Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
Raptors 905 102, Maine Red Claws 94 | Box Score
Assignees: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Red Claws)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), Kadeem Allen (Red Claws)
Even in a world without Bruno Caboclo, working in a new piece, and down an All-Star point guard, Raptors 905 continue to prove difficult to beat on any given night. In a game that saw 18 lead changes on Monday, they took control late to top the Maine Red Claws 102-94 at Hershey Centre to pull back within a game of the Eastern Conference lead.
Like parent club, like affiliate, it seems, with wins being strung together regularly in a push to the one-seed despite occasional absences and with deep, team-wide contributions and a movement-heavy offense. The 905 went 12-deep in the rotation in this one, with 11 of those players scoring and nine of them dishing assists. After a frigid start, the 905 wound up shooting 51 percent from the floor, hit 13 threes, and dished 26 assists to just 11 turnovers, holding a decent Maine team to just a shade over a point per-possession in the process.
It’s still a bit of an adjustment seeing the 905 without Caboclo, and that adjustment included the debut of Malachi Richardson. Head coach Jerry Stackhouse spoke before the game about trying to get Richardson involved early despite his unfamiliarity, and he held true to his word – Richardson was a big part of the drive-kick-swing in the opening minutes, missing all three of his shots, only one of which was really a bad shot in the 905 system. His misses weren’t isolated, either, as the 905 shot just 41 percent in the first quarter despite strong shooting from their backcourt. Lorenzo Brown was a little quieter than usual on offense, instead focusing on forcing turnovers, and Kethan Savage got the backup nod over Kaza Keane for a change, bringing that same energy and push in transition.
Even with turnovers working to their favor, the 905 took time to ease in. Malcolm Miller made a pair of tough shots and a great wrap pass to Shevon Thompson for an easy bucket, but those were about the only easy points they managed. The Red Claws were slow to get going on offense, too, despite the best efforts of Anthony Bennett to dunk on his former club. Bennett went 0-of-5 in the first as Maine started out shooting just 40 percent, too. Control of the game to end the quarter hung on a review, with a Trey Davis transition layup off of a Savage drive-and-kick turnover rolling off of his finger just in time to put Maine ahead one.
Offense wasn’t at quite the same premium to start the second, with Aaron Best providing some theatrics in the form of a dunk contest preview and a three,making him the game’s first player into double-digits. Stackhouse went deep into his bench early with Keane expanding the rotation to 11 and Brown sitting down with an ankle sprain. The bench rewarded that faith defensively with little caveat, and Stackhouse gave them an extended second-quarter run, even going to a third center in Andre Washington. Things remained as gummed up at the other end as you’d expect with starters back in for both sides and no Brown around to run the offense, and when Miller’s shot began falling awry along with Richardson’s, the 905 were unable to pull away.
Alfonzo McKinnie hitting a three as a trailer seemed to break the ice, and Richardson followed with his first bucket as a 905er, an off-dribble three going left. Miller followed with one for good measure, and were it not for Kadeem Allen hitting triples in triplicate – including a heck of a buzzer-beater – there would have been some separation. As it was, the 905 took a one-point lead into the break.
It was Keane who drew the start for Brown in the second half, and through no individual fault of his own, Maine made their push. The 905 started cold again, Bennett had a rare make (seriously, dude, stop shooting), and it took Stripes attacking the Maine mascot during a timeout to get the team out of their funk. A big Kennedy Meeks block followed, keying a McKinnie drive for an and-one the other way. Somewhere, I’m sure, Stripes’ agent took note. The potential pull-away continued to be slowed by shaky outside shooting and Allen, who paired with L.J. Peak as the only Red Claws hitting reliably. Even when Davion Berry stuck a jumper or Thompson finished a tough catch inside, Allen was there to respond. There was no responding to a Berry buzzer-beater to end the quarter, though, and the 905 had five points of separation for their Brown-less stretch run.
Allen continued being problematic into the fourth, sandwiching a pair of threes around a degree-of-difficulty three for Davis. It reached a point where an Allen miss from outside seemed completely out of place, and in a snap, a five-point lead had become a five-point deficit for the 905. Stackhouse, down two of his usual closing pieces in Brown and Bruno Caboclo, gave the bench an extended look largely out of necessity. Again, his trust proved prescient, as Berry re-closed the gap, Keane drew a charge to swing possession, Kuran Iverson drilled a corner three, and Thompson made another tough finish that had a gleeful Meeks coming out to halfcourt to meet him. It was a 10-0 run in response to a 9-0 run, a great counterpunch out of a Stackhouse timeout that gave the 905 a modicum of control back for the final seven minutes.
“I tried to run the reserves a little bit longer because I know we’re on this back-to-back,” Stackhouse said. “We had a lot of contributions across the board. When LB went down early, Savage came in and gave us some big minutes, Kaza, guys played well. It’s about our guys staying ready.”
The stretch run started out on the right foot, with Stackhouse winning a challenge on a three-point foul call. The review time didn’t entice Stackhouse to go back to his starters quite yet, and when that happened at the four-minute mark, the game was once again a dead heat, already the 13th tie of the game. It remained a fun battle from there, with Meeks scoring off of an offensive rebound to respond to a Bennett triple, Bennett air-balling his next attempt over a Keane closeout, Best hitting a big triple, and McKinnie coming through with a put-back of his own. A McKinnie corner three capped the run – and a great stretch for McKinnie individually – and sent Maine scrambling for a timeout in desperate need of a bucket. Best drew an offensive foul on Allen out of the timeout, and when Best missed a three in the final minute, McKinnie delivered the dagger with a monstrous put-back dunk.
“I thought he did a great job of closing out. I thought he was really good down the stretch,” Stackhouse said.
Others just wanted to talk about the dunk.
“I didn’t have any words for it,” Malcolm Miller told Louis Zatzman. “I just started pointing up. That was crazy. Caught it with two hands, threw it with one, and just jumped all over a dude.”
“Crash the glass, man. Coach A.J. (Diggs) been telling me to crash the glass more,” McKinnie said. “I seen, I don’t know his name, the big guy that was in the paint, he never turned and boxed out, never checked anything. So I really just ran in and once I seen that it was gonna come off, I just kind of guided myself the right way.
“And, you know, another special dunk.”
Another special dunk and another close-out victory for a 905 team that’s won 19 of their last 24 and could be just a half-game out of the No. 1-seed when they reach the All-Star break after tomorrow night’s game.
- Assignment notes
- Bruno Caboclo did not play, as he is no longer a member of Raptors 905. I wrote about that reality for Vice today.
- Alfonzo McKinnie took over down the stretch, really proving the difference in a game that could have gone either way. He was a monster on the glass all game and really came through late, attacking the paint to get to the line or sky for offensive rebounds. Most importantly for his development, he hit 3-of-7 on threes, pushing him back to 37 percent on the season. Really good look at how his energy and anticipation on the boards can swing a game.
- Malachi Richardson struggled out of the gate but eventually found a bit of a groove, finishing the game 3-of-4 after an 0-of-5 start. He was a minus-3 in 19 minutes but scored eight points with three rebounds. He showed off a nifty pull-up going left that appears to be his pet move based on some film viewing this weekend, and while Stackhouse said he’d prefer it to become a step-back three rather than a two, ” I saw the ball go in the hole, so I like that move.”
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown left the game after five minutes with what the team is hoping is only a mild ankle sprain. He scored four points and nabbed two steals before exiting. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him sit tomorrow as a precaution.
- Malcolm Miller had a tough night shooting the ball but made a couple of nice passes, grabbed six rebounds, and finished a plus-16, best among the starters. Another really strong defensive night from him, and a 2-of-8 night from long-range is an anomaly of late.
- Fuquan Edwin was away from the team for personal reasons…Aaron Best was big off the bench with 13 points and six rebounds…Shevon Thompson scored 14 points with five rebounds…Kaza Keane also scored in double-figures, shaking off a bit of a cold shooting stretch.
- Red Claws notes: Anthony Bennett is still shooting. He took 22 shots in 40 minutes here, finishing with 23 points on 23 possessions because the bulk of them were threes. It was a lot of Bennett…Kadeem Allen is really good. A 24-5-8 line here with three steals and seven threes. He’s a piece for the Celtics.
- The 905 have a road game tomorrow and then have an All-Star break. They get back underway at home on Feb. 21. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.