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Raptors 905 112, Canton Charge 107 | Box Score | Raptors 905 lead series 1-0
Assignees: Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo (905), Kay Felder (Charge)
The first Raptors 905 playoff game ever is in the books, and damn if Axel Toupane wasn’t ready.
Toupane set a new 905 record by scoring 41 points in Game 1 against the Canton Charge, besting Norman Powell’s record of 36 from the team’s inaugural season. Given the keys far more than usual by head coach Jerry Stackhouse, Toupane was masterful, drawing the toughest defensive assignment and proving completely unguardable for the Charge. The 905’s history isn’t exceptionally long or well-written as of yet, but it’s difficult to imagine a player setting a franchise scoring record in a huge playoff-opening victory being topped in the annals any time soon. Toupane, long one of the closest players in the D-League to another NBA call-up, made as loud a statement as can be made in a single game, and he’s largely to credit for the franchise’s first ever playoff victory, a narrow 112-107 escape on the road to put the team within a game of the conference finals as they head home to Mississauga.
The 905 came out about as well as Stackhouse could have hoped, his gambit with an ever-evolving starting lineup paying off with a hot start on the defensive end. With Kay Felder looking to carry the scoring load for a Charge team that’s lost Quinn Cook and Larry Sanders to call-ups of late, the 905 made him the focal point, and the attention and his own overzealousness saw him start cold from the floor. Edy Tavares, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate but a center who should theoretically struggle with Felder’s quick-twitch attack, held things down around the rim, and the 905′ usual swarming attack around the perimeter forced 11 first-half turnovers and kept the Charge to 40-percent shooting over the first two quarters.
On the other side, bringing Brady Heslip off the bench put the early offense in the hands of Toupane, and he responded by scoring in a variety of ways early on, with no Canton defender capable of slowing him down without sending him to the line. Toupane took 20 points into halftime, and it was his early dominance that helped the 905 build a 17-point lead by the end of the first quarter. The 905’s own assignees weren’t asked to do nearly as much as Felder, but Bruno Caboclo was active moving off the ball and snuck free for an easy bucket on a sharp back-door cut, and Pascal Siakam brought his usual energy in transition, finishing an impossible lob with a soft volley off glass. Both were big factors in the strong defensive start, too, as they have been more often than not down the stretch of the regular season.
Heslip’s move to the bench paid dividends there, too, with the familiarity of a Heslip-E.J. Singler-C.J. Leslie trio that started together earlier in the year working well in a new role. The lead slipped as the 905 cooled a bit, but a pair of Heslip threes and some timely offensive rebounding helped stretch the lead back out. As starters filtered back in, the 905 extended their hold on the game back to 15 points at the break, the type of lead that has often proven commanding opposite the 905’s league-slowest pace and second-ranked defense.
Typical leads and their difficulty are something different in the postseason, though, and it took but one game for the oddity that is the D-League playoff format to rear its head. Felder heating up a bit late in the second quarter bled into the third, and when Felder came out hot to start the second half, Canton’s home crowd – the road team gets Game 1 at home, remember – picked up the energy in a major way. That seemed to fuel the Charge, and Felder kept gunning around some really nice finds to get Eric Moreland, John Holland, and Jonathan Holmes some quality looks. The Felder-Moreland connection proved particularly problematic, and the 905’s assignees temporarily stepped back from Canton’s desperation. Caboclo received a quick hook, and while Siakam’s energy remained, he made a couple of miscues that resulted in turnovers.
That Charge…uhh, charge…cut the lead to nine, and the 905 turned once again to Toupane to settle the offense. That worked well once again, with Toupane able to get a good head of steam toward the rim or create separation for his jumper. The threat of Heslip outside helped, but this was far more than the 905 normally lean on one player – the attack was balanced overall, but Toupane pouring in 29 through three quarters without another player with more than 10 is unusual by the standards of Stackhouse’s democratic offense, especially with the pace being pushed as it was. The playoffs are a meritocracy, even for a deep, well-balanced team, and it was too difficult to argue with Toupane’s napalm-hot hand.
That meritocracy meant Stackhouse had to go with his best options after the Charge trimmed the lead to eight heading into the fourth thanks to a buzzer-beating Moreland dunk (Moreland was a serious problem throughout). How he’d handle a tight game was an interesting subplot given the normal minutes distribution, but there was good reason not to change a ton – the 905 were 35-1 when leading after three quarters and a D-League-record 21-4 on the road.
The all-bench unit he rolled out to start the fourth decidedly did not work, with the Charge promptly making it a one-possession game for the first time since the game’s opening minutes. Siakam re-entered but couldn’t help keep Roosevelt Jones off the glass, and with a little over eight minutes to go, Jones hit a floater in the lane to give the Charge their first lead of the game. The return of Toupane and Jordan seemed to turn the tides, though it was an E.J. Singler three and a Yanick Moreira and-one, buckets from the two bench holdovers, that quickly pushed the lead back to five and seemed to give the 905 their constitution back.
Stackhouse went with what’s probably his best option against the Charge from there, flanking Toupane’s attack and Tavares’ interior presence with the shooting of Singler and Heslip and the energy of Siakam. Toupane drew the assignment on Felder but couldn’t quite slow down his jumper, forcing the Frenchman to answer back at the other end. Tavares chipped in on offense, too, kicking a beautiful pass to Heslip in the corner and then cleaning up the miss. Toupane then nailed a massive triple, followed it with a pull-up mid-range jumper, and then capped a personal 7-0 run with a steal and transition bucket to push the lead back up to seven and take control of the end-game scenario. It’s fitting, too, that Toupane was the man at the line to ice the game with free-throws.
That the 905 let a 20-point lead dissipate entirely is of some concern, but realistically, this was a playoff road game in a format that makes every team desperate every game. The quality of competition is ratcheted up, and on balance, the Charge were one of the five or six best teams in the D-League this year. Felder, who finished with 31 points and 12 assists, is an offense unto himself, and Moreland, who had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, should probably get an NBA look next year. And the 905 still held up fairly well on defense outside of taking care of their own glass, usually one of their biggest strengths. Their ball movement wasn’t quite as flowing as usual, but this was against a quality defense, and Toupane was playing well enough to warrant some isolation looks.
Plus, this is the postseason. The how is important and instructive, but in a best two-of-three environment, the win is what carries the day. The 905 now head home with two chances to close out the series. If Toupane’s anything close to his level on Saturday, they might not need the second opportunity.
- Bruno Caboclo was barely a rumor in the second half after a decent start to the game. He was a big defensive piece in the team’s opening stretch, but he looked a bit off to start the third quarter and never got back in with Stackhosue wanting a second big and some shooting on the floor. He finished with six points, four rebounds, and a plus-15 mark in 16 minutes. It will be interesting to see if E.J. Singler starts in his place Saturday.
- Pascal Siakam was better, even if that stat line didn’t pop and he dealt with some foul and turnover issues. In 35 minutes, he shot 3-of-11 for seven points, grabbed six rebounds, and added two assists, two steals, and a block. This was probably his worst D-League performance so far, but the experience of closing out a tight playoff game should be invaluable. Occasional off-nights are to be expected, but the 905 really need more out of him on the glass, at least. He’ll be better Saturday.
- Stackhouse made the interesting call to bring Brady Heslip off the bench in this one and start John Jordan. My guess, not being there to ask, is that he liked Jordan’s chances against the lightning-quick Kay Felder on defense a little better. Heslip has improved in that regard, but the 905 need him to carry a fair load as a shooter, and Stackhouse probably wanted to maximize Heslip’s minutes away from Felder, running the offense through Axel Toupane more in the starting group. Heslip came off the bench in 18 of his 48 appearances this year, shooting 45.5 percent on threes versus 40.4 percent as a starter. He responded by going 4-of-8 on threes here and finishing with 15 points and four assists.
- Edy Tavares finished with 10 points, 16 rebounds, and three blocks. Even with that robust line, the 905 have to find a way to get him some help on the defensive glass.
- Contrary to what the broadcast said, Antwaine Wiggins is not the older brother of Andrew Wiggins. They are cousins.
- The schedule for the remainder of the series is as follows:
- Game 2: April 8, 7:30 at Hershey Centre
- Game 3: April 11, 7:30 at Hershey Centre (if necessary)
- Raptors Republic readers can also get discounted 905 playoff tickets by using the promo code REPUBLIC905.