Final Score | Raptors 905 120, Greensboro Swarm 106 | Box Score
Two Ways: Shamorie Ponds (905), Kobi Simmons (Swarm), Robert Franks (Swarm)
Out: Sagaba Konate (905), Oshae Brissett (905), Dewan Hernandez (905), Justin Reyes (905), Caleb Martin (Swarm), Kobi Simmons (Swarm)
“New year, new 905” as a team plagued with injuries and constantly moving pieces has appeared to have finally found their identity. Finishing the first quarter on the wrong side of a 16 point deficit was not where the 905 were expected to be against a 4-13 team, but consistent ball movement and team defence spearheaded the Raptors 905 to a win.
Everybody Eats: The 905 put on a master class in team basketball this afternoon. Only two players finished with a negative +/-, and both still played arguably their best games to date. Matt Morgan was one of two players who finished without an assist on the scoreboard, but his impact was felt throughout his 20 minutes of play, often relaying messages that only he appeared to hear, from his coaches to his teammates on the court. Morgan’s ability to communicate with both coaches and players allowed for both offensive and defensive opportunities for the 905, and Morgan himself finished with 3 points and 3 rebounds, and was the only player to finish without a turnover. Of the 9 active players for Toronto, 5 finished in double figures. Until now, the Raptors had been running the offence, more often than not, through a single player. Isolation play can work, particularly in the NBA, and it looks great on a highlight reel. But in the G League, with players eager to showcase their versatility, it is more hindrance to a team than help. The end of the first quarter, where only 3 of the 905’s made shots were assisted, saw a 10-point lead in favour of the Swarm. Coach Mahlalela rectified this by beginning the second quarter with Duane Notice, Toronto’s best player at creating for his teammates, and from the second quarter on, the Raptors 905 held the lead. Like Morgan, Notice’s stat line was subtle, but his influence was not. Notice’s presence and playmaking served as a reminder to the rest of the 905 that they play best when they play as a team. When Devin Robinson wasn’t getting any foul calls on the drive, Notice, a much smaller player, realized this and instead drove to the basket himself, drawing a foul that would not have been called in favour of Robinson. Shamorie Ponds, their primary ISO scorer, finished with 3 assists after Notice checked in.
Nicholas Baer: The Toronto Raptors had the Patrick McCaw game, but the Raptors 905 had the Nicholas Baer game. Every game it seems like Baer shows up with a skill that no one knew he possessed. This time, it was his handles. Usually seeing a big man dribble is like seeing a cow walking on its hind legs. It doesn’t look normal, and someone is going to get hurt. But today, Baer had it all. Somehow, his ball handling came so naturally to him that you would think he is the second coming of James Harden, and his replication of Pascal Siakam’s signature spin move has you believing that once again, the Raptors have found a diamond in the rough. Okay, the first part might be an exaggeration, but the second part is not! I would be hard-pressed not to mention that Baer was a walk-on for the University of Iowa, and earned his spot on the 905 through tryouts. Baer has had to prove he belongs in the basketball world, and it is this drive that will allow him to keep getting better.
Mental Clarity: As we saw with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson against Boston, when shots aren’t falling and communication is lacking, players can often get in their own heads, distracting them from the game in front of them, and causing silly mistakes they don’t often make. Paul Watson Jr., a usually strong 3-point shooter, was doing everything he could to get in his spots. His shots, all looked good, none were too fancy or too difficult, but for some reason they just weren’t falling. This wasn’t Paul’s fault (it be like that sometimes), and rather than sulking or attempting to shoot through it, Watson instead helped his teammates on both ends of the floor. Watson, whose defence is an underrated part of his skillset when put beside his 3-point shot, was critical to the 905’s success. Of his 12 rebounds, 10 of them were on the defensive end. Watson, of course, would eventually find his shot, and finished with 20 points. Tyler Ennis, another veteran with a shot that just didn’t want to cooperate, approached the situation the same way as Watson; creating for his teammates and playing lock-down defence. Having players who take a bad shooting night like water off a duck’s back and create for their teammates is rare in an environment as competitive as the G League, and the 905 are fortunate enough to have multiple.
Justin Anderson: At one point he flexed and appeared to growl at an opponent like a grizzly bear, lighting a fire under his teammates’ respective asses. Then he dunked on Thomas Welsh so hard he retroactively ruined his Christmas. He is my Beyonce.
Communication: To be completely honest, it was difficult to find anything really bad about this game. It was beautiful from start to finish, and if every game follows the same format then the 905 will once again be G League champions. That being said, communication was an issue, but not for long. 8 of the 905’s 15 turnovers came in the first quarter. This can be attributed to playing at a faster pace than they have previously, or to Christmas break rust and turkey hangovers. They figured it out at the end of the first, and it isn’t something I would worry about too much going forward after the team-first play shown in this game.
Noggin’ Boppin’: Devin Robinson took one of the scariest falls I’ve ever seen after an elbow to the face from Thomas Welsh. It wasn’t the elbow itself that worried me, but the way Robinson crumpled like a ragdoll upon impact. Welsh was assessed a flagrant foul, and Devin continued to play, albeit appearing a little discombobulated. Just when he seemed to be getting his groove back, Robinson was hit again in the fourth quarter, going head-first into the stanchion. Speaking to Devin after the game, he admitted that it hurt, but didn’t realize how it looked until seeing it after. Please stop hurting him. If Justin Anderson is the engine of the 905, Devin Robinson is the…something else that makes a car run really well. Motor? He is the motor.
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