Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca
Raptors 905 91, Windy City Bulls 99 | Box Score
Assignees: Malachi Richardson, Alfonzo McKinnie (905), Cristiano Felicio (Bulls)
Two-ways: Malcolm Miller (905), Ryan Arcidiacono, Antonio Blakeney (Bulls)
Normally, the Toronto Raptors and Raptors 905 would like there to be a synergy between their two programs. The organization has done a great job of that, in general, to the extent that the two teams will often play in similar games on the same day. Some of that is me ascribing meaning and connection where there is none. Most of it, probably. It does, however, make it stand out when the two sides play completely opposite games.
That was the case on Tuesday, when the Raptors nearly squandered a 17-point lead only to hang on at the end while the 905 nearly erased a 23-point deficit only to come up short in the fourth quarter. Things looked bleak for the 905 more or less from the jump, as they were down Lorenzo Brown due to an ankle sprain, are still trying to get Malachi Richardson up to speed in his new environment, and who were up against a Windy City Bulls team that, when they have the bulk of their assignments and two-ways as they did here, are far better than their record would suggest.
The 905 started out well enough, opening the game with a bucket from Kethan Savage, starting in place of Brown. Even as they’d fail to score on their next five possessions, the Bulls started equally cool, and the 905 were within a possession at the game’s first time out thanks to Kennedy Meeks carrying the scoring load. Things went off the rails from there at both ends – the 905 would score just six points over the final six minutes of the quarter and allow Jaylen Johnson and Antonio Blakeney to get cooking at the other end, with that duo combining for 17 points to put the 905 behind double-digits early.
Windy City kept the momentum up from there. Blakeney would stay hot, Mychal Mulder brought some Canadian content off the bench, and the 905 finished the half shooting just 28.9 percent with nine turnovers. All told, it was among the worst offensive quarters of the season for the 905, and while it’s been a struggle for them when Brown is out, this was extreme. Outside of Meeks and Fuquan Edwin, nobody could get their shot to drop, and were it not for nine offensive rebounds, it felt like the 905 may not have scored at all. Some regression was due, and the 905 have rarely, if ever, laid down when falling behind, even by as many as 20 at the half.
Their push came quickly in the third, as the game looked entirely different. Whatever the halftime adjustments outside of just the fivesome – Aaron Best and Kaza Keane started for Richardson and Savage – it worked, and a massive 17-0 run over the first five minutes of the half had the 905 back within a possession. Alfonzo McKinnie drove for a dunk to set the tone, Best sandwiched trips to the line around a big three, and Keane made it an all-USports comeback with a three and a nice drive of his own. In a blink, it was a game again, the Bulls having failed to get a single point on their first nine possessions. It looked more like the No. 2-ranked defense the 905 are, and the Bulls didn’t have much answer for the on-ball pressure.
Eventually, the Bulls would call an overdue timeout to try to settle things down. Jerry Stackhouse went to his bench to try to stay fresh and keep the energy up on the second night of a back-to-back, and while completely necessary, that proved untenable. The Bulls made their counterpush against that unfamiliar hybrid group, Richardson missed a pair of jumpers and a transition push, and the trademark defense that highlighted the earlier comeback faded, particularly against Cristiano Felicio inside.
Making a comeback is one thing, but having to do it a second time is a big ask, and the 905 entered the fourth once again down double-digits. Stackhouse did his best to mix and match starters and reserves to find a group that could stem the tide, and it wasn’t until the gap once again hit 17 that the 905 found a precision to accompany their urgency. The Bulls would be held to four points over the next five minutes, allowing the 905 to build a slow charge back to single digits, led by Edwin and Best, who combined for 16 points in the fourth. The lead down to nine with three minutes to go, Stackhouse rolled with the group that had made the latest run (Edwin, Best, McKinnie, Meeks, and Davion Berry). The play evened out from there, though, with some clutch shot-making from Blakeney and a pair of second-chance buckets from the 905 chewing up too much time.
It’s certainly a positive that the 905 made two such pushes, even in coming up short. Their second-half offense improved dramatically, particularly in terms of taking care of the ball, and they got big contributions from role players who will be leaned on heavily if Brown misses more time and when the 905 lose players to FIBA Qualifiers next week. Life without Brown is difficult for this offense, and the team is still re-calibrating the 3-point touches and defensive assignments that have long been tabbed for Bruno Caboclo. The 905 are probably disappointed to have not closed the gap atop the Eastern Conference to the half-game it could have been heading into the break, and losing to the Bulls for the first time in franchise history might sting, but it’s not too bad a loss given the circumstances and how well they’ve been playing of late.
- Assignment notes
- Alfonzo McKinnie shot the ball poorly from outside but made his impact felt inside the arc, grabbing four offensive rebounds and dishing a pair of assists. He finished with 14 points and nine rebounds, and most notably, he was best among the starters with a plus-8 in 32 minutes. He’s had a nice little stretch of late, with his uptick in aggression on offense coming at a time where the 905 have really needed it.
- Malachi Richardson struggled once again, shooting 0-of-6 and seeing just 15 minutes of action. It’s entirely understandable, even if it is an inauspicious start to his 905 tenure – Richardson was just working his way back from an ankle sprain, was traded Thursday, got one practice in (with the Raptors, not 905) on Saturday, and then played Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday without much real time to adjust or acclimate. It’s probably worth giving him some leash before judging how he looks.
- Other 905 player notes
- Lorenzo Brown missed the game with a left ankle sprain. He was in a walking boot last night but says the sprain is mild. He has a week to get right.
- Malcolm Miller had a really rough night, shooting 1-of-10 from the floor and 1-of-8 on threes. That’s two poor shooting nights in a row, pretty uncharacteristic for Miller. He still did some nice things defensively and dished three assists, probably the area he’s improved most this year, and he ended up an even rating in 28 minutes despite the shooting. He’s 5-of-23 on threes over his last three games, sinking his percentage from nearly 40 to a still-respectable 36.6.
- Fuquan Edwin was a huge spark off the bench with a team-high 23 points on 13 possessions. He’s slowly grown comfortable in his 3-and-D bench role and could be the biggest beneficiary of outside looks with Caboclo’s seven per-game gone…Aaron Best has been on a really nice role of late. He added 13 points here and was a game-best plus-15…Kennedy Meeks had a great start and finished the night with 14-11-5, shouldering a greater playmaking load with Brown sidelined.
- Bulls notes: I don’t know if Antonio Blakeney will ever be asked to do more than score in a hurry if he gets an NBA look, but he can definitely do that. He used 30 possessions (!) here to score his 30 points…Ryan Arcidiacono played a more subtle role but had no less an impact, dishing 14 assists to four turnovers…Cristiano Felicio had an 11-12 double-double with four blocks.
- The 905 are now on their All-Star break. They get back underway at home on Feb. 21. A friendly reminder that promo code “REPUBLIC905” will get you a discount at this link all season long.