Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

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Raptors 905 come back from down 18 for 9th win in a row

Really fun game here.

Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com

Raptors 905 100, Maine Red Claws 93 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), Guerschon Yabusele, Abdel Nader (Red Claws)
Two-ways: Malcolm Miller, Lorenzo Brown (905), Kadeem Allen, Jabari Bird (Red Claws)

When a team is as hot as Raptors 905, winners of eight in a row entering their Sunday visit with the Maine Red Claws, it can feel like nothing can stop their momentum. Whether or not the 905 themselves felt that way, the universe decided to test the theory for this one.

It started as far back as Friday, when the 905 were snowed in from their flight out of Erie. Instead, the team had to bus from Erie to Toronto, then fly to Boston, then bus to Maine. If that wasn’t enough, Maine would also be playing with reigning D-League Rookie of the Year Abdel Nader and intriguing prospect Guerschon Yabusele, both on assignment from the Boston Celtics to supplement two-way players Kadeem Allen and Jabari Bird (although really, that’s fair, since the 905 have been rolling with four NBA players as well). To top it off, the 905 gave Nathaniel Mitchell the head-coaching reigns as part of their coaching development plan, with Jerry Stackhouse stepping aside for the game.

It turns out that it’s true that nothing can get in the way of the 905 right now, as despite all of that, they stormed back from down 18 to beat a quality Maine team 100-93 for their ninth win in a row.

The legs looked as tired as the travel itinerary would suggest early on. The Red Claws got into their offense fairly seamlessly and dominated the glass, grabbing nine of the first 10 available rebounds in the game. Part of that had to do with misses only taking place at one end of the floor, and Maine ran well off of 905 miscues to speed the league’s No. 2 defense up. Aaron Best would eventually make a three through contact to stem the tide, and that seemed to settle the defense down a bit. Kennedy Meeks continued his defensive improvement with back-to-back blocks on Guerschon Yabusele and Kadeem Allen, and the 905 then forced consecutive turnovers from Yabusele and Andrew White, the former of whom the Red Claws’ announcer compared to Blake Bortles (Bortles!) for throwing a pass a few rows into the stands.

There was a worrisome moment next, as Alfonzo McKinnie landed hard on his right hip after delivering a fantastic chase-down block. He was able to stay in the game, though he didn’t get the jump-ball call he was hoping for having directed the shot out of bounds. The 905 bench had their own shaky start from there, with Shevon Thompson getting back-cut by Yabusele, former Red Claw Malcolm Miller travelling, and Maine winning a challenge of a foul on a Davion Berry three. The sloppiness continued as the side combined for 11 first-quarter turnovers, with a falling Anthony Bennett (old friend!) drawing a foul in the lane emblematic of the style of play. The difference here was the 905’s normally sharp defense playing a little frenetic allowing Maine to shoot 48 percent to 30 percent for the 905, good for a 30-17 lead after a quarter.

Maine continued to do a nice job moving the ball around the perimeter on offense and sealing the paint off on defense, the latter necessary as the 905 shifted their attention to attacking due to ineffectiveness from outside. It didn’t exactly work, as Berry and Kaza Keane both had shots at the rim turned away and McKinnie lost a crossover before Meeks finally scored on a delayed roll. Meeks’ play really stood out here, as he took the Yabusele challenge with zeal and took advantage of an inattentive Bennett at times. It didn’t stop Yabusele, of course, and he was a presence around the rim on defense to continue frustrating the 905 attackers, then finished a transition alley-oop as part of a pull-away run that put Maine ahead by 14.

If there’s one thing the 905 deserved credit for, it was continuing to maintain active hands, deflecting passes and straight-up pick-pocketing on drives. Their inability to score the other way and their own willingness to cough it up – like a sloppy Bruno Caboclo swing that went for two the other way – limited the impact some. Caboclo responded with a three the 905 desperately needed, which helped cut the lead back to seven. He’d uncharacteristically hesitate on a wide-open look up top shortly after, dropping the team’s mark from outside to 2-of-12 for the half. The quarter ended with a bit of a back-and-forth between Allen and Lorenzo Brown, with Brown seemingly getting frustrated at himself for a third turnover and then scoring consecutive buckets. Brown finished the half with 12 points and three turnovers to 15 and two for Allen (who also had four steals), Allen’s edge apparent in a 53-44 halftime lead for Maine.

Caboclo came out of the break with a big three immediately, then cut baseline and made a tough reverse finish, sending Maine to an early timeout to try to preserve their hold on the game. A McKinnie triple followed and Brown got to the rim, and then the line, and in four minutes the 905 had pulled ahead after trailing 18. It was a really nice response for the 905, Brown in particular, after a tired-looking first half, and whether Stackhouse was around for some words at halftime or Mitchell fired them up with a reminder of their record of late, the 905 looked like a much more confident team.

Brown shifted into playmaker mode from there, dishing four assists in the quarter to go with his 11 points and controlling the pace of the game with his probing drives. The bench kept things stable following the big push from the starters, too, and a pair of Berry threes gave the 905 an unexpected eight-point edge heading into the fourth. All told, it was a 33-16 half where Maine was held to 7-of-20 shooting and the 905 grabbed 20 of 25 available rebounds. The turnaround can’t be overstated, and Brown looked like the All-Star he’s likely to be this year.

The fourth didn’t start quite as well. Allen was right back at it with a steal that he took the other way for two, and then Thompson fouled Yabusele and picked up a technical. The 905 posted Thompson up against Yabusele at the other end, drawing a non-shooting foul on Yabusele but earning a flagrant foul in the process (after a long review) due to a wild elbow. It was a 4-0 Yabusele run against Thompson, essentially, and it more or less reset the board heading into the final seven minutes of starter-heavy action. It was the lone reserve on the floor in Berry who had a big series, scoring on a drive, then funneling an attacker to Caboclo for a block to kick-start a Brown bucket in transition, pulling back ahead by seven.

Mitchell was going to leave nothing to chance, calling a timeout after an Allen put-back dunk ended the mini-run and then another after an L.J. Peak three, all in the span of a minute and both with more than three minutes to play. Both saw the 905 score out of the timeout, and were it not for a turnover in transition and a fumbled defensive rebound, they may have pulled away earlier. Both coaches made an interesting tweak on a Red Claws possession at that point, Maine keeping Yabusele and Nader on the bench, while the 905 downsized with Caboclo at center, something they haven’t done often of late. Caboclo picked up a big block, only for Allen to recover the ball and score. Both went back to their centers on the 905’s ensuing possession, and a Meeks offensive rebound got Brown a bucket. Bird then effectively sealed the game with an ill-advised three that Caboclo got a piece of, and Brow closed it out with free throws from there.

It was quite a comeback, and a nice way for Mitchell to add a victory to his coaching ledger. The team responded in a serious way out of halftime and seemed to have a swaggering sense of how to close a tight game out against a good opponent, an important step in their growth as a team as they look beyond the .500 mark that once stood as a short-term goal and ahead to a playoff push. That push is earnest, by the way. The 905’s nine-game winning streak has them up to 14-10 on the year, firmly in a wild-card spot if the season ended today. What a difference a month makes.

Notes

  • Assignment notes
    • Bruno Caboclo had a tough one offensively coming off one of his best games of the year. He shot 3-of-12 and 2-of-7 on threes, and most notably, he seemed to hesitate on a couple of his open looks. It’s a tough balance, finding the right level of aggression on threes that aren’t dropping at a high rate versus driving into traffic, and he’s still figuring it out. His one bucket inside the arc was a baseline cut where he showed nice timing and used his length to make a tougher catch and reverse finish. Defensively, though, he was great. Not only did he have three blocks and a team-best plus-17, he seemed to genuinely disrupt what the Red Claws’ forwards were comfortable doing. Abdel Nader is very good and was largely invisible here. Caboclo could defend at something resembling an NBA level right now, so it’s a matter of doing enough at the other end consistently where a team wouldn’t be playing four-on-five to have his defense out there.
    • Alfonzo McKinnie was very energetic in this one, getting out in transition both ways and grabbing eight rebounds and blocking two shots. He shot the three poorly – 1-of-5 – but still managed 13 points on 12 field-goal attempts. You should know what you’re getting with McKinnie now, as his defense and rebounding rarely sleep and his offense will look varying degrees of good depending on how the three falls (he’s just shy of 40 percent on the year).
  • Other 905 player notes
    • Lorenzo Brown, you’ve made your point. A few weeks back, he turned the ball over 10 times and has essentially been a man possessed since. Here, he shook off a turnover-heavy first half to commit just one miscue in the second, finishing with 32 points on 14-of-24 shooting with six rebounds and nine assists. As he’s been down with the 905 more regularly, his teammates have gotten more used to his probing attacks with varied cadence, and it’s helped him find a better comfort zone as a floor general. He’s still on the score-first side here because the 905 need him to be. He’s averaging 20.1 points on 58.4-percent true-shooting with 8.8 assists and four turnovers.
    • Malcolm Miller was very quiet off the bench here, posting a team-worst minus-10 in 11 minutes. Uncharacteristic for him to be this out of the mix. The Showcase next week should mean a lot more minutes and touches.
    • Kennedy Meeks and Shevon Thompson once again proved a formidable center duo. Meeks had 14 points and 12 rebounds with two blocks and two assists and continues to improve on the defensive end, while Thompson had 12 rebounds in just 16 minutes.
  • Red Claws notes: Anthony Bennett shot 1-of-6 and looked like Anthony Bennett…Guerschon Yabusele is a ton of fun, a uniquely talented and entertaining piece for the Celtics. He had 15-8-3-1-3 here…Kadeem Allen was a problem all night, scoring 24 points with nine rebounds and five steals. He’ll never have this kind of green light at the NBA level, but he’s a best on the ball on defense, which would seem to fit with what the Celtics want out of their guard prospects.
  • The 905 now return home to prepare for the G League Showcase. It goes down in Mississauga from Jan. 10-13. You can use promo code RRSHOW at this link for discounts off of all the games.
    • Brown and Miller are expected to be with the 905 for the Showcase, barring injury with the parent club. McKinnie and Caboclo will be recalled, as the organization wants the Showcase spotlight on the G Leaguers.