C.J. Leslie, teflon Raptors 905 blow out Maine in series opener

12 mins read
Matt Azevedo/MattAzevedo.com

Photo by MattAzevedo.com

Raptors 905 109, Maine Red Claws 84 | Box Score | Raptors 905 lead series 1-0
Assignees: Pascal Siakam, Bruno Caboclo (905), Demetrius Jackson, Jordan Mickey (Red Claws)

There is no known adversity that can slow Raptors 905. Call-ups, injuries, and illness have all done their best to derail the storybook sophomore campaign, and even reeling from another bout of tumult between series, the 905 just kept chugging along Sunday, winning Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Final series against the Maine Red Claws 109-84.

Short their two best players in Edy Tavares and Axel Toupane, plus another key rotation piece in the injured Will Sheehey (Negus Webster-Chan is out, too), the 905 were going to have to lean on depth and defense to take one in Maine’s gym, where they took both regular season meetings. That meant starting Goodluck Okonoboh for a spark of energy, relying heavily on C.J. Leslie to prop up the second-unit offense, and turning to the Toronto Raptors assignment players for offense early on. Pascal Siakam answered the call and lustily put up nine shots in the first nine minutes, producing a much-needed eight early points to build a lead as the Red Claws shot 1-of-7 out of the gate. Maine pulled back in reach as a few of Siakam’s looks at the rim rolled out and the Red Claws’ shooting picked up, but not even back-to-back triples from Cameron Ayers could keep things tight for too long.

A pair of careless turnovers late – one with Arthur Edwards talking to the sideline and another with Abdel Nader dumping off to Guerschon Yabusele as the shot-clock expired – allowed the 905 to extend their lead back out. The 905 offense wasn’t even particularly strong, but a seven-one edge on the offensive glass was a major factor, producing an 11-point edge in second-chance points early on. Leslie casually drained a three as the trailer to put the 905 up 29-17 after a frame.

Frustration appeared to mount a bit for the Red Claws in the second (they picked up a pair of technicals), but Jordan Mickey’s force helped keep them afloat. If the 905 weren’t thinned out enough, foul trouble for Antwaine Wiggins and Yanick Moreira stretched them further, and the assignees were leaned on for big minutes once again. The defense from both was a nice addition, and despite loading up the paint, Maine had some trouble keeping Siakam and Leslie away from the rim or line, especially once E.J. Singler joined Brady Heslip on the floor to give the big some space. Really, though, it was all the defense, and at one point they 905 lead by 14 while shooting just 35 percent, which says plenty.

Staying that cold on offense is a tough way to play in the D-League, where leads evaporate quickly, and a few careless turnovers sandwiched around Heslip’s errant 3-point shooting helped Maine make it a game, at 50-44, once again entering the half. The 905 were probably pleased with withstanding the foul trouble and holding Maine to 37-percent shooting, but were it not for Singler hitting a late triple, they may have squandered what felt like a stranglehold on the game entirely.

There was all kinds of trouble out of the break – the stream went dead, Caboclo picked up a third, Moreira a fourth, the Red Claws were in the bonus in under six minutes – but the 905 held steady with a multi-possession lead, and a nice little back-and-forth broke out between Mickey and Leslie. Leslie and Siakam really stepped up here, a major consideration with Tavares out inside and Toupane’s instant, late-clock offense unavailable. Those points around the rim were a big factor as the 905 struggled to find their customary ball movement and as Heslip, who appeared to be favoring his right wrist at one point, didn’t get on the board as a scorer or playmaker until late in the third. Once again, though, it was the defense that played a huge factor in helping the 905 push out to an 19-point lead entering the fourth.

It was enough to frustrate the Red Claws into a third technical, even after a rare make, betraying that the 905 may have broken their spirit, at least for the day. Large leads aren’t always safe here, but the 905 lost but a single game all season when leading entering the fourth, and their defense sometimes doesn’t concede 19 points down the stretch, let alone a 19-point lead. As the lead ballooned into the high-20s midway through the frame, Maine turned it over to their bench (something the 905 could hardly do because of how thinned out they are), and the final minutes were rote.

The 905 aren’t in the clear yet, but they’ll now have two opportunities at home, in a back-to-back, to punch a ticket to the D-League Finals. The job head coach Jerry Stackhouse and staff have done keeping this team ready through assignments, recalls, call-ups, and other shake-ups is quite remarkable and a testament to the system, particularly on the defensive end. Stackhouse has had to use the phrase “next man up” far too often over the last few weeks, but they’ve had no choice but to approach things that way, and the rallying cry has worked consistently. It only needs to work for three more victories.


  • Bruno Caboclo wasn’t quite as impressive as in the Cavaliers game the other night, but it was another decent defensive showing with a middling offensive performance. This has kind of been the standard for him in the playoffs here, and while he plays a small role well, Wednesday’s showing created a hope that Caboclo would be a little more forceful here. He managed just four points (he was 0-of-6 on threes), four rebounds, two steals, and a block but was a plus-6 in 33 minutes.
  • Pascal Siakam had just a terrific bounce-back game here. His first five D-League appearances saw him dominate but he was just okay in the team’s first two postseason games. A taste of game action at the NBA level on Wednesday seems to have reinvigorated him, and he was great in this one. The first-round pick finished with 22 points on 10-of-16 shooting with nine rebounds, two steals, and a plus-16 mark in 35 minutes. The 905 really needed this kind of performance out of him.
  • With Edy Tavares called up to the Cavaliers, Stackhouse opted to start Goodluck Okonoboh at center. He had options. Yanick Moreira had started early in the season and has been solid off the bench, C.J. Leslie has capably played some minutes as a small center, and Pascal Siakam may be best off in that role. But Stackhouse has had an affinity for Okonoboh all year, referring to him as his “pitbull.” It’s something I wrote about at the D-League Showcase. He only wound up playing four minutes until garbage time, grabbing three rebounds in the team’s strong opening stretch.
    • Leslie ended up soaking most of those minutes and was massive, scoring 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting with 11 rebounds, three steals, and a plus-19 rating in just 21 minutes off the bench. Talk about answering the call.
      • When Leslie misses and the announcers say “Leslie, nope,” I laugh every time, even though I don’t think they mean to make a Parks & Rec joke.
  • Red Claws forward Abdel Nader was presented with the D-League Rookie of the Year award before the game. Dude deserves it. He’s awesome, and is definitely getting a hybrid roster spot somewhere next year, if he wants it. That he started 0-of-5 and finished 3-of-16 was appreciated here, though.
    • Guerschon Yabusele is going to be such an interesting NBA prospect. At 6-foot-8 and 270 pounds, with a thick, solid frame but decent footwork and terrific vision, there aren’t many players out there like him. The 905 mostly kept him in check here and it was one of maybe two shaky games in the D-League so far for The Dancing Bear
    • Shout out to Maine head coach Scott Morrison. Always nice to see Canadian content on the sidelines, and Morrison is by all accounts quite good. He works with the national program, too.
  • At this point in the season, there’s no excuse for the Facebook Live streams to be as bad as they remain. I know traffic is easier to direct and monetize on FBL over YouTube, but it is criminal I’ve gone an entire D-League season without the ability to cut quality video, or even watch playoff games in decent quality without falling way behind. Early in the third quarter, the stream went out completely, and people on Twitter were telling me they had turned the game off completely out of frustration.
  • The 905 will return home for Game 2 on Wednesday at Hershey Centre. Raptors Republic readers can get discounted 905 playoff tickets by using the promo code REPUBLIC905.
    • These teams have played five times this year now, and the road team has won every game. A bad omen for Games 2 and 3? Probably not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.