Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
Raptors 905 99, Westchester Knicks 101 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Knicks)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), Luke Kornet, Isaiah Hicks (Knicks)
Raptors 905 have spent the last few weeks making statements, shaking off a slow start, and asserting themselves as a threat once again in the Eastern Conference. With 5,294 screaming children in attendance at Hershey Centre on Wednesday morning, they had their biggest opportunity yet to stake their claim as the unlikely G League team that could threaten to repeat as champions: A home game against the conference-leading Westchester Knicks, over whom the 905 already hold two victories. A win would draw them within half a game with the tiebreaker locked up, putting Mississauga in a good position to host more playoff action this spring.
It nearly went down that way. The 905 lead by as many as 18, controlled the glass, and made smart adjustments after a slow start. The Knicks aren’t atop the standings for no reason, though, and the home side couldn’t hold off a sustained second-half push, nor could they collect the defensive rebound that would have sent the game to overtime in the closing seconds. Opportunity squandered, even if there are important lessons they can draw from a 101-99 loss.
“This one stings,” Jerry Stackhouse said. “Because we feel like this was a game we should have won, we did enough to win, but they made plays. Give them credit.”
The energy didn’t find the 905 early on. Maybe Nigel Hayes is a big advocate of school-day games in the G League, or maybe he was just trying to do his part to settle the crowd down. Whatever got into him, it was working – Hayes scored the Knicks’ first three buckets of the game against a quality defender in Alfonzo McKinnie, then got free for a pair of jumpers near the corner. In a blink, he’d put up 12 points and put the 905 in an early hole, leading Stackhouse to call on Malcolm Miller to try to slow him down.
Miller did a nice job denying Hayes the ball to cool him off and hit a corner three the other way to help facilitate an offensive turnaround. To that point, the 905 offense had been sloppy and imprecise, with a couple of unnecessary turnovers and even a rare miss on a relatively open layup for Lorenzo Brown. Brown found the mark after that and put the game on triple-double watch early, and his backcourt mate Aaron Best chipped in with a three and a dunk that got blocked cleanly but somehow still found the net. Fuquan Edwin delivered a nifty reverse, Miller hit another three after forcing a Hayes miss, and the 905 had gathered up enough momentum to wind up with a five-point ead after one despite once trailing by seven.
“The ball just started sticking a little bit. I thought there was plays where we could have shared it a little bit more,” Stackhouse said of the slow start. “There was a number of plays at the beginning of the game where I felt like not contesting shots the way we’re capable, not having the urgency to contest the shots that we normally do.”
The bench held serve at the top of the second, with Kaza Keane providing a nice two-way spark in his small minutes. McKinnie returned and got another crack at Hayes, drawing an offensive foul on a rip-through, and Shevon Thompson bullied his way to the free-throw line. The 905 even played their super-sized lineup – Miller in place of Aaron Best with the starters, my favorite – and a seven-point lead jumped to 16 over the span of just a couple of minutes. Brown kept orchestrating things with his usual level of expertise on offense, and that lineup is essentially impossible to score on. Brown finished the half with 15 points, six rebounds, and seven, while the Knicks scored just two points over a four-minute stretch against that fivesome to finish the half scoring 95.7 points per-100 possessions.
“We come into halftime up 12 and realistically, if we take care of our business a little bit better, we may be up 20, and maybe get their minds out of the game that it’s not their night,” Stackhouse said. “But because we let them make plays, they got some confidence and then you saw it kinda snowball their at the end.”
Things grew testy in the second half, with Bruno Caboclo and Xavier Rathan-Mayes getting too chatty and having to be separated. That edge bled into the physicality of the game, too, and while it made for some sloppier stretches – like a minute-long 905 possession with several scrambles for loose balls that ended with a Kennedy Meeks bucket – it also felt like a playoff atmosphere between the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. Isaiah Hicks and Miller traded big dunks after that, Rathan-Mayes found his stroke, and Luke Kornet hit a deep three to make a proper game of it again, within the grasp of either side. Brown did his damndest to end it early, though, lifting a bench group to a mini-run and hitting a step-back three just before the buzzer gave the 905 a 13-point edge once again entering the fourth.
The Knicks pushed right back to start the fourth, and Stackhouse was leaving nothing to chance. Back came Brown and McKinnie, and the rest of the starters followed shortly after. Westchester had trimmed the lead to two in a heartbeat, and while Stackhouse often empowers that second unit to close out half of the fourth, he couldn’t give them quite that leash here. If it wasn’t a full playoff vibe before, it certainly was for the final half a quarter here. The crowd helped set that tone, as did both sides being heavy on NBA or fringe-NBA talent. It was great.
Clean shots were tough to come by, as you’d expect. The 905 did a nice job limiting the primary Knicks, and the Knicks bogged the 905 down late into their possessions, requiring plays like a tremendous driving baseball pass from Caboclo to Best to get shots off in time. Rathan-Mayes and Brown continued their tit-for-tat, both pushing to ludicrous final stat-lines and carrying their respective sides as initiators. That’s a battle Brown got the edge in, both on the night and in the fourth.
Stackhouse gave Miller the closing nod over McKinnie late for the purposes of Hayes containment, and aggressive on-ball defense helped the 905 force a clutch turnover, though Billy Garrett continued a hot quarter with a big corner three to keep the Knicks within a possession.Kornet then followed with another deep three, tying the game with under a minute to go. A Caboclo missed three gave Rathan-Mayes an opening to take the lead with an elbow jumper, and the 905 were unexpectedly in a must-score situation, down two with 23 seconds to go. Stackhouse ran a quick-hitter to force a Kornet switch onto Brown, and Brown rewarded the faith with a game-tying jumper.
And then the 905 got the stop they needed. Rathan-Mayes missed a tough pull-up three. Except the offensive rebound found its way to Hayes in the short corner, who hit an impossibly difficult buzzer-beater. Ballgame, Knicks, their lead atop the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference safe a little while longer.
“We came, we executed, we were able to tie the game, come down, make them take a tough shot, and then we don’t box out,” Stackhouse said. “Those are the things, the little things, we talk about ’em all the time. The attention to detail, we go over it every day, and we just gotta continue to work on it and get better at it.”
The 905 have bounced back from these situations really well over the last two months, and they have one more meeting with the Knicks this year to try to make up the remaining gap in the table (the 905 hold a 2-1 season-series edge). All three meetings have been decided by one possession, so expect the 905 to be fired up in Westchester on Feb. 24.
- Assignment notes
- Bruno Caboclo was pretty quiet in this one. He had some nice defensive stretches and was a plus-4 overall, but he was a non-factor on offense (2-of-10) and, most notably, on the glass. Caboclo had been rebounding incredibly well of late, and with his assignment stepping outside so often, he only managed one here. He did dish a pair of nice passes for assists, including one on a drive in the clutch that there’s no way he would have made a year ago. Stackhouse sounded disappointed in some of the “little things’ stuff Caboclo missed on here, too. Part of the process.
- Alfonzo McKinnie was similarly quiet, struggling against Hayes early and never really finding his shot on a 2-of-7 afternoon. He did attack the glass from all over, grabbing 11 rebounds, four offensive. He’s off to Washington with the Raptors now.
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown shook off two middling games to put together one of his best nights of the season. He finished with 30 points on 27 possessions, much-needed offense here, and he also had nearly half the team’s assists with nine. Add in 13 rebounds – his third near-miss of a triple-double on the season already – and Brown was instrumental. You’ve heard me rave about his play down here enough, probably. He was a team-best plus-6, if that matters on top of the endorsement. Brown will be with the Raptors in Washington.
- Malcolm Miller had a really strong game defensively, and while he comes off the bench for the 905, he’s become their best stopped against larger wings or even stretchier combo-forwards. He hit a pair of threes and got to the line often, too, finishing with 14 points and six rebounds. Nice example here of how he might thrive in an NBA bench role.
- It was a quieter night for most of the supporting pieces…Kennedy Meeks had 10 points, seven rebounds, and three blocks…Davion Berry was the fourth 905er in double-figures with 10.
- Knicks notes: Xavier Rathan-Mayes is a guy I’ve been high on for some time for more than just his passport. He was great here, scoring 26 points with five rebounds, seven assists, and three steals, though he did use a lot of possessions to get there…Nigel Hayes will get another NBA 10-day look soon if he keeps playing like this…Luke Kornet and his 4th-String Zeller self are not welcome back here with these 35-foot threes.
- Today was BellLetsTalk day at the 905 game. I shared some personal thoughts on mental health here.
One of the biggest turning points in my life was recognizing that I needed help with my mental health and, after fighting the idea, asking for it. Just being able to openly discuss it and, before that, just knowing what it was that I was dealing with helped so much. #BellLetsTalk
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 31, 2018
- This was very funny to me:
Lolllll they’re playing God’s Plan during Raptors 905 warmup and SO many kids just shouted along to “I only love my bed and my momma I’m sorry”
— Blake Murphy (@BlakeMurphyODC) January 31, 2018
- The 905 now hit the road for one before returning home Feb. 5. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.