Raptors 905 season opener in the books

Witnessing the art of the skip pass and ballsy three-pointers transcends a 123-120 loss.

That’s the face you make when you lose coin flips. 

The first game of the season came down to the wire as the 905 and Long Island Nets were with four points or less throughout clutch time (when the scoring margin’s within five points with five or less minutes left in the game).

After Markquis Nowell nailed a clutch 3 over Nets two-way Jalen Wilson to inch within one, he mismanaged the shot clock and hucked a bank shot with 15.7 seconds left, missing the rim entirely. It was truly a bet-on-yourself moment – a similar type of shot selection made by the very man who popularized the phrase (and who has left for Texan pastures).

Last season, head coach Eric Khoury talked about the need to avoid coin clips. And this game was a coin clip, which they lost 123-120.

The first five points were off two free throws – shooting fouls in the G League result in one free throw worth two or three points. The league implemented this rule back in 2019-20, and it speeds up the game and raises the stakes of free throw shooting (and makes the game faster).

In the first half, the Nets had a 13-point lead mid-way through the second quarter, but the 905 closed that gap. Mouhamadou Gueye had a solid second quarter, and even hit a corner three. The Nets went into halftime with a four-point lead.

Mid-way through the third, the Nets, once again, gained a 18-point lead, but the 905 spent the rest of the second half trying to close it. In clutch time, a triple by Javon Freeman-Liberty put the 905 up two points in clutch time. No one possession ended up causing them the game, but the 905 ultimately came up short.

The 905 played a similar style to its parent team – they are great in transition! Both teams had 21 turnovers, but the 905 converted Nets turnovers into 27 points, while the Nets converted it to 17. The 905 had 13 fast break points while the Nets had only 3.

The 905 also missed 32 threes, so that’s a lot of balls bouncing far off the rim. The 905 allowed only three fast break points – that’s great transition defense.

The 905 also outscored the Nets 60-44 in the paint, and had a 69% 2-point field goal percentage. And when they scored in the paint, they put significant pressure on the rim as most of their paint-two points were scored right at the rim (black dots = 905 shots)

Before the game, commentator Warren Ward mentioned the 905 may have difficulty shooting threes (shoutout to Sir-Swish-A-Lot for posting all the 905 content in the comments). 47% of the 905’s field goal attempts were from downtown (44 threes attempted out of a total 93 field goal attempts), but they only made 12 (27% 3FG).

The only two players who shot well from beyond the arc was Freeman-Liberty (4-for-11) and Nowell (4-for-10).

Player notes

The 905 faced the Nets rookie trio: assignment players Dariq Whitehead and Noah Clowney, and two-way Jalen Wilson. Wilson led all scorers with 33 points and was the Player of The Game.

Gueye and Freeman-Liberty led the 905 with 26 points. Gueye had many impressive drives, one of them being off a Nowell DHO in transition, and he completed the and-1. He also had a 3-point block on Patrick Gardner in clutch time, and led the team with three blocks.

Ron Harper was his usual solid self, and scored 25 points as his dad watched from the sidelines with popcorn and beer (great combo, try it out at Paramount). Harper scored a bucket to inch within four points, hit a free throw to get the one-point lead, and hit a lay-up to tie the game – all within clutch time, when the game matters most.

Markquis Nowell had a near triple double, and with him being the average height of us mere mortals, he maybe the most exciting and relatable player on the 905. Nowell’s described his game as being very New York, but it’s not just handles and dangles – I saw Nowell pass up a three-point look at least twice this game to make the extra pass inside. And his skip passes are high art. 

Last night, Nowell drove in the fourth quarter, collapsed the Nets defense, and threw a skip pass into the hands of Jaysean Paige in the wing, where he splashed the three. And then in clutch time, Nowell drove inside using two screens, and then found Freeman-Liberty in the left corner for a three. Splash, the 905 were up two. Nowell was doing this in in Summer League too.

Team notes

It was great seeing Freeman-Liberty (Just For Laughs according to Akil Augustine), Gueye, and Matur Maker all shoot threes. In the Raptors preseason, JFL went 1-for-5, Gueye had nil attempts, and Maker had his lone attempt against the Cairns Taipans. Last night, the three combined for 19 three-point attempts – JFL went 4-for-11, Gueye 1-for-2, and Maker 1-for-6.

Lastly, these 905 guys stuck around each other after preseason for the bonding experience. JFL’s “don’t worry about that shot, even if it was terrible, my guy” high-five to Nowell at the end of the game was symbolic of this team’s chemistry.

The 905 have their first home game at Paramount Fine Foods Centre this Sunday at 2 pm. It’ll be a homecoming for former Raptors 905 assistant coaches Ryan Schmidt and Ashton Smith, who are now on the College Park Skyhawks bench as head coach and assistant coach, respectively. Canadian MiKyle McIntosh is also on the Skyhawks roster. And if you want to know more about Eric Khoury, make sure to check out his interview here.