Raptors 905 114, Maine Red Claws 110 | Box Score
Game tied at 107 with 73 seconds to play in overtime, Raptors 905 head coach Jesse Mermuys put the ball in the hands of the team’s newest player, Davion Berry. Berry, who’s earned his coach’s trust and carved out a significant role in short order, drove around a Michale Kyser screen, attempted to finish over the outstretched arm of Omari Johnson, and missed. Luckily for Berry and the 905, his teammates picked him up, as Kyser was there for the putback jam.
The Maine Red Claws would miss their quick attempt to tie, and once again it was Berry, not point guard Shannon Scott or leading scorer Scott Suggs, with the ball in his hands off the defensive rebound. This time, he used a screen from E.J. Singler – another deadline acquisition who’s wasted no time in becoming a core member of the rotation – to get into the paint. This time, body sprawling to the floor as he let fly with the layup, he converted.
That Mermuys went to Berry twice is intriguing, but it’s tough to argue with the results. It’s tough to argue with the likely reasoning, too, as that basket – which helped seal a 114-110 victory, the team’s third in a row – gave Berry a career-high 28 points on the night. While he took 26 field-goal attempts to get there, he also chipped in with five rebounds, four assists, and six steals. Steals aren’t always an indicator of defense, but in this case they decidedly were, as Berry was a major force on the defensive side of the ball, helping challenge Maine into 15 turnovers. The 905 outscored Maine by eight points in Berry’s 45 minutes and were peppered by 12 in the eight minutes he sat, something that didn’t hold true for the team’s other starters.
Berry, by the way, has been having fun with reporters during his recent scoring binge. He asked NBA TV if he’s “scoring enough for you” after a 22-point outing Saturday, teasing because he was asked by that same reporter about being a defense-first acquisition in his first week with the club. It was hilarious. “I’m not just a defensive energy guy, I’m a player,” he said Monday, smiling from a folding chair in the makeshift locker room at the Air Canada Centre. Winning hearts quickly, this guy.
Singler, too, continues proving his worth as an acquisition, scoring 11 points with 15 rebounds and three assists. The variety of ways in which Mermuys has deployed him, and the way he’s responded, are impressive – the book on Singler was that of a serious 3-point threat who was solid, if unspectacular defensively, and he’s quickly established himself as a gritty multi-position stopper and a somewhat unexpectedly stout screen-setter.
On a night in which the 905’s occasional major advantage, center Sim Bhullar, was neutralized by difficult defensive assignments, the ability of Berry, Singler, and Kyser to switch positions seamlessly really opened up the game for the 905. Bhullar still managed 18 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks, but the Red Claws attacked post-entry passes aggressively and got underneath Bhullar to frustrate him, while also asking him to step well outside of the restricted area at the other end. Bhullar’s gotten better in the latter regard as the season’s gone along, but when the opposing center, Johnson, is chucking 13 3-point attempts, Bhullar’s primary defensive utility is rendered moot. The 905 got outscored with Bhullar on the floor, a relative rarity against more traditional opponents, and the 905 are more adept to match small than they were not long ago.
Out Ronald Roberts, their small-ball center, Greg Smith, another combo-big, and Axel Toupane, a switch-everything utility man, and without the benefit of any assignees from the Toronto Raptors, Mermuys tightened his rotation to eight and leaned on the new guys (John Jordan, too, was the lone guard to come off the bench with 12 minutes). Kyser held down the fort at the pivot with a 10-point, 14-rebound double-double in 27 minutes, and his defensive activity really came through in the fourth quarter, helping limit Maine to 14 points as the 905 stormed back from own 11.
It’s almost funny how closely the 905 game mimicked that of the Raptors, with a shorthanded 905 squad getting out to a great start, losing the plot in the middle quarters, and then leveraging a big fourth quarter to turn things around. Prior to turning to a new addition late, they were also relying on their most reliable scorer, with Suggs putting up 23 points, eight rebounds, and four assists.
It was an excellent win for the 905, one that showed a great deal of poise and maturity against a very good Maine club. The 905 are now 19-26, and the fact that they’re going to finish their expansion season even close to .500, having lost two players to call-up and their best player to injury, and having helped graduate an NBA prospect (Norman Powell) to the point that he’s never coming back, is pretty incredible. Since snapping a nine-game losing streak on Jan. 16, the 905 have gone 14-8, finding the next contributor up each time once leaves them.
Speaking of new contributors, I should probably change focus here to close out. DeAndre Daniels made his first career D-League start and his third appearance of the season Sunday, scoring five points and grabbing five rebounds in 16 minutes. He debuted last Saturday and gave 14 really high-energy minutes, and he tried to do the same Sunday slotted in at the four, but he’s still understandably showing a little rust. You can see his body trying to catch up with his brain, and the year-long lay-off due to multiple injuries, the latest of which (a Jones fracture) limited him to shooting from a chair, is still taking a toll. That’s all to be expected, and it will be fun to see how he looks over the team’s final five games to give an idea of where he might be come summer league.
The 905 are next in action on Thursday in Westchester.Follow @raptorsrepublic