Shorthanded Raptors 905 hang on for 113-111 victory over Erie

The 905 have now taken 4 of 5 against the Bayhawks.

Raptors 905 113, Erie Bayhawks 111 | Box Score

This is probably a game head coach Jesse Mermuys is going to keep tape of saved on his desktop for times when he needs a morale boost. Then again, it’s liable to shoot his cortisol levels through the roof, so maybe it’s best if he doesn’t give it a second look. In any case, he’s probably leaving Pennsylvania a happy man.

That’s because his Raptors 905 fought through a fair bit of adversity in hanging on for a 113-111 road victory against the Erie Bayhawks on Sunday. Erie isn’t exactly a world-beater, and a two-point win against the only team lower in the conference standings wouldn’t normally be cause for celebration, but Sunday brought with it some tough odds to overcome and some obstacles to manage. The 905 overcame and they managed, turning in a spirited bell-to-bell effort and closing out under mounting pressure late.

Playing without All-Star power forward Ronald Roberts, who’s been out for two weeks with a knee injury, the 905 unexpectedly lost breakout sixth man Axel Toupane, too. Toupane, who was on the bench to start the game and then ran to the locker room in the first quarter, later re-joining the team but never checking in, was a late scratch due to illness. With only Bruno Caboclo on assignment from the Toronto Raptors, the 905 were left with just 10 healthy bodies and without two of their three best players.

That shifted a heavy offensive load on to the capable shoulders of veteran leader Scott Suggs, who answered the call with 29 points on 8-of-17 from the floor. Suggs scored in a variety of ways, hitting threes, getting to the rim, and living at the line, setting the tone early with a 15-point first quarter and closing things out with seven – all at the stripe – in the fourth.

He had support from double-double machine Sim Bhullar, who shot 8-of-11 on his way to a 21-point, 14-rebound, three-assist night. It wasn’t his greatest defensive showing, but Bhullar continues to be simply too much for teams to deal with on the block or as an offensive rebounder. The fact that he can pass from the post makes doubling him tough, and there’s simply no way to box out a man that size.

And while Bhullar was shaky at times defensively, his length is still a huge limiting factor in the paint, and he’s getting much better at coming out higher and still being able to track guards, or picking them up in transition.
Caboclo chipped in on the defensive end, too, blocking two shots with two steals, helping seal off the paint on baseline attacks out of the corner, and showing an improved understanding of how to let his length make up for the lack of strength in his lower half on the block.
There was also this, which is basically Caboclo’s entire potential distilled down to one highlight.

Caboclo’s offense has slowed down some of late, and it’s possible he’s hitting a bit of a wall, having played far more this season than at any other point in his life. To his credit, he’s responded the last few games by shooting a little less, looking to swing the ball or attack from the 3-point line to open up something for a teammate. He was 3-of-6 for 12 points with two dimes on Sunday, a line that doesn’t pop but speaks to a smarter approach, more measured approach.

Part of the credit for Caboclo’s quiet night goes to Canadian Melvin Ejim, who continues to really impress for the Bayhawks. He’s improved by leaps and bounds at both ends, and Erie is putting the ball in his hands a ton. He’s responding, and he finished with 25 points, nine rebounds, and three assists on Sunday, defending multiple positions as the 905 lineup dictated.

Oh, and Caboclo is Brazilian Dirk Nowitzki, not Brazilian Kevin Durant, after this one.
Greg Smith had a double-double of his own with 21 points and 12 rebounds, even settling down at the free-throw line for a rare 7-of-8 night, including a clutch 1-of-2 trip late.

Those crunch-time free throws came after the 905 had nearly coughed up a lead for the second time. Leading by as many as 16 and taking a 12-point edge into the second half, the 905 hit a serious dry spell in the third quarter, watching that lead disappear entirely. They’d pull back ahead by 13 with 4:20 to go, seemingly having locked up the game, but the Bayhawks kept chipping.

A few costly turnovers and some unseasonably hot shooting late saw the Bayhawks get right there, trimming the lead to three with 9.7 seconds left on a Tyler Harvey three. That was preceded by Suggs looking for Caboclo on an outlet pass but the two misconnecting for a turnover, which had been preceded by a huge Ejim triple. But Suggs was able to sink two free-throws off the ensuring inbound – the 905 had turned the ball over on an out-of-timeout inbound just a minute and a half prior – and another Ejim three left too little time on the clock.

All told, the 905 coughed the ball up 22 times, 13 of them on live balls, leading to 29 Bayhawks points. You’ve heard this story by now, and there’s not a clear or imminent solution. It’s the 905’s biggest flaw, and it prevents the offense from really taking things to another gear. When you shoot 47.4 percent, get to the line at will, and are hot from outside, each turnover takes an even higher expected point return off the board. They also make things easy the other way, preventing what’s become a pretty stout set half-court defense from grinding opponent possessions to a halt. Again, you’ve heard this, and the next step for the 905 is figuring out how to iron it out.

They can begin focusing on that step more closely, now, because they’ve shown on a few occasions they can win even with the turnover issue. They can win without two of their top players. They can win without the benefit of NBA assignees. This team spent a tough first half of the season “learning how to win,” as it was repeated ad nauseam, and Sunday was an example of just that, with the team fighting for a win against tough odds – odds forced upon them and odds they creates for themselves.

They would have lost this game in December or January. Now, more often than not, they’ve got it like this:


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