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Justise Winslow’s ‘infinite plays’ mindset is why he never stays down

Raptors 905 pick up a victory thanks to gritty defence in the clutch.

Raptors 905 (4-7) began a six-game homestand with a 97-91 win over the Delaware Blue Coats (5-4) on Saturday, snapping a two-game losing skid in the process.

Picture this. The 905 are up 95-91, there are 20 seconds left, and Darius Bazley (who averages 19.1 points per game) takes the ball down the left baseline trying to make it a one-possession game.

If you’re guarding Bazley, what’s going through your head?

For Justise Winslow, in that split second, his brain took him back to Dec. 19, 2022.

“In my last full NBA game, Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) hit a buzzer-beater to win the game in that exact same spot,” Winslow said postgame. “So, I was very cognizant of that. I want to get back to that moment (in the NBA), but first I have to be able to do that here and showcase that on this level.”

Winslow ended up doing exactly what he said he wanted to do.

He played Bazley with a ton of physicality, pushing him towards a swarm of help defence and ultimately forced the Blue Coat into turning the ball over. Winslow, as the primary defender on Bazley throughout the game, held the former 23rd overall pick to 14 points on 6-for-21 shooting.

It wasn’t just that one moment, however. Go back a few plays and Winslow, in the span of a few possessions, showed how he was able to turn around a negative moment into a positive.

The game was tied 91-91, 90 seconds remaining, and Winslow came down with a rebound and threw a deep outlet pass to newly acquired Kira Lewis Jr.

Instead of a pin-point dime leading to an easy transition basket, the ball sailed to the far baseline and resulted in a turnover.

Winslow could’ve easily slumped his shoulders thinking about what could’ve been, but instead, the 27-year-old decided to focus on what could be next. Something he says he learned under the tutelage of Erik Spoelstra during his five seasons with the Miami Heat, and a mentality he reaffirms by reading his journal before every game.

“One of the things in there is ‘there are an infinite amount of plays to be made over the course of a game,’” Winslow said. “An infinite amount of winning plays.”

A couple of possessions after his wayward pass out of bounds, with the 905 up 93-91 and just 30 seconds remaining, the Blue Coats came down the floor with an opportunity to tie things up.

Despite getting caught on a screen and falling behind the play, Winslow knew one of those infinite winning plays was there waiting to be made. He turned the corner, and thanks to some help defence by Javon Freeman-Liberty, perfectly timed a block that all-but sealed a 905 win.

“I was a little frustrated, I didn’t have the best start,” Winslow said. “But I just knew there was an infinite amount of plays … I knew in that moment I had an opportunity to really help my team … so that’s why I tried to get that stop.”

His effort down the stretch encapsulated how the 905 were able to pull out an impressive victory against a Delaware team that was atop the Eastern Conference going into the game.

After giving up 54 points through the first two quarters, the 905 held the Blue Coats to just 37 points in the second half. Delaware finished the game with shooting splits of 37 per cent from the field and 22 per cent from deep.

Winslow wasn’t the only one who made a noticeable impact on that side of the ball. Lewis Jr., who recently came to the Raptors by way of the New Orleans Pelicans via the Pascal Siakam trade, made his presence felt throughout the game.

The 13th overall pick in the 2020 draft showed remarkably sharp defensive instincts despite struggling to score (2-of-14 from the field).

His most impactful sequence of plays came midway through the fourth quarter when he took back-to-back charges that swung the momentum in favour of the 905 and allowed them to tie the ball game up before ultimately pulling off the comeback.

905 head coach Eric Khoury was especially complimentary of Lewis Jr for how physical he played all game.

“Arguably one of my favourite parts was the five fouls,” Khoury said while reflecting on Lewis Jr’s first stint with the 905. “He was playing with so much physicality and force … it’s unbelievable how much ground he can cover defensively.”

Until Winslow’s defensive masterclass in the final seconds, it was looking like Lewis Jr was going to have the standout defensive play of the game. With a minute remaining and the score tied at 91-91, the 22-year-old was guarding Jeff Dowtin Jr (who finished with 21 points) one-on-one and gave the former Raptor nothing on the possession, forcing him into a contested jumper that missed.

Game notes

Other notable performances for the 905 included Freeman-Liberty who finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals. And Mouhamadou Gueye, who put up a double-double of his own with 12 points, and 14 rebounds while also adding four blocks.

Dowtin wasn’t the only ex-Raptor on Delaware as Patrick McCaw, who was on the 2019 championship team, also played for the Blue Coats and finished with 10 points and six rebounds off the bench.

Up next

The 905 will stay put at Paramount Fine Food Centre, as they take on the Grand Rapids Gold on Wednesday morning, with tip-off set for 11:00 am ET. It’ll be their second of a six-game stretch at home.

“Yeah, it’s a great way to start the homestand,” Khoury said. “Six games at home, we want to get to .500 by the time the home stand’s done, it would have been a lot tougher if we lost the first one.”