Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
Raptors 905 104, Erie Bayhawks 94 | Box Score
Assignees: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Bayhawks)
Two-ways: Malcolm Miller (905), None (Bayhawks)
As Raptors 905 returned from the All-Star break on Wednesday, they did so shorthanded and with a few questions that flowed naturally from that roster state. For a night, the 905 answered as best head coach Jerry Stackhouse could have hoped, topping a quality, division-leading opponent in the Erie Bayhawks, 104-94, thanks to a high-pressure defensive effort and some big contributions from players stepping into larger roles.
Normally, the absence of Lorenzo Brown would be cause for a simpler question than the one asked Wednesday. Brown is the team’s unquestioned leader, a solid defender, an at-will scorer, a savvy playmaker, and a fringe MVP candidate when with the club. The 905 outscore opponents by 13 points per-100 possessions with him on the floor, and their offense has often become pedestrian when he sits or is up with the parent Toronto Raptors. Behind him, there is guard depth, and Kaza Keane and Kethan Savage have done well when called on to fill his shoes. In this instance, Keane was likewise unavailable. So, too, was Aaron Best, a two-guard who can help with playmaking duties when needed.
The point guard rotation thinned out to Savage and an out-of-position Davion Berry – like Best a more natural secondary playmaker, one who has impressed when given the reigns in the past – offense was a question here, as was the ability to force turnovers without Keane and Best. Savage did his best to put any concerns about the point guard position to rest early, opening the game with a terrific dunk off of some sharp ball movement. Davion Berry filled in the play-making gaps with aplomb off of the bench. And Malachi Richardson, now with some time to adjust under his belt, helped with the scoring load early on, scoring 10 first-quarter points and discovering a bit of a swagger with his face-up game.
Really, though, this game came down to Malcolm Miller stepping up to play the role of The Guy with Brown unavailable. There have been Brown games, Alfonzo McKinnie games, Bruno Caboclo games, and games for the center duo this year. Miller has been there, too, a reliable second option who knows the parts of his game that will be called on at the next level and stays within himself until needed, like on the five occasions he’s scored 20-plus points on the year. This was another level of control asserted on the game, and while the 28 points he finished with were not a season-high, this was his strongest performance of the year, particularly in the second half when Miller went into full take-over mode as the 905 pulled away.
It took the 905 a bit to get going early on, which makes sense as they worked a few new pieces in. Savage’s dunk was the lone highlight for a while, but slowly, they’d find a groove, pulling off a 9-2 on the back of Richardson’s hot shooting out of the gate. A nine-point lead at the end of the first got nudged to 15 by the bench in the second, the stretch connecting the two quarters winding up 18-4 in favor of the 905 and their lead stretching to 15, the biggest grasp either team would have for the bulk of the night.
The offense sputtered from there, with over five minutes separating 905 field goals – Richardson cooled, McKinnie was having a rough night, and outside of an unexpected spark from the debuting Roger Moute a Bidias and some quality Kennedy Meeks minutes, the 905 looked at risk of losing the handle heading into half. If there was a positive harbinger, it was Savage bookending his first half with a big transition block to keep the 905 ahead three.
Out of the half, it was Miller, not Richardson, taking up the scoring load. He set the tone early, hitting an unassisted three, stealing the ball from John Gillon at the other end, and taking it the distance for a dunk. He’d commit a turnover of his own the next time down, and the 905 fell out of sorts a little after that, allowing Erie to erase the remainder of their deficit. Richardson hit a jab-step three and set up Meeks, but the 905 had their lone extended stretch of imprecise defense, and it looked as if the Bayhawks could be settling in to make the final quarter a stiff back-and-forth.
Like the tail end of the first, though, the final minutes of the third set the tone for what was to come. An all-bench group tore off an 11-0 run to create some breathing room, Erie made a small push back, and the 905 entered the fourth up seven. That held until a few minutes in when Miller returned, no longer wanting to leave this up to closing possessions. He’d hit a pair of threes, get to the line, cut for a dunk on a nice dish from Meeks, grab a pair of offensive rebounds, and finally close his monstrous stretch with a pull-up two to give him 12 in the quarter and 19 in the half.
On the defensive end, it was a ratcheted up pressure that precluded Erie from keeping pace, as their 26 turnovers on the game and five in the fourth sunk their ability to string possessions together, even as the 905 coughed it up just as much. The sloppy play on either side made for a fast-paced game that understates the defensive performance at play in holding Erie to 94 points. The Bayhawks would make a last-ditch effort to fight back from an out-of-nowhere 19-point hole – they had their own stretch of six minutes hitting just one field goal – but the lead proved too large and the 905 defense too unforgiving in the final minutes.
Down three guards, it’s an encouraging win for the 905 ahead of a big weekend. Saturday’s visit to Westchester has potentially massive implications, as the 905 trail the Knicks by just 1.5 games and could cut that to half a game – and own the tiebreaker – with a win. They’ll need names like Savage and Berry to carry the point guard load just as well, and another big night from Miller wouldn’t hurt, either.
- Assignment notes
- Alfonzo McKinnie had a rough night, missing all six of his attempts from the floor and playing to a team-worst minus-12 in 25 minutes. He wasn’t his usual self on the boards, either, grabbing just a pair. Uncharacteristic night for him all around. It happens.
- Malachi Richardson finally seems to have a comfort zone after a tough couple of games adjusting. He looked a little more confident not only in the team’s playbook but in letting his shot fly, delivering a step-back pull-up to the left (his favorite) and, later, a jab-step. Hitting three threes should help further build that confidence, and 13 points on eight shots is a solid night. The issue here was four turnovers, an understandable growing pain as the 905 empower him to make plays a bit more (he had three assists; he had nine total over six games with Reno).
- Other 905 player notes
- Malcolm Miller completely took over in the second half of the game, particularly in the pivotal part of the fourth. It’s kind of gone unspoken since Miller plays his eventual NBA role so well at this level, but he’s wholly capable of being the 905’s go-to guy when Brown isn’t available. Scoring 28 points on 20 used possessions speaks for itself, and hitting 4-of-8 threes is encouraging after he entered the break a little cold. He also added eight rebounds and was plus-5 in 34 minutes, tops among the starters.
- Roger Moute a Bidias made his 905 debut, looking like a potential defensive contributor in 16 minutes. He had seven points, three steals, and was a plus-8 in those minutes.. He was on the roster until Nov. 29 but never played due to a knee sprain, was waived, and re-added to the roster as a FIBA replacement on Wednesday…Kennedy Meeks had his usual double-double and added three assists and four steals…Shevon Thompson (13) and Fuquan Edwin (11) also scored in double-figures, while Davion Berry chipped in seven assists.
- Lorenzo Brown missed the game with a left ankle sprain he suffered on Feb. 12. It’s not thought to be serious but there’s little sense in rushing him…Kaza Keane and Aaron Best are away from the team for FIBA qualifiers.
- Bayhawks notes: Jordan Mathews was very willing to shoot, and Erie needed all 23 of his points to hang in…former Dunk Contest artiste Jeremy Evans also dropped 20, grabbed nine rebounds, and was a team-best plus-7.
- The 905 hit the road for a Saturday afternoon game against the East-leading Westchester Knicks, then return home for a game at the Air Canada Centre on Sunday. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.