Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca
Raptors 905 110, Greensboro Swarm 92 | Box Score
Assignees: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Swarm)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown (905), Marcus Paige (Swarm)
As Raptors 905 wind down another successful regular season, a few goals have come to the forefront. There is the obvious one: Catching Westchester for the top seed in the conference and, perhaps, the best record in the league. Another, sometimes forgotten one given the consistent roster tumult at the G League level, is figuring out how the team will be best deployed come playoff time, when the margin for error in one- and three-game playoff series is razor thin. The 905 have been good almost no matter who they play and in what rotation pattern, at least since their 4-9 start. The final two weeks may be for tweaking and experimenting, though, the rotation becoming more and more meritocratic with each passing game.
In that spirit, the 905 switched up the starting lineup for this one, rewarding Fuquan Edwin for some great 3-and-D play of late with a starting nod opposite NBA vet Damien Wilkins. Edwin was quiet on offense, but the 905 responded well to his presence, as 904 lineups have for most of the season (Edwin has the second-best defensive rating on the team). The team quickly opened up a 7-0 lead, then an 11-3 lead on some great two-way play from Kennedy Meeks and a pair of big transition dunks from Alfonzo McKinnie. Edwin got on the board, too, attacking a corner closeout for a finish at the rim, and the 905 had established some control on the pace and flow of the game in just a few minutes of action.
The Swarm tried to counter-push, and the rare Lorenzo Brown step-back 3-point wedgie let them get back within a possession. Malachi Richardson responded with a three off the bench, though, and McKinnie continued his strong start with a three from above-the-break to maintain a safe distance a while longer. The Swarm got caught with just four players on the court after that (a noon weekday start got extremely G League at times), a favor they didn’t need to do the 905 given the size advantage for the home side, who had three offensive rebounds in the quarter. Some great defense late forced a fourth Swarm turnover, and even without converting at the other end, the 905 had opened up a seven-point cushion through 12 minutes.
Moving Edwin to the starters came at a cost, though – the usual all-bench lineup that’s been nearly as successful for the 905 of late as the parent club’s – struggled without him, surrendering a 12-0 run before Shevon Thompson ended the drought and three starters re-entered to try to settle things. It didn’t help initially, with a red-hot McKinnie picking up a third foul and Greensboro pulling ahead by six. The 905 slowed things down from there, feeding Meeks inside and attacking seams on swings around the perimeter, but the Swarm, who shoot just 33.7 percent from long-range on the season, kept hitting from outside. The 905 downsized with three guards and Edwin around Meeks to try to account, and the additional energy and ability to press worked well – despite the Swarm hitting nine threes, the 905 took the lead back just before the break on an Edwin and-one.
The focus out of halftime was to limit Greensboro’s 3-point shooting, particularly that of John Dawson, who hit four in the first half. It was Wilkins that posed a problem instead, scoring seven points in a hurry to prevent a 905 pull-away (the 905 not converting on multiple offensive rebounds played a factor, too). The sides settled into a pretty regular back-and-forth for most of the third, neither side really gaining much momentum until Marcus Paige and Cat Barber strung possessions together to go ahead three. McKinnie responded on a feed from Richardson, who made some nice reads all game, and some terrific ball movement allowed the 905 to get back ahead by six entering the fourth.
The Swarm remained plucky, enough so that Jerry Stackhouse tried to keep a starter on the floor as the bench continued to sputter a bit. It wasn’t a bad look, just a different one that required a new comfort level, and Roger Moute a Bidias was the odd-man out in the second half here. Davion Berry provided an element of the shooting Edwin provides, and while Best and Kaza Keane came up on the wrong end of some whistles that had Stackhouse voicing his displeasure, they made up for it by converging on loose balls and hitting the floor all over the place. A tough Berry take put the 905 back ahead seven with seven minutes to go, sending Greensboro regrouping ahead of a stretch run that would see more 905 starters filter back in. Stackhouse rode the bench a bit longer, rewarded by a drawn charge from Richardson and another loose ball tipped by Keane and recovered by Berry for a (ridiculous) three.
Berry made it 10 in the quarter and earned the close-out nod as a result, sliding in place of Best as the other starters returned. Edwin promptly drilled a three, and it appeared the Swarm were ready to break, down double-digits with time dwindling. Making things more dire for the visitors, they challenged a 3-point foul call on Edwin and lost, leaving them with just a single timeout for the final five minutes. It wouldn’t matter at all – a minute later the 905 were up 18, the Swarm burned their last timeout, and Meeks just kept swallowing up every 905 miss to keep them well ahead. The benches emptied from there, the 905 ultimately holding Greensboro to 101 points per-100 possessions despite their hot start from outside. The second-half goal of slowing down the three was effective, the 905 dramatically won the rebounding battle, and 29 assists kept Greensboro scrambled defensively most of the afternoon.
The 905 magic number is now down to one, and for all intents and purposes, they have clinched – they hold the tiebreaker over either the seventh or eight seed (each of whom would have to win our while the 905 lose out), but there are some convoluted multi-team tiebreakers still in play. One more win and the 905 are in, and they’ve also closed the gap back to one game as they chase Westchester for the top spot in the division and conference, as well as the first-round bye that would come with it. Things get tough from here, with four games in seven days out west beginning Friday, a stretch that will set up their playoff bracket for better or worse.
- Assignment notes
- Alfonzo McKinnie had a really hot start, and while he quieted down offensively, it was a strong night overall. A pair of threes, a pair of steals, six rebounds, 12 points, and a plus-11 in 26 minutes. Strong defensive showing for him, too, outside of the first-half foul trouble.
- Malachi Richardson didn’t have a big night in the box score, but I came away impressed with the growth he’s showing in the non-shooting aspects of his game. He made a number of nice feeds in this one, dishing four assists as he continues to grow more comfortable in the system. He still shot 2-of-9 and 1-of-4 on threes, and that’s how he’s going to be measured. It’s still encouraging to see him doing other things well and getting after it on defense. The big step for the player development system this summer will be growing the confidence in his jumper.
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown had one of his worst shooting nights at 4-of-17, but it’s telling that he still had a game-best plus-25 mark. He dished nine assists and shifted seamlessly to more of a playmaking role unless the shot clock necessitated he look for his own shot. He’s been solid in his two games back after nearly a month off. I’d expect him to get it going full-gear on the road trip.
- Davion Berry continues to be a huge factor for a strong bench, leading the way with 12 points and a plus-8 here…Kaza Keane and Aaron Best are borderline unfair with the effort level they show on defense…Kennedy Meeks grabbed 10 (!) offensive rebounds on his way to a 23-15-2-2-2 line. He only used 16 possessions. Giving up meat is agreeing with him…Fuquan Edwin was terrific in the starting lineup, scoring 22 points with five rebounds and a plus-17 mark in 29 minutes.
- Swarm notes: John Dawson had a huge first half and the 905 did a great job slowing him in the second. He finished with a team-high 17, one of seven Swarm players in double-figures…Marcus Paige had 12 points and six assists but was 1-of-7 on thees and had a team-worst minus-16.
- The 905 now head out west for four games before closing the season at home on March 24. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.