Photo by MattAzevedo.com
Raptors 905 111, Long Island Nets 104 | Box Score
Assignees: None (905), Chris McCullough (Nets)
With additional eyes watching on ESPNU and has the night-cap for Friday’s D-League Showcase slate, Raptors 905 came out of the gate looking to impress. By the time the Long Island Nets blinked, a three-minute dry spell had rolled into a 17-4 deficit, and with Brady Heslip knocking down three early threes, it looked like the Nets were in for a long night.
As they tend to do, things settled some from there. The Nets eventually found a better footing on each end of the floor, slowed the game down, and managed to keep their deficit from getting too large. Their 3-point shooting, however, failed to surface (31.4 percent), and with the 905 paying extra attention beyond the arc and hitting a tidy 9-of-21 themselves, the long-ball proved pivotal for the home side for the second game in a row. That didn’t mean things were on cruise control. The 905 held a 14-point lead at one juncture, but they never really built on their early run, instead using it as a cushion to sustain a mostly even game from there. That they led from the game’s opening basket until it’s final whistle is commendable and shows the consistent totality of their effort, but the Nets at least made a few pushes that the 905 had to battle back from.
The biggest of those came in the third quarter, with the Nets trimming the lead to four entering the fourth and requiring head coach Jerry Stackhouse to shorten his bench some. That meant big minutes down the stretch for his starters with John Jordan in place of a suddenly cool (but very lively on the bench) Heslip. Jordan was terrific providing an offensive spark, and the starting frontcourt, in particular, responded. The 905 fed Tavares a steady diet of post-ups opposite Brooklyn assignee Chris McCullough, and the big man responded with 18 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. C.J. Leslie matched his double-double with 17 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and two blocks, and the 905 would get seven or more points from nine of the 10 players who saw the court.
That kind of balanced scoring is something the 905 have leaned on all season long, and it’s become a staple of Stackhouse’s message. Even at the Showcase, where the temptation to shine as an individual is strong, the 905 continue to buy into the idea that team success – the 905 improved to 18-7 with the victory, their sixth in a row, to stay atop the Eastern Conference – will eventually help everyone. They racked up 24 assists as a team, close to their usual number, and the ball movement helped create a lot of defensive breakdowns for the Nets that sent the 905 to the free-throw line.
“I think it’s who we are,” Stackhouse said. “It’s not sticking to anything. It’s who we’ve become, our identity as a team.”
Even with everyone on the floor chipping in, the 905 were pushed to the brink once more late. A Nets surge led by Yogi Ferrell and a few untimely turnovers for the 905 saw the lead shrink to five in the final minute. A missed McCullough dunk that Leslie got a piece of was the boost the team needed down the stretch, keeping the lead at arm’s length and allowing the fouling game to play out late. A Will Sheehey steal more or less sealed it (he had a great night with 18 points, seven rebounds, and a pair of steals), but in part because the game was just close enough and perhaps because net rating is the tiebreaker for the two-game tournament, the teams played it out over a gruelling final few minutes.
“That’s the game,” Stackhouse said. “It’s a game of runs. A game of mistakes and a game of runs…We didn’t play as well as we have played or we could have played, but we got it done.”
That’s been the story for the 905 more often than not this year. They’re not playing their best ball still, but something less than their best is often good enough. As they continue to work to find that consistent top gear, it’s clear that they’re a serious contender as currently constructed. Given how well their two games at the Showcase went, they may soon find themselves trying to find said gear without a couple of their top names.
- I wrote about Axel Toupane and his proximity to an NBA call-up for The Athletic. It’s telling that Toupane didn’t have what felt like a great night, and yet he still wound up with 13 points, seven rebounds, six assists, and three steals in 22 minutes. He’s ready.
- Check The Athletic tomorrow for a feature on Goodluck Okonoboh, too. He played five minutes in this one, getting the nod for a Showcase appearance despite playing just 12 minutes this season to date.
- It seems very likely it will be an all-Raptors coaching front in the respective Eastern Conferences at All-Star Weekend. The 905 are close to clinching the East’s best record at the break, and the parent club Raptors would currently be penciled in to send head coach Dwane Casey to the game as well (Ty Lue can’t coach the team in two consecutive years).
- The Raptors opted not to assign any players for the Showcase, feeling it’s an event meant for the D-Leaguers to get noticed. That is, in my opinion, the right approach, though other teams who have chosen to assign players for work are certainly within their rights to have done so. Bruno Caboclo, Fred VanVleet, and the rehabbing Delon Wright are all with the parent club on the road as a result, with their next chance at getting in 905 game coming Jan. 25 in Mississauga.
- If you wanted to go to said game – or any game – 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 Air Canada Centre game in March).