Fan Duel Toronto Raptors

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Nowell returns, 905 pick up convincing win over Cruise

The 905 came away victorious in their penultimate game of the year and snapped a four-game skid.

Markquis Nowell returned to the lineup after a 21-game absence, and the Raptors 905 made the most of the reunion by winning 116-102 over the Motor City Cruise on Wednesday, and snapping a four-game losing streak.

On Jan. 20, the Kansas State product went down with a hamstring strain, abruptly stopping what was an impressive first professional season. Nowell had been averaging 15.3 points, 8.9 assists (tied for third in the G League), and 3.4 rebounds this season, and had just gotten selected to the G League’s Up Next game.

Effective guard play is important…duh.

If there’s a team (and organization) that can advocate for that point this season, it’s the Raptors 905. The NBA Raptors had their own woes when it came to guard depth, and with a season-ending injury for Barnes to boot, they looked to the G League for some relief, and unfortunately, Nowell wasn’t in a position to offer it, given his hamstring. Hence why he ultimately lost his two-way spot and the team eventually added DJ Carton.

Which is why Nowell’s return to the 905 lineup on Wednesday was such a positive sight, even though he only played 16 minutes and put up three points, five assists, one block, and one steal. Despite Nowell being on a minutes restriction, head coach Eric Khoury recognized the value of having a true floor general on the court.

“Markquis is a true point guard by every sense of the term,” Khoury said pregame. “To have a leader on the court at all times, like an extension of the coaching staff, someone who really knows how to facilitate and get everyone involved, it’s great to have him back.”

Communicate and facilitate is exactly what Nowell did in his brief return — and just like he proved before he got hurt, the impact was hard to ignore. His shot wasn’t all the way back, which is understandable, as he went 0-for-4 from the field, but his passing chops hadn’t lost a beat, and he remained fearless as ever on the defensive end. Both his steal and block came against 6-foot-8 Nathan Knight, who tried to test Nowell and subsequently learned why that was a mistake.

On a side note, Nowell playing yesterday, outside of the boost it provided, also meant that the 905 retained his G League rights for two years, in the event he returns to the G League (h/t @BlakeMurphyODC).

“It’s a blessing,” Nowell said after the game. “It’s been a long two months for me with rehab, but we got some great trainers who kept me energized, who kept me afloat and in the moment, and it just feels good to be back out with the guys.”

When Nowell sat down at the 8:52 mark of the second quarter, the 905 were up 34-31. Throughout the rest of the frame the Cruise outscored them by 14 points, held the 905 to just one basket in the final four minutes of the half, and went into the break up 57-46.

A big swing factor for the lead change was Motor City’s quality shooting from beyond the arc, and the Raptors’ inability to match that output. The Cruise hit 10 triples at a 56 per cent clip, while the 905 made five at a 25 per cent rate.

When the third quarter came rolling around, and with Nowell done for the rest of the night, someone else needed to step up. And in this case, it was two people who stepped up for the 905. Omari Moore and Darryl Morsell have been two constants on this team, and with how many of their key contributors (i.e., Javon Freeman-Liberty, Jontay Porter, Kobi Simmons), have moved up and down, the duo has had to take on more responsibility.

Which is exactly what fans at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre were treated to Moore dropped 14 points in the frame and Morsell added 12. They simply took over in the quarter and helped the 905 build a narrow 80-77 lead heading into the fourth.

Both players would end up having career nights as Moore set new personal bests for points and assists with 29 and 11, while Morsell did it with points and rebounds, adding 24 and 10.

In the fourth quarter, the 905 pulled away and part of it was the well running dry for the Cruise from distance, as they only hit two triples in the final frame (four in the second half), but more of it had to do with the 905’s increased effort on the glass and around the rim.

After being outrebounded 29-19 in the first half, they dominated Motor City, grabbing 33 boards in through the final two quarters (+16 in the second half). 11 of those rebounds came on the offensive glass, and their success securing extra possessions close to the basket led to plenty of high-percentage looks. By the time the game was over, the 905 finished +24 on points in the paint.

A notable contributor in the second half, especially in the fourth, outside of the aforementioned Moore and Morsell was Makur Maker. All three of his offensive rebounds came in the final frame, and more importantly, 11 of his 26 points were in the last 12 minutes.

Up next

The 905 have just one game remaining this season, as they’ll take on the Motor City Cruise once again from the Paramount Fine Foods Centre, on Friday at 7:30 PM ET.

For a last hurrah on what’s been a tumultuous season, if you have the time (and means), I’d highly recommend going to their season finale. It’s a family friendly environment, that’s relatively cost-effective, and the accessibility to players and the game is much greater.

If you’re also a basketball fiend (like me), or are trying to learn more about the game, with a more tempered environment like the G League offers you often get a chance to hear more of the conversations between players and coaches — which can provide solid insight.