went to head coach Stackhouse. In my imagination, Stackhouse catches that, takes a jab-step, then pulls up for a long two if it lands directly in his hands, just on instinct alone.
- Xavier Munford had a terrible offensive game for the Swarm but was an absolute terror guarding Brady Heslip. Curls, pin-downs, hand-offs from Tavares, whatever the 905 tried, Heslip couldn’t get quiet as free as he normally does, and it turned him into more of a facilitator than a scorer. Heslip’s improving in that regard, so this was a nice test for him. Munford, meanwhile, remains near the top of the “why hasn’t someone called this guy up yet” power rankings.
- The 905 now return home to host Grand Rapids for an 11 a.m. Tuesday tip at the Air Canada Centre, a game that should include a couple of Raptors assignees given the parent club plays in the same arena later that day. 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.