Final Score | Raptors 905 131 – Capital City Go-Go 126| Box Score
Two Ways: David Johnson (905), Justin Champagnie (905), Jordan Schakel (Go Go), Cassius Winston (Go Go)
On Assignment: Dalano Banton (905), Isaac Bonga (905)
Inactive: Reggie Perry (905), DeJon Jarreau (Go Go)
WHAT. A. GAME. Tensions were high, to put it lightly, from start to finish. Single-elimination playoffs means that the 905 had only one chance to beat the team that had defeated them 3 times during the regular season, and of all the possible matchups, this was the one that worried me the most. I felt the familiar feeling from the Raptors’ championship run; that if they were able to get past Milwaukee, the rest would be smooth sailing. The Raptors 905 came out guns blazing, outscoring the Capital City Go-Go 35-23 in the first quarter. That lead, and the confidence that they could pull this one out easily quickly dissipated when the Go-Go were able to put up 42 points in the second quarter to the 905’s 27, giving them a 3 point lead heading into the second half. With a much closer third quarter, the 905 trailed by a single point. Every time they made a basket, the Go-Go would counter it. There were 11 lead changes throughout, and a missed last second jump shot from Jordan Goodwin, who had 35 points on 10-22 shooting, sent the game to a two-minute overtime. The Raptors 905 were locked in during those two agonizing minutes, giving the Go-Go no choice but to foul, in hopes that Kevon Harris, David Johnson, or Isaac Bonga would miss at the line and allow Capital City to grab the rebounds. Unfortunately for the Washington Wizards affiliate, Kevon Harris was a perfect 5 of 5 from the line, and Johnson and Bonga a combined 5 of 7. With only one made shot and one made free throw, the Go-Go scored just 3 points in overtime to the 905’s 8, and were eliminated from contention, and I could finally stop holding my breath.
Lockdown Defence: The Raptors 905 finished the season with not only the best record in the league, but also the best defence. Head Coach Patrick Mutombo, since the beginning of the season, had taught his team to never allow the offence to dictate the defence. The last time these two teams met was on December 6th, when this defensive pillar of 905 success had not yet been perfected, and they allowed the Go-Go to shoot 53% from beyond the arch. This time the 905 were not going down without a fight. Smothering defence prevented the Go-Go, and sharpshooter Jordan Schakel in particular from staying on the perimeter, They forced the Go-Go shooters inside, where they were far less successful, or forced them to pass in and out, breaking up plays and running down the clock. It was a defensive game of chess to an offensive game of checkers. There was an answer for every shot attempt, a defender in every pocket, and a Raptor under every basket waiting for the defensive rebound. Schakel finished with 8 made field goals of an attempted 17, with just 9 of those attempts coming from outside. 33 of the 905’s 55 rebounds were on the defensive end, allowing the Go-Go just 15 second-chance points. Defence wins championships, or in this case, Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Well-Rounded: The worry when parent team players are sent down to the G League during playoffs is the level of commitment. If the game is lost, the G League players’ season is finished, but for the assignees nothing changes. Their season continues no matter the outcome. So for Dalano Banton, who so effortlessly and calmly takes every game like water off a duck’s back, to be the most vocal during practice and warmups, it was a sure sign that he was locked in. Prior to the single-elimination game, the offensive schemes had been primarily run to get the ball in Banton’s hands. The Go-Go were well aware of this, sending their defenders straight to Banton on every play. But there is a reason that Banton is in the NBA, a reason that he is among the some-odd 400 players to make it to the ultimate stage. His ability to switch from primary ball-handler to playmaker was a key reason the 905 were able to advance to the Conference Finals. He had 8 rebounds in the first quarter alone. He gave up so many of his patented straight line drives to kick out to his teammates instead, causing the Go-Go defence to scramble and allowing the 905 to cut or to shoot. He finished just 3 assists shy of a triple-double, and established himself as an off-ball threat.
Give Him The Award Already: Nobody in the G League gets a worse whistle than Kevon Harris. He gets called for offensive fouls that would send any other player to the line. He gets stepped on, sandwiched, elbowed, ripped down, and rarely gets the accompanying whistle allotted to the majority of his peers. If he was given a fair whistle he would be dropping 40 a night. He’s that good. His fellow players may get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to refereeing, but very few have Harris’ ability to play through it. He will complain to the referees (everyone does it – no NBA player has ever committed a foul in their lives) but the difference between Harris and others is that he will, in real time, adjust his game and his strategy. He has mastered the ability of playing aggressive while not playing to the whistle. He doesn’t become passive when the fouls start to pile up, he simply reroutes his game on both ends. Without Harris’ chameleon-like ever-improving skillset and his 25 points and 8 rebounds, the 905 do not win this game. He should be the G League’s Most Improved Player, without question.
Uhhh….: Let’s pretend that second quarter never happened, okay?
Cries In Poor: I asked Dalano Banton what cologne he was wearing because it smelled like fresh laundry and was beautiful and when he told me I Googled it and it is $600.00.
The Raptors 905 will await the results of the game between the Motor City Cruise and the Delaware Blue Coats to determine who they will face in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Cruise and Blue Coats play Friday, April 8th at 8:30 p.m.