Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
Raptors 905 98, Fort Wayne Mad Ants 94 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Mad Ants)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown (905), None (Mad Ants)
Momentum is building in Mississauga.
After a difficult start to the season that saw the team lose Edy Tavares and Kyle Wiltjer immediately, lose players to FIBA qualifiers, and get minimal help from the NBA, everything is starting to fall into place for Raptors 905. A 4-9 start has given way to the team’s best five-game stretch of the season, culminating with a lock-down 98-94 victory over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants at Hershey Centre on Saturday. The win is the 905’s third in a row and their fourth in the last five games, edging them closer to the .500 marker at 8-10.
The 905 recognized their opportunity against an opponent low on NBA help out of the gate, shaking off any afternoon lethargy to get out to an 8-0 run almost immediately. Fort Wayne didn’t wait 90 seconds before going to their bench to try to settle things, and they quickly bounced back with an 11-2 run of their own thanks in part to some early 905 turnovers. The Mad Ants tried picking Lorenzo Brown up full-court to try to force someone else on the 905 to initiate, and while Brown was able to get into the teeth still, the offense revolved largely around Kennedy Meeks early on. Meeks had a pair of put-backs as well as a terrific skip pass out of a post-up that led to three Aaron Best free throws.
Bruno Caboclo struggled from the floor to start, with a block on Walter Lemon Jr. sandwiched around two missed threes, and he was picked up by a triple from Alfonzo McKinnie and a pair from Fuquan Edwin. The 905 got into some foul trouble to accompany their turnover trouble, but the defensive intensity underlying the foul issue helped keep them close. With Fort Wayne cold outside of old friend Jarrod Uthoff, the 905’s defense helped carry them to a 24-21 lead through a quarter despite an unsightly seven turnovers.
The bench held steady to start the second, keeping the defensive pressure up and frustrating Fort Wayne into mistakes. They couldn’t pull away, though, as Kaza Keane missed a transition layup after a great steal and then a transition three off of an Edwin steal, leading head coach Jerry Stackhouse to go back to his starters. Fort Wayne’s focus shifted to keeping the ball away from Meeks on the block, and for good reason – once they finally worked it into him, Meeks delivered a degree-of-difficulty fadeaway to give the 905 their biggest lead so far at seven points. Things got a little heated with the 905 threatening to pull away, as Caboclo was undercut by DeQuan Jones and took offense, requiring Trey McKinney-Jones to pull him away. Cooler heads prevailed, and Caboclo responded with his first field goal of the game. McKinnie then delivered a pair of thunderous dunks to nudge the lead to 10 entering the break.
After Caboclo opened the third with a three, it was once again all about their defense, with the two sides playing a gritty style of back-and-forth. The defensive intensity even got so extreme that Stackhouse was assessed a technical foul for defending a Fort Wayne 3-point shooter – he stood up behind him in the corner to yell something out and was very unhappy to be whistled for it. It didn’t derail the 905 much, as a fourth Edwin three and a Shevon Thompson jam from the dunker slot maintained an eight-point edge entering the fourth. (Disclosure: I missed a few minutes of the third for Dwane Casey’s pre-game media availability.)
The 905 began pulling away early in the fourth, quickly stretching the lead to 15 with a bench-heavy group. Those minutes included a forced eight-second violation and big threes from Edwin (again!) and Kuran Iverson. A 15-point lead with only eight minutes left is a tough task for any team against the 905’s No. 3-ranked defense, especially so on a day the Mad Ants didn’t have any of their two-way players or NBA assignees. Fort Wayne responded with consecutive baskets, though, and Stackhouse wasn’t leaving anything to chance, going back to his three NBA talents (and eventually the full contingent of starters).
Control of the game was threatened by a fifth foul for Brown with five minutes still to play, and Stackhouse stuck with him, trusting his ability to defend through it. The Mad Ants kept chipping, a McKinney-Jones triple and a Lemon Jr. bucket to suddenly cut the lead to five. The final three minutes grew tense, with Brown losing the ball out of bounds out of a timeout and Lemon penetrating and scoring through McKinnie’s help at the rim. McKinnie responded with an elbow pull-up, only for another breakdown underneath and a transition three off of a turnover to tie the game up. Just like that, Fort Wayne had made a 15-point comeback in seven minutes against a tough defense, putting the 905 on their heels.
Best put the 905 back ahead by two, and an iffy offensive foul call on Meeks gave the Mad Ants the ball out of a timeout with 33 seconds left. Caboclo came up with a big steal on a Lemon kick-out that seemed to seal the game, but he took it coast-to-coast and picked up an offensive foul the other way. The Mad Ants had another chance, then, with 25 seconds and a two-point gap, and it was once again Lemon getting the call. He took Best to his left and missed at the rim, and McKinnie skied in for a massive defensive rebound. Brown and McKinnie closed it out with free throws on two intentional fouls from there – with a timeout to retry an inbound, mind you – and the 905 hung on.
Stackhouse will surely be displeased with the defensive slippage in the fourth quarter, nearly allowing Fort Wayne back into it. Still, in the big picture, beating a team they lost to by 27 a few weeks back and winning for a fourth time in five games is a big positive. The 905 are learning how to win these close games and sustain through stretches of ineffectiveness, and their latest win shows they can string a few of these games together. A string of three home games in a row around the turn of the calendar should provide further opportunity to keep pushing back toward the .500 mark that stands as a near-term progress marker.
- Assignment notes
- Bruno Caboclo shot poorly with a 3-of-12 mark, which is something he’s still trying to find consistency with – it’s his third straight sub-40 percent shooting game following three in a row above 45 percent. He still showed good fight and was solid defensively, though he finished a minus-4 in his 36 minutes. He added five rebounds, two steals, and one block
- Alfonzo McKinnie was terrific on the offensive end, shooting 9-of-17 for 26 points with eight rebounds and two steals. Were it not for his scoring punch, the 905 defense may not have been enough here, and his energy flying in for rebounds is unrivaled. Knocked down four of his nine 3-point attempts, too, which is encouraging (he’s at 39 percent on G League threes this year).
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown really struggled with turnovers here, actually notching a triple-double with 17 points, 11 assists, and 10 miscues. Not the kind of triple-double he wants two weeks after the good kind of 36-11-11. Nights like that will happen with so much responsibility, and Brown did well defending through foul trouble.
- Kennedy Meeks was a huge factor inside, grabbing 13 rebounds to go with eight points…Shevon Thompson makes for a nice tag-team partner for him, and he added 10 points and seven rebounds as his back-up…Fuquan Edwin was 5-of-7 on threes for 15 points.
- Negus Webster-Chan was once again inactive with a knee/IT band injury.
- Mad Ants notes: Former 905er Jarrod Uthoff didn’t shoot particularly well but had a really nice game initiating for others. He finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, and six assists…Stephan Hicks shot the ball really well and finished with 19 points and seven rebounds.
- The 905 now hit the road for one game (Dec. 27) before playing three games at Hershey Centre over four days around the new year (Dec. 30, Dec. 31, Jan. 2). A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.