Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca
Raptors 905 87, Maine Red Claws 86 | Box Score
Assignees: Alfonzo McKinnie, Nigel Hayes (905), None (Red Claws)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), None (Red Claws)
It can be difficult to get up for a game with low stakes, especially once already tilted heavily to one side. On Saturday, Raptors 905 hosted the Maine Red Claws in a game that didn’t meant much tangible to either side – Maine has long since been eliminated, the 905 are locked into the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, and there was only a slim chance a win would matter (tilting home court in the finals against one specific opponent, if that opponent also lost Saturday). That’s one ingredient for a bit of lethargy, and mixed with a heavy talent advantage (two two-ways and two assignees to zero for Maine) and some fatigue in the first afternoon game back after a week out west, a sloppier game would have been understandable.
The 905 were coming off of a pair of losses, though, and no team wants to head into the playoffs – let alone a one-and-done series – on a losing skid. It took a bit of coaxing in a game reminiscent of recent NBA games in Toronto, but the 905 eventually came through, topping the Red Claws 87-86 to finish the season 31-19, potentially the No. 2 perch in the G League.
“I don’t know, man,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said of the strange flow to the game. “End of the season, this game not really having a lot of implications for us one way or the other, it’s just kinda the 50th game of the season. But we wanted to be on a good note. We talked about it pre-game, just trying to start thinking about having a good flow and a good feel tonight going into the playoffs. I guess with the ending that we had, that’s a good note to end on heading into the playoffs.”
One of the quirky things the 905 crowd has started to do over the years is the section of season-seat holders adjacent to the 905 bench refusing to sit down until the team makes their first basket. It’s a fun college tradition, and the 905 usually respond to them with an early bucket. It is, however, a problematic gimmick on days like Saturday, when the 905 took nearly three minutes to get their first score, a Lorenzo Brown put-back. The diligence in remaining standing was at least rewarded – Brown quickly scored again, Kennedy Meeks turned away a shot at the rim, and Malcolm Miller hit a smooth three and then finished a high-low feed from Brown on a back-door cut. Drought over, season-seat holder legs resting, 905 no longer scrambling to start the game.
The 905 still trailed by two after a quarter thanks to a 38-percent mark from the floor. They had at least appeared to put the frigid start behind them. Appeared. It took over two minutes to get on the board once again in the second, with Brown pushing in semi-transition to break this latest drought. Maine’s offense had a fairly easy time finding their way to quick scores in the second, too, fueled by some 905 turnover trouble, perhaps the team’s biggest point of concern heading into the postseason. The Red Claws got ahead 10 midway through the quarter, then kept pulling away even as Stackhouse went back to more starters to try to stop the bleeding.
A number of misses around the rim and lapses getting back in transition precluded the 905 from gathering any sustained momentum, though they were at least able to trim what was once a 15-point lead to seven at the break. Likely frustrated as much with his team’s 10 turnovers and 40-percent shooting as the officiating, Stackhouse picked up the elusive halftime technical foul to punctuate the ugly half.
The eventual technical free-throw kick-started a 12-5 Maine run to begin the third quarter, putting the 905 right back down by double-figures. Miller came through with back-to-back threes to continue his hot afternoon, and Brown began to turn it on a bit, getting to the line and forcing Maine to take a timeout to try to stop an 8-0 run. It didn’t work out, with Miller hitting another three to get him into the 20s early and put the 905 ahead for the first time since the first quarter. The push had parent-club Raptors written all over it, the demonstrably more talented team slogging through an unsightly first half before finding the appropriate gear late and asserting themselves. The foot came off the gas just a bit, but Maine’s lead was down to two and felt precarious entering the fourth.
“Obviously, it wasn’t a great night offensively for us. Thank god Malcolm Miller was here,” Stackhouse said.
Beneath any focus issue, it was an inopportune game for Miller to be the only 905 player capable of hitting a three. Maine kept firing from outside to play the high-variance game while shorthanded, and Josh Adeyeye hitting 6-of-11 on the night was hard for the 905 to keep pace with, even with a noticeable edge at the free-throw line. Adeyeye had less luck attacking a waiting Shevon Thompson, and the defense of the second unit did enough to put the starters in position to close out. The call to do so came around the six-minute mark, right as Fuquan Edwin put the 905 ahead at the line (Edwin drew the initial closing nod with four starters, then Davion Berrt).
The 905 couldn’t break through, with Meeks winning a one-on-five battle for an offensive rebound and the team grabbing a couple more only for nothing to drop. Maine couldn’t do much either, though, and it made for a 4-0 Red Claws run over more than three minutes of action, the pace grinding to a halt. It got even more ridiculous from there, with Brown getting blocked and Miller and Berry uncharacteristically air-balling threes all on the same possession. The 905 found themselves down five with under a minute to go, and Brown quickly got to the line to cut it to three. Daniel Dixon then stepped out of bounds on a drive, giving the 905 a 28-second window to tie.
Brown went for the quick two, a justifiable call down three with a timeout and 20-plus seconds left and since the look came clean at the rim. Maine split a pair after the intentional foul, and out of a timeout, Brown found Berry in the corner on the same playcall for a go-ahead three. A smothering defensive possession over the final eight seconds kept from Maine from getting a clean look off, and the 905 had their 31st win of the year.
“Big plays, man,” Stackhouse said.
They’ll now await a pair of results later tonight that will determine which team they’ll host on Wednesday for a one-game first-round playoff series. They’ll need to be better then than they were these last three games, and the hope will be that the intense close-out scenario here has sharpened their focus at exactly the right time, with a few days of practice to further tighten things up before the one-and-done.
- Shout out to Meghan McPeak. Not only is she the best play-by-play announcer in the G League, she’s out here using Jared Sullinger’s old scooter to get around at games following an Achilles rupture last week. Tough as nails, that one.
- Assignment notes
- Nigel Hayes shot 2-of-8 and was a minus-14 in 16 minutes. He’s been a seamless fit from a personality and culture perspective, but the on-court fit has been a little slower to come with the 905, understandable given the tumult of trying to learn two offenses on the fly. The 8-of-28 mark from long range over five 905 games probably won’t dissuade teams from thinking his shot, red-hot all year, is much improved..With the Raptors’ front office overseas and Hayes’ second 10-day expiring tomorrow, it remains unclear if he’ll stick with the team the rest of the season. Not even Hayes had a good sense of his immediate future. He still doesn’t have a name on his 905 jersey, by the way.
- Alfonzo McKinnie likewise shot poorly, finishing with two points and five rebounds in 29 minutes. He’d turned in some really nice two-way performances on the road trip, eating up slower power forwards, so this was just a minor step back. And he stilled finished a robust plus-14 thanks to the defensive imprint.
- Malachi Richardson missed a second consecutive game with a wrist injury.
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown did what he needed to do when the game was on the line, shifting in and out of gear throughout the game. He finished with a 24-7-8 line that’s become pretty typical. He had a terrific play in the second where he stared down a corner shooter in transition the whole way and the entire defense started to drift to that corner, opening up a no-look pass for Meeks on the rim-run. His ability to keep the offense composed and create for himself in others in tight games like this is why he’ll be their most important player in the playoffs.
- Malcolm Miller was the entire offense for stretches, as he hit 5-of-10 from long-range to finish with 21 points, six rebounds, a plus-13, and two steals in 31 minutes. He was everywhere in the first quarter, including a sequence where he forced an air ball on a corner three and then beat every Red Claw down the floor to draw a foul on the break. I’m not sure what the scouting report was on Miller here, but Maine probably shouldn’t have left him open in the corner like they did.
- Davion Berry’s game-winner gave him 14 points on the night. He was also a team-best plus-16…Kennedy Meeks hauled in 13 boards.
- Red Claws notes: Anthony Bennett was in attendance and on crutches due to an ankle injury…Jabari Bird and Kadeem Allen were up with the Celtics…Lamond Murray Jr. plays for the Red Claws and was a plus-8 in 15 minutes.
- The 905 now await a time and opponent for their one-game first-round playoff series, which will take place Wednesday at Hershey Centre. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.