Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca
Raptors 905 129, Wisconsin Herd 119 | Box Score
Assignees: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Herd)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), Marshall Plumlee (Herd)
Coming off of a tough, potentially playoff-altering loss to Westchester on Saturday, Raptors 905 had a quick opportunity to get that disappointment off of their minds. Sunday offered a back-to-back situation with a thin depth chart, sure. It also offered a Wisconsin Herd opponent still figuring themselves out, a fun challenge in Brandon Jennings, and a chance to even their all-time record at the Air Canada Centre at 3-3. The 905 took full advantage in a high-scoring affair, beating the Herd 129-119 in a game they led from buzzer to buzzer.
While the pre-game buzz focused on Jennings, his impact was minimized out of the gate. Kethan Savage answered the defensive challenge well initially and got plenty of help, the 905 flying around with crisp rotations and active arms in passing lanes. Instead, the story was much more about Alfonzo McKinnie, who put up a 14-point first quarter that didn’t even show off the entirety of his arsenal. The dominant frame mostly amounted to McKinnie aggressively attacking a defense that didn’t have a whole lot of interest in trying to slow him down. McKinnie had a pair of big dunks, finished a dump-off, was sent to the line multiple times, and even stepped out for a three.
McKinnie wasn’t alone. Malachi Richardson turned in one of his better quarters so far, too, showing a nice chemistry with Kennedy Meeks, who also contributed eight in the frame without missing a shot. The Herd responded with some physicality on the offensive glass and the two sides grew a little testy with each other, though that animosity wasn’t reflected in the score. The 905 bench held up the defensive energy as they began filtering in, slowly pushing the lead further, and after Shevon Thompson worked the offensive glass, a Davion Berry triple put them ahead 16 with a quarter-ending three.
The second saw little let up, with Thompson once again proving a force on the glass and Negus Webster-Chan jumping into the scoring act. Wisconsin eventually found enough of a groove to keep their gap from swelling too large, but they didn’t have nearly the juice to catch up as Malcolm Miller took his turn taking over as the fulcrum of a long, interesting hybrid lineup. To put in perspective how well the 905 offense was humming, a scout leaned over to me with six minutes still left in the second quarter and profanely remarked that they’d already put up 60 points.
Regression came hard from there in the form of an 18-0 run for the Herd, and the 905 grew out of sorts on the offensive end, fueling Wisconsin’s attack the other way. It wasn’t just Jennings taking over, either – he did score 14 in the quarter, but the Herd also got a boost from Rickey Ledo and James Blackmon Jr. (who combined for 18 in the quarter, as well). Richardson would finally break a nearly five-minute drought by getting to the line, and that seemed to settle things down. Berry followed with a floater, Meeks contested a Jennings drive, and an outlet the other way found McKinnie open over the top. Quickly, the 18-0 run felt more Sisyphean than legitimate, the Herd still down double-figures entering the break. The 905 scoring 134.6 points per-100 possessions in a half will do that.
Little changed in the third, with Richardson getting to the line promptly and Miller carrying over his strong second with a nice assist and then a three for himself. The 905 began pulling away further once again, flirting with the 20-point market at the midway point of the quarter on the back of a very balanced offensive attack. Jennings kept pressing to try to shoot the Herd back into it, but it was when he got into the middle of the floor and found shooters that Wisconsin had their best minutes. They had little answer for Meeks, though, who dominated working both as a magnet for fouls and a creator for cutters. He scored nine in the quarter, he and Thompson decidedly besting Joel Bolomboy and Marshall Plumlee on the night. Even as some sloppiness set in late in the quarter, the 905 kept the Herd at a significant arm’s length, taking a 17-point lead into the fourth.
Things got a bit messy from there. Bolomboy had his jersey ripped wide open, Jennings followed his coach’s lead with a technical foul, Thompson responded with one of his own, and what should have been a quick quarter with the outcome not in question was bogged down by whistles and delays. The bulk of the 905 starters re-entered still with a substantial lead, and they were willing to make a game of it, allowing the Herd to close back within 10 with an immediate 10-1 run. That set up a more difficult close than the first 40 minutes suggested should have been necessary.
The Herd kept chipping, a pair of Jennings threes sandwiching a missed McKinnie attempt from the corner. McKinnie would get it back with a drive for a dunk, Miller followed with a tough layup, and McKinnie then tried to cap his strong night with a crowning of Plumlee, going to the line to ice the game instead. Fuquan Edwin got the call for a more defense-oriented look in the closing minute, and a 905 stop produced free throws for Berry to go back ahead 10 and wrap the game up.
Uncomfortable though the fourth quarter was, this was a pretty emphatic statement from the 905 on the offensive end, as they came up just a few points shy of the franchise record (136) despite being down Brown and turning the ball over a bit too much. It wasn’t their strongest defensive effort of the season, even acknowledging the pace, but it’s perhaps encouraging that they held Jennings in check with a thinned-out backcourt, letting him score 29 but requiring he use 30 possessions to do so. Not every game is going to be a team’s best two-way effort, and even against a lesser team here, the 905 continued to show encouraging growth in their ability to score without Brown. That’s progress that should have them confident when he returns for the stretch run heading into the playoffs.
- Assignment notes
- Alfonzo McKinnie was terrific here across the board. He was hyper-aggressive attacking the Herd defense and confident finishing in close, winding up with 27 points on 20 possessions. He was also a big contributor on the glass with eight rebounds and added three assists and two steals. A very thorough all-around performance.
- Malachi Richardson had a nice start here but once again ended up struggling from the floor, finishing 2-of-8 and 1-of-5 on threes. A few trips to the line still saw him finish with 10 points, and he dished four assists to help account for his four turnovers. He remains a work in progres, looking a little more comfortable here than in earlier games, at least.
- Other 905 player notes
- Malcolm Miller did a great job working as a secondary playmaker here. The 905 have needed a boost in that area with Brown (and Keane) gone, and Miller asserted himself more aggressively here to create for others. He’s never been a bad or unwilling passer, but it’s probably the area he’s most noticeably improved on this season, and he’s now averaging 1.6 per-game, close to a nine-percent assist rate, after dishing five dimes here. He also added 14 points (3-of-8 on threes), nine rebounds, and a block.
- Kennedy Meeks was a monster inside with 23 points on 11-of-17 shooting, eight rebounds, and two assists…Kethan Savage did a really nice job keeping Jennings in front of him and finished a team-best plus-15…Davion Berry continued to work well shifting over to a de facto point guard role, scoring 18 points with six assists here.
- Lorenzo Brown remained sidelined with a left ankle sprain. Kaza Keane and Aaron Best are with Canada for FIBA qualifiers through the weekend.
- Herd notes: Brandon Jennings was a lot of fun to watch, even if he wasn’t super efficient. He scored 29 with eight assists and was a game-worst minus-16. He’s too good a volume scorer for this level but has to show more than just that to get back to the NBA…James Blackmon Jr. (25-6-6) and Ricky Ledo (25-15-3) were better all-around contributors here.
- 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.