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Raptors 905 108, Canton Charge 90 | Box Score | Raptors 905 win series 2-0
Assignees: Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo (905), Kay Felder (Charge)
Next man up, meet next opponent up.
Blessed with great depth all season long, Raptors 905 head coach Jerry Stackhouse has rolled with a big rotation. There are drawbacks at the individual level, with no individual racking up the minutes or statistics they might on another team. The shot distribution is as democratic as the minutes split, and while there’s a meritocracy beneath it, particularly late in games, the system has required steadfast belief and unflinching buy-in.
Ahead of Game 2 of their opening-round series against the Canton Charge on Saturday, the 905 system received some affirmation: After dropping a franchise-record 41 points in a Game 1 victory, Axel Toupane was being called up by the New Orleans Pelicans. The system had not only worked to lead the 905 to the second-best record in D-League history, the best road record of all time, and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, it had proven that a high tide does, in fact, raise all boats. As with all D-League call-ups, though, it’s a Pyrrhic victory, and the 905 had to prepare for a playoff game without their best player on short notice.
And so it was that the other core belief of Stackhouse’s system was tested: That playing such a deep rotation, relying on so many different pieces, and keeping so many involved over such a long span of time made the 905 disaster proof. The “next man up” mantra is a common one in sports, and some teams embrace it out of necessity or are only able to pay it lip service. Here in the playoffs, already down Will Sheehey and with Negus Webster-Chan and C.J. Leslie also on the shelf, the 905 wouldn’t have the luxury of an adjustment period or failing to answer the “next man up” call. This was a playoff game in a short, best-of-three series, and even a one-game blip would result in a do-or-die scenario Tuesday.
“We’re a deep team. We pride ourselves on being a deep team. Next man up,” Stackhouse said before the game. “It’s our message, man: Pick your brother up and let’s keep moving.”
Keep moving the 905 did. Within a blink of tip-off, Toupane’s replacement in the starting lineup, E.J. Singler, had hit triples in triplicate, helping push the 905 out to an 11-3 lead. That swelled to 26-6 as Toronto Raptors assignees connected in transition, with Bruno Caboclo throwing Pascal Siakam a lob. A Brady Heslip transition three almost felt expected as the momentum built, and Antwaine Wiggins made a sharp cut to the rim to end the first quarter ahead 38-13. The offensive production obviously pops, and Singler in particular was terrific in scoring 11 of his 17 points in the first. He had declined before the game to guarantee a repeat of Toupane’s 41-point game.
“Someone’s gonna need to. No doubt,” Singler said. “I think a lot of people are gonna need to step up tonight and further into the playoffs. Missing a player like Ax and a player like Will, they both bring so much to our team. A lot of touches offensively, and defensively as well, so a lot of guys are gonna need to step up, me in particular.”
The defense that was just as impressive, though, with John Jordan and Edy Tavares answering the difficult Kay Felder matchup (the Charge trying to throw Felder an alley-oop on the game’s only play, but failing as Jordan leaped to contest the pass, was a fitting harbinger). Tavares would block five shots in the game’s opening 10 minutes and eight overall, and the Charge seemed ready to call it a night and submit from trying to enter the paint altogether. Shooting 4-of-24 in a quarter will do that to a team, it seems.
The Charge couldn’t just head to the airport early, though, and they tried fighting back in the second. Even with the 905 pushing the lead to 30, they remained dialled in and demonstrative, with Stackhouse nearly blowing a gasket after Yanick Moreira picked up a technical foul. (Teaching moments are there in the playoffs, too, and Stackhouse was patting Moreira on the behind shortly after.) The brief moment of slippage seemed to give the Charge some renewed vigor, and Felder was back to taking the ball to the rim or dangling Tavares on a string for a pull-up shortly after.
Felder could only do so much (he tried to do even more), though, and despite his 17 in the half, the 905 were able to take a 30-point lead into the break. With the offense still deep and the spacing solid, the 905 are only ever a Heslip three from stopping a slump, and he and Singler combined for 29 through two quarters to lead an attack that saw eight of the nine players who played score (nine of ten would eventually score, and Heslip led the way with 21). Tavares finger-wagging at the end of the half was a fitting book-end to the failed Felder alley-oop to start out.
That big cushion let the 905 approach the third differently, and the focus shifted naturally to Siakam, who scored in a variety of ways early on. With Tavares blocking everything in sight – to the point Kay Felder earned a technical foul basically for crying mercy – the offense continued to flow, and a high-arcing Caboclo corner three stretched the lead to a ludicrous 38. Complacency – or variation – eventually set in, with Canton trimming the lead to a more respectable 27 and forcing Stackhouse to settle things with a timeout. Naturally, Heslip drained another three to enter the fourth up 30. It was pretty formulaic from there, the lead too insurmountable and Canton only able to succeed in trimming the lead in quick bursts, only for it to be shut down with a Tavares hammer or the realization that even their best run of the game still had them down 20-plus.
Up and down, the 905 stepped up into the bigger roles being asked of them thanks to the injuries and call-ups – Singler and Jordan as starters, Heslip as an even bigger offensive piece, Wiggins as the first wing off the bench, and even Christian Watford playing far more than usual, all supplemented by the assignees and Tavares working as the backline of a ridiculous defense holding a playoff team to 37.4-percent shooting and 88.2 points per-100 possessions.
“Great defense,” Stackhouse said. “Our guys were locked in. I thought our gameplan was sound, and I thought they came out with a ton of energy and great focus.”
If there were any doubt about the 905’s ability to withstand the loss of Toupane amid injuries, this was an emphatic response to it. The belief in the locker room is strong, the faith in the system unshaken, and the feeling of something special at hand building to a crescendo.
“It’s the next man up,” Stackhouse said. “Nothing changes. I trust everybody we have on this team every time they step on the court.”
The 905 are on to the Eastern Conference Finals, and it’s apparently going to take more than a call-up or injury to derail them just yet.
- Bruno Caboclo had a really nice defensive showing here. He was on a string with Siakam and Tavares defensively, played well in man situations or in help, and used his length effectively. His offensive role wasn’t enormous, but he made a few heady plays in transition and made the most of his touches in scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, chipping in six rebounds and three assists on his way to a plus-16 in 33 minutes.
- Pascal Siakam was quiet on the offensive end in the first half but was fed plenty of touches in the second half and responded well. He scored on post-ups, in transition, and even facing up in the short-corner. He finished with 13 points on 6-of-13 shooting with three rebounds and a plus-28 mark in 26 minutes. It’s back-to-back games that register as just “okay” for Siakam, but even his less impressive nights are fairly effective at this level. (The 905 will really need more out of him on the glass next series, though.)
- With the return of Kyle Lowry, don’t be surprised if Fred VanVleet is assigned for the second round of the playoffs. The Raptors won’t need a fourth point guard and 13th man unless disaster strikes, and an assignment could benefit VanVleet, who hasn’t seen the floor much of late, and the 905, who are down a pair of wings in Toupane and Sheehey and may welcome the option to slide Heslip to the two.
- The big news prior to the game was obviously that the 905 lost Axel Toupane for the third time in two seasons. Toupane’s getting a look from the New Orleans Pelicans for the remainder of the season, which means he’s done with the 905 for the year (and yes, that includes once the NBA season ends on Wednesday). The 905 are regardless thrilled that Toupane’s been given another (much deserved and long overdue) shot in the NBA. Stackhouse also said the team wanted to win the game for Toupane, because without Toupane, they would have been down 0-1 in this spot.
- In order to break the tension today and ease concerns about the loss of Toupane, Stackhouse entered to locker room playing angry early in the day. He told an assistant to fire up video of their Game 1 mistakes, but all the clips were from the players’ days in college (or Brazil, or wherever). Pretty funny move.
- Will Sheehey (elbow), Negus Webster-Chan (concussion), and C.J. Leslie (illness) were also out, leaving the 905 with just 10 bodies.
- Speaking of Sheehey, he was working out before the game. His season is over thanks to a dislocated right elbow, but he was getting in work exclusively with his left hand and was in decent spirits, considering.
- Shout out to Vivek Jacob, Harsh Dave, and Jas Grewal.
- The 905 don’t know how their schedule will line up next round. Maine and Fort Wayne won’t finish their series until Monday or Wednesday, and Game 1 being on the road dictates the schedule. From there, the Mississauga Steelheads have home games April 16 (afternoon) and 18 (evening) if they’re still around for Games 6 and 7 against the Oshawa Generals, further complicating things. The series will almost surely wrap by April 19, but the specific dates remain up in the air.
- Whenever the schedule is up, Raptors Republic readers can get discounted 905 playoff tickets by using the promo code REPUBLIC905.