Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
Raptors 905 107, Westchester Knicks 110 | Box Score
Assignees: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Knicks)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), Luke Kornet (Knicks)
Two of the best teams in the G League’s Eastern Conference did battle for a fourth time this season on Saturday, and the latest installment of Raptors 905-Westchester Knicks didn’t disappoint. Down Lorenzo Brown, Kaza Keane, and Aaron Best, the 905 came up a bit short in a 110-107 decision, and while that will likely make their playoff path more difficult, there’s room for encouragement in a tight short-handed loss to a very good team.
The 905 came out of the gate hungry, securing an early offensive rebound to produce a Malcolm Miller three, sending multiple attackers barreling into the paint, and feeding Kennedy Meeks on three consecutive possessions so the Knicks couldn’t get comfortable paying mind to any individual. In a beat, the 905 had sent the Knicks to an early timeout down 13-5, threatening to make this the most decisive of the four meetings between the teams. It did little initially – the 905 sealed off the pain to force a pair of misses, frustrated Luke Kornet, and goaded a shot-clock violation – with the Knicks hanging around thanks to their defense instead.
Nigel Hayes would eventually break the drought with his second three of the quarter, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes got on the board with a pair of takes and a jumper to further frustrate this Canadian that he’s here instead of away for FIBA qualifiers. Rathan-Mayes then delivered an outlet pass to Hayes, completing the 11-point comeback and leading Jerry Stackhouse to make nearly a full line change. That run saw Devon Baulkman turn it overdrive (see what I did there?) with a three, extending the run to 16-3 and forcing a 905 timeout. The chat proved effective, as the 905 got back to attacking the paint and spraying from there, closing the quarter on a 9-2 run to take control back.
Kornet got the life from there, opening the second with consecutive baskets. Roger Moute a Bidias once again provided a nice energy off the bench but that unit as a whole couldn’t get much going offensively, missing a few decent looks that let Westchester push in transition, a dangerous game with Rathan-Mayes orchestrating. Two great defenses turned the game into a bit of a grind from there, both preventing the Knicks from gaining separation and the 905 from getting all the way back, a full two-minute stretch of 2-2 play standing as emblematic of that. Foul trouble for Meeks necessitated a look with Shevon Thompson alongside the starters, and he and Kornet took advantage of each other in their matchup. Kornet did so by snapping an uncharacteristic multi-game 3-point drought and then finishing a Rathan-Mayes dish, while Thompson continued to work the offensive glass. The edge went to Kornet when he muscled a defensive rebound from Malachi Richardson, drew a foul, then finished an alley-oop, putting the Knicks ahead 10 at the break.
Stackhouse tweaked the starters for the second half, giving Davion Berry the nod over Richardson and leaving himself without a point guard on the bench. The logic made sense given Richardson’s tough first half, but it took a while for the results to take hold – the 905 went over three minutes without scoring, and while things got a little heated, the Knicks stayed comfortably ahead for some time. It was only when Westchester started to pull away, going up 16, when the 905 found the execution to accompany their urgency, with Berry, Alfonzo McKinnie, Miller, and Meeks all getting a turn during an 11-2 run to bring things back to single digits with 17 minutes to play.
The Knicks nudged it back to 12 by the end of the third, and the 905 struggled to get over the hump to where the Knicks’ backs were really against the wall. The bench did well enough to hold the gap where it was and not let it grow further, and Stackhouse started going back to starters fairly early to try to make an earnest push. The stream of the game went down for a bit at that point, and we returned with the 905 still down eight, just with a bit less time on the clock. Stackhouse stuck with Kethan Savage, Berry, Miller, McKinnie, and Meeks to try to make the last-ditch effort, which appeared to be put to rest by a Hayes triple that but the Knicks well ahead with three minutes to go.
The 905 wouldn’t quite. There was good defensive pressure down the stretch, and the 905 made some big shots to help their cause. Savage fed McKinnie and then Miller, Berry, and McKinnie hit threes on consecutive possessions. Another big stop allowed Meeks to make it a two-point game with a put-back, and even after Rathan-Mayes scored out of a timeout, the 905 had life. Berry hit a spinning mid-range floater to cut it back to two and set up the intentional-foul end-game, but the Knicks didn’t miss and Meeks missed a late look, leaving the 905 just short of completing the comeback.
It was a heck of an effort to make a late push, they just couldn’t keep the G League’s best 3-point shooting team off the arc enough earlier on to get all the way back into it. The Knicks finished 13-of-24 from outside, making up for some shaky free-throw shooting and a major edge on the glass for the visitors. Even with 13 points or more from five different players and a solid 9-of-22 night from long-range of their own, the 905 didn’t quite have the firepower here. Interestingly, these two solid defenses have now engaged in two high-scoring battles.
It’s a tough loss in terms of playoff implications, and the 905’s path to potentially meeting Westchester for a rubber match in the Eastern Conference Finals becomes more arduous. The two sides are now evened up in terms of tiebreaker, splitting the season series 2-2 (even the composite score is tied exactly), and the Knicks have a 2.5-game edge atop the Atlantic Division. What’s more, only division winners are eligible for the first-round byes each conference’s top two seeds receive, and so while the 905 still have a very strong record, they’ll need to make up a lot of ground over the final 10 games.
- Assignment notes
- Alfonzo McKinnie bounced back from a quiet outing earlier in the week with a really efficient night. He scored 18 points on 16 used possessions, hauled in eight rebounds, and came up with a steal, playing to a plus-1 in his 35 minutes. It wasn’t as emphatic as his takeover prior to the break, but he was solid throughout, coming up with a number of aggressive baskets. He hit two threes, as well, though his percentage has dipped to 34.7 now.
- Malachi Richardson had a very rough go here, and it looked like he may not even play in the second half at one point. He shot 0-of-7 overall, missed both of his threes, was blocked twice, and had a couple of bad fouls. He did manage six rebounds, which helped, but it’s clear he’s still figuring things out and finding a comfort zone. He’s only had a couple of practices still, and the 905 will have some proper time together after Sunday’s game, playing just one game (at home) over five days.
- Other 905 player notes
- Malcolm Miller played much better than his minus-10 mark would suggest. He hit 3-of-4 on threes, scoring 13 points on just eight possessions, and if there was a criticism of his game, it’s that he could have stood to force the issue a bit more. That he stays in his role is great in general, and he added six rebounds, two steals, and a block here to help out on the defensive end. He’s just steady.
- Davion Berry once again took more on his shoulders with the guard rotation thinned out, scoring a team-high 25 points on just 15 shooting possessions. He did commit five turnovers, which is understandable with greater ball-handling duty than he’s used to, and even with those factored in he was pretty efficient…Kethan Savage recorded six assists and now has 20 over his last four games…Kennedy Meeks and Shevon Thompson both had 16 points and combined for 15 rebounds, seven of them on the offensive glass.
- Lorenzo Brown remained sidelined with a left ankle sprain. Kaza Keane and Aaron Best are with Canada for FIBA qualifiers through the weekend.
- Knicks notes: Nigel Hayes and Xavier Rathan-Mayes are both close to being NBA players. Hayes had 27-and-8 while Rathan-Mayes shot poorly but flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 13-8-11…I’ve seen enough of Luke Kornet for one year.
- The 905 now return home for a Sunday game at the ACC. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.