Photo credit: Christian Bonin / TSGphoto.com
Raptors 905 92, Westchester Knicks 80 | Box Score
Assignees: Alfonzo McKinnie, Malachi Richardson (905), Damyean Dotson (Knicks)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), Luke Kornet, Isaiah Hicks, Devin Robinson [via Wizards] (Knicks)
Two rivals, separated by one game in the standings, tied 2-2 in the regular season and dead-locked on composite score. Monday’s second-round playoff game between Raptors 905 and the Westchester Knicks may have been a one-game series, but it’s not hard to squint and see it as Game 5 of a season-long battle between two of the three best team’s in the G League.
The play could not have met the stakes and the story any better. Each side armed with four NBA pieces and led by the last two G League Coach of the Year winners, the 905 and Knicks turned in an epic, their familiarity palpable and their desire to one-up the other laid just as plain. What turned out as a 92-80 victory for Raptors 905 was never, until the final moments, a certainty, and at one point seemed a near-impossibility.
Things could not have gotten off to a worse start for the 905. Not only was the game not being streamed online in Canada (it was only on NBA TV Canada, even though there’s always been a Facebook stream to accompany), but Westchester put them on their heels immediately from the opening tip. Isaiah Hicks got things going by finishing his own miss, and after Lorenzo Brown responded with a jumper, the Knicks took off – Hicks drilled a three, Damyean Dotson went on a personal 8-0 run, Brown missed a dunk off back rim, and a Hicks bucket the other way sent the 905 to an early timeout down 17-4. Hicks and Dotson were bound to slow down, it’s just that a 13-point hole against the league’s third-best defense, even with 38 minutes still to play, is a tough way to start a must-win.
Jerry Stackhouse went to the bench quickly and replaced a pair of his wings, and it was Malachi Richardson providing some much-needed offense for a second playoff game in a row, promptly hitting a smooth mid-range jumper. The 905 defense dialed it up from there, forcing a number of turnovers and holding Westchester without a field goal for over three minutes, though Xavier Rathan-Mayes found the right target on the increasingly rare occasions the 905 left a seam, then hit a three of his own. Richardson responded again, and the 905 then leaned on their biggest advantage in the matchup – their size – with Alfonzo McKinnie and Kennedy Meeks getting second-chance buckets and Shevon Thompson drawing a foul inside. A Fuquan Edwin fast-break and-one later, and what initially seemed like a disastrous start was down to a much more manageable three-point deficit.
It was more of the same in the second, with the 905 leaning heavily on their ability to generate offensive rebounds. Hicks and Thompson engaged in a fun back-and-forth with the Knicks a little smaller, and that downsized lineup had trouble with secondary rebounders, McKinnie in particular. Westchester brought Luke Kornet back in to try to counter some, opening up the offense some in response to the 905 taking their first lead on a Brown floater. The 905 were able to keep the game at their preferred pace even as the Knicks went back to the starting lineup – the Knicks play slow, too, but thrived speeding it up early in the first – and neutralized Kornet, who has done well against them, by keeping their centers on Hicks and letting a wing chase the 7-foot shooter outside. Edwin also stayed in with some starters to help neutralize Dotson, and while his own shot was errant, his defense – and eight offensive rebounds as a team – was a big part of the 905 being within one at half despite shooting 1-of-13 on threes.
Neither side could get much of anything going on offense to start the third, which was probably to be expected with two elite defenses. Brown eventually found his jumper around a couple of turnovers, and Meeks swatted his former roommate Hicks midway through the frame as the 905 looked to establish some control. Westchester regrouped out of a timeout, with Dostson getting back on the board and then following it up with another bucket to pull back ahead. The intensity of a neck-and-neck in a single-elimination format really made for some fun basketball, even with offense at such a premium, and it made every tipped ball or near-miss alley-oop feel potentially game-changing. Kornet continued to struggle on the offensive end, and the 905 were still doing well to force turnovers or run off of stops, they just couldn’t get much to drop. Richardson once again provided a bench spark, his late three sending the 905 into the fourth up two after a quarter in which the teams shot a combined 34 percent.
Mirrorring the parent club, the 905 needed their bench unit to hold that lead or pull away, and the Knicks looked prime to let their NBA pieces play heavy fourth-quarter minutes to try to secure the victory. Those players came through. Hicks and Doston stuck big jumpers as Rathan-Mayes continued spraying out to shooters and only occasionally mixing in his own shot, while Richardson was game to answer from the mid-range for the 905 and Brown saved a possession with a late long-two of his own. The 905 held only a modicum of control with a lead that oscillated between one and two possessions until Malcolm Miller hit a pair of threes in short order, then ripped a steal away doubling in the post, helping the 905 open up their largest lead of the game at eight with six minutes to go.
Rathan-Mayes sensed the moment slipping from the Knicks and did his best to save it, hitting consecutive tough baskets and then hauling down a massive defensive rebound. A rushed pull-up in transition didn’t find the mark, and the 905 once again leaned on their offensive rebounding advantage to stop a run, with Meeks getting to the free-throw line on a second-chance opportunity. Rathan-Mayes missed another three out of a break, and another foul on Meeks on an offensive rebound put the Knicks into desperation mode. Kornet still couldn’t find the mark from outside on his way to an 0-for-9 night, and even a Rathan-Mayes alley-oop to Hicks did little sandwiched between a layup and free throws for McKinnie. Rathan-Mayes managed to get to the line from there but missed both free throws, and the 905 came up with a loose-ball scramble, Richardson capping his big night and delivering the dagger with a three.
Against long odds – InPredictable‘s win probability calculator estimates the 905’s chances had already shrunk to 26.6 percent when they fell behind 14 just six minutes in – the 905 completed the comeback, not only winning but doing so decisively. Fighting out of holes is something they’ve built an identity on this year, so perhaps it shouldn’t surprise. After all, this team started the season 4-9 and looked dead in the water amid a ton of roster tumult, and Stackhouse steered them out of that in grand fashion. No team was better from their turning point onward, and no team possesses the defensive gear that the 905 do, either. The Knicks scored 17 points in a heartbeat, then managed 63 over the final three-and-a-half quarters, finishing with just 94.1 points per-100 possessions. Theis 905 team knows no quit, and their defense is good enough that they’re never out of a game, because even slow-rolling runs add up when the opponent is going minutes without scoring.
They’re not done playing against the odds yet. They now await the winner of Erie and Fort Wayne on Tuesday and will have to travel there Friday despite owning a better record than either team. It will be one-and-done again, with a chance to defend their title, something that hasn’t been done in the G League since 2005, in a three-game series after that. This team’s made a season of those two things – defending, and the unlikely – and so it would only seem fitting they do so at this point.
- Assignment notes
- Alfonzo McKinnie had a really nice game here, especially on the boards. His offensive rebounding in the first quarter was paramount to the 905 getting back into it, and his presence on the defensive glass with the team’s centers occupied by Isaiah Hicks was helpful, too. He did miss both of his threes and go 2-of-5 at the line, but a 10-and-11 double-double with a block, two steals, and a plus-10 – best among the starters by far – is a quality night
- Malachi Richardson really picked the right time to find his groove. This is two playoff games in a row in which his ability to provide a scoring punch to the second unit has been instrumental, and he hit a number of timely shots here. His final line isn’t crazy – 14 points on 14 shots in a game in which one point per-possession was very good – but those were 14 high-leverage points. He was a game-high plus-20, too.
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown had the toughest matchup of anyone, playing opposite Xavier Rathan-Mayes. He answered the call quite well defensively, turning Rathan-Mayes into a passer and a jump-shooter rather than an attacker. He didn’t score as efficiently as he normally does (18 points on 24 used possessions), but seven rebounds, seven assists, and strong defense went a long way here.
- Malcolm Miller’s defensive versatility was on full display, as he was tasked with helping contain Luke Kornet in pick-and-pop scenarios and switch on to Xavier Rathan-Mayes. He was cold most of the night, then hit two back-breaking threes in the fourth quarter.
- Kennedy Meeks and Shevon Thompson were just way too much for the Knicks inside. Meeks, Thompson, and McKinnie combined for 15 offensive rebounds, Meeks finished with a 13-and-14 double-double, and Thompson was a plus-16 off the bench with 14 points…Fuquan Edwin remains a plus-minus master, earning a plus-13 despite a cold shooting night…Davion Berry was solid off the bench, scoring 10 points with three steals.
- Knicks notes: Luke Kornet has given the Raptors and the 905 issues this year and laid an egg here, going 0-for-9 and missing six threes…Damyean Dotson was red-hot early then cooled off, finishing with 20 points on 13 shots…Isaiah Hicks had a really strong game and did his best battling inside, finishing with 23 points and eight rebounds. He also committed five turnovers, and none of the Knicks’ bigs could protect the defensive glass…Xavier Rathan-Mayes flirted with a triple-double, as he does, posting a 16-8-10 line and still looking the part of an NBA player if he can get the three to drop regularly.
- The 905 now await their opponent for the Eastern Conference Final. Erie and Fort Wayne square off tomorrow, and the 905 will visit the winner on Friday at 8 pm. for another one-game series. A three-game G League Championship series would follow from there, with games on April 8, 10, and 13.