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Raptors 905 lock down Spurs, win 6th in a row

These guys are on fire.

Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com

Raptors 905 93, Austin Spurs 78 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Spurs)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), Matt Costello, Darrun Hilliard (Spurs)

When Raptors 905 fell to 5-10 on the season a few weeks back, they maintained the belief that the progress they were making would turn into wins soon. The defense had stayed around the league’s best through the losses, and if the offense could cut down on some of the turnovers, it wouldn’t be hard to squint and see a path back to a winning record, if not an eventual playoff spot. On Saturday, they pushed back to .500 with their sixth win in seven games, a nice checkpoint for them ahead of the calendar flipping.

Sunday would prove a great opportunity, then, not only to get above the .500 marker for the first time since November but also to prove themselves against a very good team in the Austin Spurs. The 905 did just that, completely bottling the Spurs up and holding them to 34.5-percent shooting, just 14 free-throw attempts, and a paltry 83.9 points per-100 possessions. It was the ideal of how the 905 want to defend quality opponents and more evidence that they can be a dangerous team if the offense comes around with some consistency.

“I thought we played well. It was the pace that we wanted. To hold this team that has a lot of capable scorers to under 80 points, we really did a defensive number,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said.

This one opened up like a bit of a chess match of sorts. With two teams that thrive slowing the game down and grinding things out, there was a real feeling-out period, and the quarter as a whole would only see 22 possessions each way, a snail’s pace in relative terms. The game also featured two teams dominant on the glass, and early on it was Austin’s No. 2-ranked rebounding outfit getting the best of the 905’s league-best defensive rebounding. The Spurs struggled shooting inside the arc, but four offensive rebounds produced five second-chance points, and the attention the 905 were paying inside opened up some decent looks for Austin trailers and pick-and-pop weapons.

The other end saw the 905 do somewhat of the opposite, struggling from outside and instead producing inside the 3-point line. Lorenzo Brown had a trio of nice baskets and three assists top go with them, Kennedy Meeks was featured in the post a handful of times, and Bruno Caboclo made a pair of plays after receiving the ball very late in the shot-clock, an encouraging sign. Frustrations grew in the tight back-and-forth, too, with Aaron Best and Jeff Ledbetter receiving matching technicals that were emblematic of an even and well-fought quarter all around.

Austin threatened to pull away and take a modicum of control in the second quarter, grabbing the game’s largest lead with a mini-run. Kaza Keane’s defense helped slow that down, with a terrific strip of Nick Johnson in the post kick-starting things the other way. Keane would find a cutting Malcolm Miller to draw a foul shortly after, and when Miller was fouled again going for a dunk shortly after – a hard one from Matt Costello – he took exception. Tempers cooled, and Miller’s frustration was probably eased by the fact that his trips to the line, along with a strong stretch from Shevon Thompson, had helped the 905 flip the score around.

The starters picked back up from there, with Brown taking over offensively and shooting almost flawlessly for the half. His job was made a little easier with a handful of forced Spurs turnovers and the 905 doing a better job on their own glass. Things got heated once again, and Ledbetter wound up tossed for his second technical of the game, this one a double-tech with Caboclo, who was bringing an appreciated level of aggression at both ends. The Spurs entered the break down a key bench piece and down five points, having shot 34 percent over two quarters, so any additional frustration on their side would have been understood. The 905, meanwhile, couldn’t really be comfortable against a top-five team with a two-possession edge.

At least, the energy out of the gate suggested as much. The 905 turned in a few very strong minutes to start the third quarter, putting Austin’s backs up against the wall with hounding defense and an intent to push off of most of those misses. Caboclo and Meeks did a great job against an elite rebounding opponent of limiting those early second-chance points they feasted on, and Alfonzo McKinnie’s speed in the open court proved a problem. A massive McKinnie dunk in transition sent the Spurs into a timeout facing the game’s biggest deficit at 12, allowing Meeks an opportunity to play hype man and demand more noise from a smaller but still-raucous crowd.

The Spurs tried to speed things up a bit to breakthrough on offense, and while Jaron Blossomgame got free for a transition dunk, the 905 continued to do a good job of forcing Austin into half-court sets that dragged late into the shot clock. Their own half-court offense struggled some, too, with the outside shooting still escaping them to the tune of a 2-of-20 mark. Offensive rebounding helped pick up enough slack to keep the Spurs at arm’s length, and the 905 held a 12-point lead entering the fourth.

“We depend on our defense to keep us in games when we’re not making shots,” Stackhouse said. “Like tonight, I thought we got great looks, we just didn’t make those shots. But because we defend, we give ourselves a chance to win it. I think we can still…I like to see the ball going in the hole.”

Austin looked to make a push early and managed to get the lead to single-digits briefly thanks to some strong defensive effort. It was short-lived, though, with the bench defense for the 905 preventing any real momentum and maintaining a comfortable margin through some back-and-forth play. Stackhouse was even able to wait out bringing his starters back in, as a Brown-McKinnie-bench group had the lead as large as 19. Austin made a mini 5-0 run, and leaving nothing to chance, Stackhouse went back to the starting fivesome to tidy things up. They did so without much note, locking up a second victory in about 28 hours, and a second in which 10 different players scored and closed the game with positive plus-minus marks.

“Great note to finish 2017 year off, and now let’s go into 2018 and continue to build,” Stackhouse said.

Stackhouse also managed to keep the minutes reasonable in a back-to-back scenario. Only Brown topped 30 here, one day after none of the starters sniffed that marker because the 905 took care of things so handily. Running 10-deep both games allowed for fresh legs even late in the second game, an important consideration with a third in four days coming Tuesday against a very good Lakeland Magic team.

Notes

  • Assignment notes
    • Bruno Caboclo had a quiet night offensively, scoring nine points on 3-of-9 shooting. The three continues to struggle to find consistency, and since his offensive role consists largely of threes and offensive rebounds, that’s made his overall offense a little inconsistent, too. Defensively, there have been no such concerns. He turned in another strong game at that end here and was an important factor on the boards for a second game in a row. He grabbed six rebounds and was a plus-8 in 24 minutes.
    • Alfonzo McKinnie was likewise quiet outside of that one monster dunk, and likewise turned in a strong defensive effort. He only had nine points on 3-of-11 shooting but added five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block while posting a team-best plus-14 in 32 minutes.
    • Neither assignee is expected to be with the 905 for the G League Showcase next month. The 905 have preferred to give that opportunity to their regular G Leaguers the last two years, and that will continue this year.
  • Other 905 player notes
    • Lorenzo Brown was untouchable as a scorer again, putting up 23 points on 20 used possessions. He added eight rebounds, nine assists, and two steals to flirt with another triple-double. He’s also only made five turnovers over the last three games after committing 10 in a game last weekend. Really nice week for him down here.
    • Malcolm Miller only scored six points on 1-of-5 shooting and instead shifted into a bit of a wing facilitator role, dishing four assists. He now has four assists in three consecutive games and three or more in six games this year.
    • Kennedy Meeks and Shevon Thompson both had double-doubles at the center position, with Meeks going 13-and-13 and Thompson going 16-and-10. If you need to give the edge to someone, give it to Thompson, who did his damage in slightly fewer minutes and was more efficient shooting the ball. Both defended really well in the pick-and-roll, too.
    • Negus Webster-Chan continues to sit with a knee/IT band issue that just won’t seem to heal.
  • Spurs notes:¬†Olivier Hanlan added a little extra CanCon here, though he shot 2-of-11…Matt Costello is low-key a Plumlee…Jaron Blossomgame is legitimate, and it’s not hard to see him or Darrun Hilliard being the Spurs’ next how-did-everyone-miss-this-guy project. Neither is there quite yet, of course.
  • The 905 are home again Tuesday. A¬†friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.

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