Raptors905 Post-Game

Raptors 905 lose G League Championship to Austin Spurs

Heck of a season, 905.

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca

Raptors 905 76, Austin Spurs 98 | Box Score | Spurs win series 2-0
Assignees: Alfonzo McKinnie, Malachi Richardson (905),  Derrick White (Spurs)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (905), Matt Costello, Darrun Hilliard (Spurs)

Raptors 905 fought all season long, through unexpected roster tumult, expected lineup shakeups, and a tough start to the season that made even the playoffs look like a longshot at one point. Falling behind 1-0 in the G League Championship, then, seemed like a dire situation that would suit them. Here they were again, backs against the wall, having just won three elimination games in earlier rounds at the end of a season defined by fighting back.

In the end, the Austin Spurs were the better team, winning 98-76 at Hershey Centre on Tuesday to sweep the best-of-three G League Championship. From the opening tip of the year, Austin looked like they’d be a powerhouse, and while the 905 established themselves as a legitimate threat to become the first team since 2005 to repeat as champion, the Spurs proved too much on a night the 905 could just never find the mark offensively.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “Thought we were ready to play. I thought we competed at a high level. Just weren’t able to make shots tonight. One of those nights, where you just, the ball didn’t want to go in the hole from anywhere.”

The 905 came out with tremendous energy in response to their backs being against the wall. Aaron Best fought admirably through screens to stay tight to Derrick White, freeing Lorenzo Brown to play off the ball a bit in a ball-hawk role and conserve for the offensive end, while Kennedy Meeks executed the drop-back scheme well. To a man, everyone was after every loose ball or offensive rebound, and the 905 had held the Spurs to just five points through the opening five minutes, getting out to a five-point lead in the process. Stackhouse didn’t tighten his rotation, necessarily, with Davion Berry sidelined, but there was a concerted effort to keep at least one starter on the floor, the margin for error so small here.

Despite the strong effort, Austin quickly found their footing. Canadian wing Olivier Hanlan turned his back on the country with a number of tough shots and a tremendous pass to sentient ponytail Jeff Ledbetter, who got red-hot in a hurry. Those two combined to shoot eight-of-eight off the bench in the first quarter alone, leading the Spurs on a 23-8 run over the back half of the opening frame and putting them ahead by 10. The 905 were unable to hit from outside or win the rebounding battle, and with five first-quarter turnovers, some of the same issues that cost the team Game 1 remained apparent. Nick Johnson turning Brown into largely a playmaker instead of a scorer had helped, as well.

A play early in the second quarter was indicative of the tough start to the game for the 905, as Malcolm Miller made an incredible block on a Matt Costello attempt only for Costello to end up with the ball in the short corner and beat the clock with a jumper. White followed with a jumper – he had been held largely in check to that point – and the Spurs looked ready to pull away. The 905 settled down some, with Kaza Keane rattling a long two in and Kennedy Meeks finding a cutting Miller for free throws, but Austin answered at every turn and took advantage of the continued turnover issues.

A continued inability to hit from outside and a few missed finishes at the rim compounded the miscues, at least until Brown finally broke the team’s drought from outside. Hanlan responded with a three at the end of a great defensive possession, and after Thompson finished a big dunk and blocked a shot, he coughed up a post kick that led to another Ledbetter jumper. The Spurs had weathered a solid late-half push, taking an eight-point lead into the break.

The response to start the third was befitting the dire situation. The 905 ratcheted up the physicality, forced a couple of early Austin turnovers, and an Aaron Best drunk in transition capped a 7-0 run that pulled the 905 within one and sent Austin scrambling to a timeout. It was Jaron Blossomgame responding, as he leaked out in transition for a dunk, cut to the rim for an and-one, then drew another foul to complete a personal 7-1 run. As they did in Game 1, things got chippy and chirpy between the sides, and the 905 quickly lost any hand they had in the debates – the Spurs began hitting from everywhere again, with Ledbetter staying perfect a while longer, Julian Washburn drilling a three, and the 905 falling behind by a game-high 15 late in the quarter. At the very least, Miller managed to get to the line a few times late to cut the lead to 11 entering the fourth.

The disparity in 3-point shooting continued to rear its head, as the 905 struggled to make meaningful dents in the lead while the Spurs could quickly extend it. Even with strong defense on White at both the rim and the point of attack, Austin just turned to their shooters for offense. This time, it was Darrun Hilliard going on his own 8-0 run, sandwiching threes around a tough floater to put Austin up 17. Johnson promptly hit a three after a timeout to make it a 20-point game and Costello hit a long two to make it 22, cueing desperation time for the 905 with seven minutes to go.

“The fight was there. Made a game of it. Got away from us,” Stackhouse said. “Had looks at the basket, had chances to take the lead, maybe get some separation ourselves, we didn’t. They came down and made shots. That’s the name of the game. You gotta step up and make plays in these games and they did it. They’re deserving of a championship. They showed they were the best team in the league.”

Frustrations quickly boiled, and the two sides had to be separated after Meeks fouled Hanlan and got into it with a few Spurs. Both benches emptied, Meeks and Ledbetter got technicals, Meeks got ejected, and then Stackhouse got a technical on top of that. Both coaches went to their reserves to get some late-game run from there, and the lead swelled to 30 before getting trimmed back down to 22 at the end. Austin would still only finish with 100 points per-100 possessions, an entirely respectable mark, but the 905 shot 35.1 percent overall and 2-of-27 on threes, making 21 turnovers in the process, marks too extreme to fight back from even with a spirited effort.

“Defensively, I thought we were good. Other then them stepping up and making some tough shots. Still, holding this team to under 100 points. This team is capable of putting up huge numbers,” Stackhouse said. “Just wish we could have made a few more shots. Proud of all those guys. They left all they had on the floor, that’s all you can ask for.”

It’s not the conclusion that the 905 hoped for, but even getting to this point was remarkable. They fought back from the brink early in the year, weathered heavy turnover and inexperience, and grew as individuals and as a team. That they finally came up short, in the finals of all places, should not at all confuse the immense success the season was.

Notes

  • Assignment notes
    • Alfonzo McKinnie came up with a number of really big offensive rebounds, and several of those came when the 905 offense had little else to subsist on. He only shot 1-of-7 and missed all four of his threes, but his nine rebounds and two blocks helped keep things close as long as the team could (he was a minus-10 in 25 minutes).
    • Malachi Richardson drew an early foul and was otherwise held off the stat sheet in eight minutes, posting a minus-18 in that time.
  • Other 905 player notes
    • Lorenzo Brown looked a little tired here, and after Stackhouse called for an MVP performance from the literal MVP, Brown couldn’t quite deliver. He wasn’t bad – he had 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting with 10 assists and a steal – but Austin was able to turn him into much more of a playmaker than a scorer. He had a few nice feeds to his bigs that went unconverted and a couple of tough scoop shots and floaters, and a tough one here – his third game playing heavy minutes in three nights – shouldn’t at all sully the tremendous work he did this year. Still, a minus-25 in 34 minutes hurts.\
    • Malcolm Miller made the most of his opportunities on offense, scoring 12 points on just six field-goal attempts (11 used possessions), and he could have stood to be even more aggressive looking for his shot. He also added eight rebounds, two blocks, and a steal, playing to a minus-11 in 29 minutes.
    • Davion Berry missed the game with an ankle sprain suffered in Game 1…More or less everyone from the Raptors organization who isn’t in Miami right now was at the game…Kennedy Meeks had 11 points, nine rebounds, six personal fouls, a technical, and an ejection. Quite a busy night…Kaza Keane had 12 points off the bench filling in for Berry.
  • Spurs notes: Derrick White was held mostly in check, scoring just nine points on 4-of-18 shooting and dishing six assists. That’s a testament to the 905 defense, but it couldn’t make up for Austin’s 3-point barrage…Olivier Hanlan had 14 points and seven assists, Nick Johnson scored 17 points, and Jaron Blossomgame had a 15-and-10 double-double. Johnson was named G League Finals MVP…I don’t want to talk about Jeff Ledbetter.
  • The 905 will now clean out their lockers and head to their respective homes. McKinnie, Richardson, Brown, and Miller will re-join the Raptors. Heck of a season, 905.

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