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Views from the D-League Press Row at 87ers vs. Raptors 905

The Raptors 905 played the Delaware 87ers last night and, despite losing, we had some thoughts.

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The Raptors 905 are a fun team to root for. They're based in the town I grew up in, they have a sizeable number of Canadians on the roster, and they serve as a place for the Raptors prospects to get minutes. And everyone loves prospects. The 87ers vs. 905 game yesterday afternoon itself was enjoyable -- back and forth, high scoring, and played with the desperation you'd expect from guys fighting for their professional careers.

Here are some assorted thoughts on the game:

The Music:

If you've ever been to a Raptors game, you know Raptors Game Ops has suboptimal music taste. Firstly, it's too loud, to the point that it's difficult to have conversations. Secondly, they have terrible mixes of legitimately good music that didn't need to be mixed in the first place. The Raptors905 DJ is fantastic. I wasn't overwhelmed with Drake music, and I love Dej Loaf, but I'm cool with never hearing Dej Loaf at a basketball game. Press row was in approval of the music all game lone.

For the intro music, the Raptors 905 use Jumpman by Drake, and the montage is pretty great too. I'm curious as to how they manage to update all of the players in time considering the amount of roster turnover D-League teams carry. I digress - the music at the Hershey Centre was on point.

The Atmosphere:

The Hershey Centre is a small-ish arena that's been primarily used for OHL hockey in the past. We had a crowd of about 30 percent capacity, which seems low, but they were raucous at times, and were clearly in tune with who the main attractions on the roster were. Every Sim Bhullar and Bruno highlight drew massive cheers, and every lowlight audible groans. There were a group of fans right behind me giving the type of support to Canadians Ashton Smith and Nick Wiggins that they've probably only previously received from their closest family members. The love was real.

Stripes is a D-League-calibre mascot, but the kids around the arena seemed to love him, so I guess that matters above all else. For some reason, timeouts in D-League games don't feel as stretched out and commercialized. There is far less nonsense of dance cams, kiss cams, telling people to get loud, take part in contests, etc. All those things are enjoyable in spurts, and the Raptors 905 do a much better job of it than the Raptors do. There was some organic noise present from TFC fans that made one of the sections behind the free throw line their own. They had flags, chants, jeers ready for all situations. It was thoroughly impressive atmosphere for a relatively sparse crowd.

The Game:

D-League teams have an odd mix of players with different backgrounds all unfortunately still one step from the pinnacle of the sport. On both teams, you had two or three players very clearly on the cusp of being on an NBA roster, mixed in with guys whose futures are murky. For the Delaware 87ers, they were Sean Kilpatrick and Jordan McRae. For the Raptors 905, Ronald Roberts, Delon Wright, and Axel Toupane.

Although the Raptors 905 stormed out to a 37-23 lead after the first quarter, Kilpatrick and McRae eventually showed that they were quite clearly the best players on the court in leading the 87ers to a 125-109 win. They combined for 68 points on 38 shots, with McRae registering a near triple-double with 31-9-8.

The Raptors 905 had problems defensively, most notably from Delon Wright. Although Wright had a strong offensive game again, with 20-8-6 on 14 shots, Coach Jesse Mermuys singled him out as someone who was missing assignments that were leading to open shots. He seemed to struggle a bit with new "ice" defensive scheme on pick and rolls. With him now getting called up to the big squad, it'll be interesting to see how that part of his game continues to develop.

Ronald Roberts was a menace once again, putting up 22 points and 9 rebounds on 10 of 15 shooting. He was the vocal leader on defence, and look for him to get picked up by an NBA team as soon as 10-day contracts are permitted on January 5th.

As far as Bruno goes, he had a poor shooting night, going 6-20 from the field. From the eye-test, his handle looks much improved, although his decision making still needs some work. He's shooting too many jump shots off the dribble right now, when he's far more effective spotting up. He also showed some improved court vision, finding Roberts for a few easy buckets in the post on his drives. In all, there's progress from him, and that's all that matters right now.


Overall, I have to say my first Raptors 905 game was a positive experience. There are concerns with the key prospects, but a lot to be encouraged by as well. The fan experience at the Hershey Centre was pleasant -- the intimacy of the arena makes the game enjoyable, and you can do a lot worse than spend a few hours watching professional basketball at relatively cheap prices. Basketball in Mississauga still seems like a weird dream, but I'm all in.

Any questions or thoughts about the game, the players, the experience?