Raptors 905 91, Long Island Nets 65 | Box Score
Assignees: Bruno Caboclo, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), None (Nets)
Two-ways: Lorenzo Brown, Malcolm Miller (inj) (905), Jacob Wiley (recalled), Yakuba Ouattara (inj) (Nets)
On the night Raptors 905 unveiled their 2016-17 G-League Championship banner, the roster that took the floor served as a reminder of the oft-Pyrrhic nature of many victories at this level. Already thinned out as much of the championship roster graduated to bigger overseas pay days and new, exciting opportunities, the 905 would open the home half of their schedule having just lost Edy Tavares to Spain, leaving just Bruno Caboclo and an injured Negus Webster-Chan as players with rings on the roster.
Things weren’t quite as dire as in their season opener, where they had just eight healthy bodies, but losing a Defensive Player of the Year and navigating three injuries with heavy turnover so early is difficult. Such is life in the G-League, and head coach Jerry Stackhouse was clear before tip-off that no amount of roster churn would be accepted as an excuse.
“Make no bones about it, we feel like we’re still supposed to win with what we have now,” he said.
Message received, with the 2017-18 installment of the 905 securing their first victory, a rousing 91-65 defeat of a Long Island Nets team smarting from a lack of assigned or two-way talent for the night.
The 905 weren’t smarting from the loss of Tavares on defense early, with newly minted center Caboclo holding down the fort as the de facto five in a small but energetic group. The consistent noise from the Hershey Centre crowd seemed to spur them on from the get-go, and 905 defenders were in every Nets passing lane, producing nine turnovers in the first quarter. The trio of healthy Canadians in Aaron Best, Richard Amardi, and Kaza Keane all wreaked havoc against a sloppy Nets attack, and Caboclo and Kennedy Meeks held their own as anchors.
Things came a little more slowly on offense following Caboclo’s game-opening triple. The 905 committed four turnovers of their own, including a five-second inbounding violation, and they shot poorly when not running off of stops or steals. That was especially true at the rim, where Alfonzo McKinnie and the team’s other attackers struggled to finish through a tough whistle With only two threes dropping and two free throws to speak of, the 905 still built a 24-16 lead, dictating their preferred pace.
That pace held steady in the second as both teams continued some erratic play. Keane continued to be an on-ball pest as the Nets ate up precious clock trying to initiate, and a few second efforts from Amardi on offense saved possessions. A McKinnie dump-off to Caboclo on a broken play kick-started a pull-away run, and a tough Davion Berry and-one pushed the lead to 16 midway through the frame. Meeks laid a few bone-crushing screens to free Lorenzo Brown to get hot, and Meeks shook off an up-and-down call on a turnaround non-jumper with a nice tip-in shortly after.
The Nets did push back some late in the half, taking advantage of some 905 miscues and cutting the lead back to 12 at the break. Even with the late slippage preventing an early blowout, the 905 could call a 34-point half on 31.4-percent shooting a defensive success, punctuated by a demonstrative Stackhouse fist-pump after a forced turnover in the closing minute.
A frustrating first half for McKinnie bled into the second, as he picked up his fourth foul quickly, but the 905 defense continued rolling along without him. At one point, the Nets went over five minutes without scoring a point, with Keane’s on-ball pressure and teammates on a string behind him frustrating Long Island into some poor (and late) shot selection. That clamping down allowed the 905 to slowly expand their lead despite some wayward shooting of their own, winning an extended low-scoring stretch that would make the Toronto Raptors’ bench jealous. A nice Amardi dump-off for a thunderous Andre Washington dunk capped a 17-6 run that took nearly 10 minutes. The best offense of the quarter may have been Brown’s buzzer-beating banked-in three, which held the lead firm at 16 entering the fourth.
It wasn’t long before that gap swelled past 20, with Meeks providing a few tip-ins and a suffocating 905 defense keeping the Nets from building any offensive momentum at all. Without the requisite depth to empty out a bench, the 905 kept rolling and their 3-point looks finally started to drop, leading to a final score that perhaps isn’t entirely indicative of the gameflow but really speaks to Long Island’s trouble scoring. The Nets finished shooting 26.3 percent with just three threes, good for a woeful offensive rating of 60.7.
“No. It was probably one of the not-so-bright spots on the night.” Stackhouse said. “And I’m thinking the point s off of turnovers. You take half of those away, just half of ’em, that’s 12. We got ’em at 53. That’s more like it. Naw, we’re not gonna hold teams to 50 and 60 points every night, but I think this was a good sign for our guys to let them know that when we do the things we’re supposed to do defensively, we’re capable of having nights like this even when we don’t play offense well.”
Defense is where this team will probably have to hang their hat until they’re fully acclimated with each other and the new roles at play. For a coach that wants to drill in defense above all else, anyway, and has a roster with some length, if not size, that might work out just fine. The 905 will have a pair of road games this weekend to continue figuring themselves out on offense and try to trim down on the 29 turnovers.
- Assignment notes: Bruno Caboclo was really solid. He did all of the small things well the team is looking for – shooting with confidence when open, helping on defense at the rim, having active arms in passing lanes, and playing within himself. He was a plus-18, hit all three of his threes, scored 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, grabbed six rebounds, and had two steals, a block, and a nice finish as the roll-man in the fourth. That he did all of this playing heavy minutes at center, a position he’s only played on occasion in the past, stands out. Encouraging start after a discouraging preseason…Alfonzo McKinnie struggled with foul trouble early and couldn’t really get a rhythm as a result. He was denied a few times at the rim through a lot of traffic but shook it off to provide some good minutes in the fourth, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes. Good to see him shake off the early rust, having not played for a while.
- Pascal Siakam was in attendance, sitting courtside. There was a large contingent of staff from the Raptors organization, too, helping celebrate the championship and introduce the new season. That included MLSE chairman of the board Larry Tanenbaum. G-League president Malcolm Turner was also on-hand for the banner ceremony.
- Other 905 player notes: I really can’t overstate how terrific a pest Kaza Keane is on the ball…Davion Berry hit an impossible and-one in the fourth where it looked for a second like four Nets were going to land on him, four-post massacre style. He finished with 11 points on the heels of a 20-point opener…Kennedy Meeks has already solidified himself as the locker room DJ. Shouts to YG. He also grabbed 17 rebounds in 23 minutes.
- Injury notes: Malcolm Miller is still working his way back into game shape and sat here. A debut in one of the team’s two weekend road games is a possibility…Negus Webster-Chan is dealing with an IT band injury and missed a second consecutive game here. That left Caboclo as the only 905er with a ring from last season in the lineup…Roger Moute a Bidias also missed a second game in a row with a knee strain.
- Nets notes: The Nets recalled Isaiah Whitehead and two-way player Jacob Wiley. Two-way player Yakuba Ouattara didn’t play in this one, either, so the Nets were quite light on NBA talent here…Prince Ibeh had some foul trouble that limited his minutes but he has some intriguing upside defensively.
- The 905 now hit the road for a pair over the weekend before returning home for an 11 a.m. game next Tuesday. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.