Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca
Raptors 905 93, Austin Spurs 105 | Box Score | Spurs lead series 1-0
Assignees: Alfonzo McKinnie, Malachi Richardson (905), Derrick White (Spurs)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), Matt Costello, Darrun Hilliard (Spurs)
If Raptors 905 are going to do the nearly impossible and repeat as G League Champions, they’re going to do it just how they did last year: Playing from behind.
The 905 dropped Game 1 of the best-of-three finals to the Austin Spurs on Sunday, coming up on the wrong end of a spirited 105-93 decision that laid plain that the title is being contested by two of the best teams in the league, as it should be. On this night, a road-weary 905 team couldn’t quite match shots with a well-rested Austin outfit, one that had the benefit of home court and will once again if the 905 can force a deciding Game 3. There were enough positives to glean and areas of improvement to focus on that Jerry Stackhouse and company will surely return home confident they can do so. If nothing else, finding a way to keep unquestioned player of the game Derrick White under 35 points
The 905 did better to get out to a strong start than in recent playoff games, eschewing their now-customary slow start and instead bringing their trademark defense from the outset. They did a great job of getting the ball out of the hands of White, switching on the perimeter to prevent him from getting any initial advantages and showing him a few different looks to keep him from getting comfortable. Darrun Hilliard stepped into a bit more of a scoring role out of the gate, a necessity with the 905 keeping Jaron Blossomgame completely in check, and eventually the Spurs needed to lean back heavily on their San Antonio assignee. There’s only so much a team can do about a talent like White; the 905 did their best, but White’s going to score.
The 905 struggled a little bit at the other end, with Malcolm Miller providing the only outside shooting early on and Lorenzo Brown starting out 1-of-5 from the floor. Miller also had a pair of steals to help kick-start the transition game, and Shevon Thompson brought a big spark off the bench with a trip of quick baskets. Malachi Richardson provided a boost, too, as he’s done pretty often in the playoffs, quickly baiting a foul on a jumper. Austin pushed back late, with Hilliard leading an 11-4 closing run that was capped by a Nick Johnson triple. That put Austin ahead seven after a quarter, a reasonable enough gap considering the 905’s 1-of-8 mark from beyond the arc.
The Spurs got a big boost at the top of the second with Matt Costello returning after an earlier injury scare. The shot-blocking speciality showed no ill effects, immediately delivering a terrific block on a Fuquan Edwin mid-range jumper and then a Roger Moute a Bidias layup. His message sent, Costello then worked as a drive deterrent altogether, the 905 ball-handlers opting to pull-up rather than attack, or have a big draw Costello out of the post to open up baseline cutters. Davion Berry finally provided a non-Miller three, his sense of timing proving sharp given that Austin was threatening to pull ahead by double figures.
The 905 would nearly get it down to a one-possession game from there, coming downhill into Austin and making every shot a tough one. There just wasn’t enough shot-making to close the deficit entirely, with some fairly common turnover issues further disrupting any momentum. Austin was able to do just enough finding open shooters late in the shot clock or to corral offensive rebounds that the 905 normally don’t surrender, too. Eight offensive rebounds for Austin in the half is so antithetical to how the 905 normally thrive, and even after a Hilliard technical foul gifted a point back their way, the 905 entered the break still down five. The 905 are comfortable playing from behind on the road, but it was hard not to feel like the work on their own glass squandered some of the second-quarter progress they made, specifically Brown’s late shooting.
“We don’t always start as well as we want to,” Stackhouse said at halftime. “I just think we just gotta lock in more on the defensive end. If we lock in on defense, the offense will start to take care of itself.”
The third quarter saw the 905 get back to their strengths a bit, with Brown having decidedly shaken off his two-point first half and Kennedy Meeks getting after oit on post-ups and the offensive glass. White was just far too much for them, missing his half-opening three and then scoring 16 points over just seven minutes, assisting on a Costello bucket in the middle of that takeover, as well. That the 905 weathered that White-led storm was a minor miracle and a testament to the up-tick in their offense in the quarter.
Things began to look perilous late in the frame – Hilliard took over White’s initiating load again, and as Brown hit the bench for his final breather of the game, Austin threatened to start pulling away. Blossomgame tried to put some punctuation on the run with a driving dunk only to be met at the rim by Thompson, who turned the shot away and finished a Berry feed at the other end. That helped the 905 stay within five entering the fourth, and the physicality late in the quarter helped develop some serious tension for the stretch run.
The 905 normally rely on their bench group to close the gap in these situations, but when Berry came up injured (he took his free throws just in case he was able to come back later), Stackhouse went to his closers far earlier than normal. With nearly 10 minutes still to play, the starters got the call. They immediately ran into Amida Brimah at the Spurs’ rim, and the first few times the 905 could pull within a basket, Austin nudged back ahead further or the 905 got in their own way, failing to play through the lack of whistle or stepping out of bounds. Richardson got a chance to help close things out and promptly drew a foul on a 3-point make, and while he missed the four-point play, a put-back for Meeks completed a five-point possession to draw the 905 tied with six minutes to play.
The final minutes would grow difficult for the 905 offense, with Austin going on a whopping 2-0 run over more than two minutes to grab their lead back out of the final media timeout. Out of that break, the 905 couldn’t scramble back to shooters after collapsing, and Johnson mad them pay with a huge triple. Julian Washburn followed with a three, as well, and the 905 needed to talk things over to find their way out of a sudden eight-point hole. A hectic possession ended with Richardson missing an elbow jumper, and even when the 905 grabbed their own rebound, Costello was there for his fifth block of the night. Costello delivered on the other end, too, finishing a rim-run to go up 10. A Thompson quick score did little, as White hit a pair of free throws and Richardson stepped out of bounds catching an inbound to effectively end things with a minute to play.
The 905 now find themselves in a familiar spot, their backs against the wall. They just won three single-elimination games to get to this point, and a year ago they fell behind 1-0 before coming back to win the title. That was almost an entirely different roster, of course, and they won’t have the benefit of home court in Game 3 this time around. Still, this is a 905 team that turned their season around from a 4-9 start to fight against the odds to not only make the playoffs but nearly win the league table. They are not short on confidence, and they’ll have a strong Hershey Centre crowd behind them as they try to even things out in Game 2.
- Assignment notes
- Alfonzo McKinnie had a tough night from outside, missing all four of his threes on his way to an eight-point, six-rebound night. A quieter two-way performance by his standards.
- Malachi Richardson’s ability to draw fouls on his jump shots was a huge part of the 905 bench units hanging around, as he took 10 free throws in 15 minutes despite registering just three field-goal attempts. He added almost nothing to the box score except his 11 points, but the 905 have needed the quick volume scoring he can provide throughout the postseason.
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown finished with 20-7-8 but used 27 possessions to get his 20 points. It’s a tough ask, slowing White while also carrying the offensive load for the team, and the shooters around him couldn’t hit at a high enough clip to punish Austin for the extra attention they threw at Brown. Still, he’s the MVP of this team, and they’ll lean on him heavily again Tuesday.
- Malcolm Miller going plus-11 in a 12-point loss where nobody else had a positive plus-minus tells you something about the defensive effort he put forth. His 3-point shot not being there (1-of-5) hurt some, but Miller had three steals in 31 minutes, and the 905 couldn’t string together stops when he wasn’t on the floor. That’s not all individual, of course, and the 905 need Miller to score more in support of Brown. That defense is going to be paramount, too, though, even if the shot doesn’t drop.
- Kennedy Meeks had a 13-and-10 double-double but didn’t seem quite himself on the offensive end…Shevon Thompson picked up some slack with 12 points off the bench, though he only managed two rebounds in 15 minutes…Davion Berry scored 12 points in 16 minutes before getting hurt, and the 905 will need to hope he’s ready to go for Tuesday.
- Spurs notes: Derrick White is a problem. He scored 35 points on 28 used possessions, scoring at will for the bulk of the third quarter to really wrestle control of the game to the Austin side…Darrun Hilliard scored 23 points and provided some really solid defense around foul trouble…Matt Costello has six blocks and seemed to be in the 905’s head a little bit by the end.
- The 905 now return home for Game 2 on Tuesday at Hershey Centre. Raptors Republic readers can use the promo code 905PLAYOFFS for a discount on tickets for Game 2.