Pascal Siakam put his NBA experience to good use for the 905, scoring 32 points and adding 10 rebounds, five steals and two blocks to lead the Raptors to the 95-85 victory over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and force a decisive third game for the D-League Championship on Thursday night.
Just one night removed from dressing in Game 5 of the NBA playoffs against the Milwaukee Bucks for his parent Toronto Raptors, Fred VanVleet was called upon to start for the 905 in the biggest game of their campaign and scored 16 points while delivering seven assists and seven rebounds to boot.
E.J. Singler also chipped in with 15 points and a few clutch three balls and Bruno Coboclo protected the house with four blocks in the game.
It was a special night in Mississauga, as DeMar DeRozan, P.J. Tucker, DeMarre Carroll, Lucas Nogueira and Jakob Poeltl were all on the scene to cheer on their D-league affiliate, further spreading that playoff aura throughout the building.
“It’s so great man, those guys don’t have to come down here, they’re going through the playoffs and it’s really intense for them but, just seeing them out there just shows the group of guys that we have and how close we are and just (seeing them) jumping around and going crazy — it definitely helps,” Siakam said with a smile post game.
When asked about the play of his rim-running, shot blocking, bucket-getting star in Siakam, head coach Jerry Stackhouse was not quick to hold back his praise for the young Cameroonian.
“He did man, he played big time and all of our guys played really well tonight...but Pascal was special tonight, he put us on our back and willed the game in for us,” said Stackhouse.
The road to the Finals was freshly paved for the 905 as the only real speed bumps came due to losing Axel Toupane and Edy Tavares to NBA contracts, but despite their absence, the team stepped up each time and answered the call. Game 1 saw the Vipers ride their home crowd to the 119-106 victory, ending the 905’s 12 game winning streak and reminding them what losing feels like — not quite as fun as winning.
In what was a relatively smooth 50 game season for the 905, losses came few, but not far between, as the Raptors lost consecutive contests five times and in fact, never followed up an initial loss with an immediate win, but were able to do it tonight when it mattered most.
After a tough outing from three-point land in game one, the 905 began the game by moving things inside, muddying up the paint and taking it to the rack consistently for some easy deuces. The Raptors never really found their stroke from deep in this one either shooting just 8-for-26 from three, but were able to grind out 50 points in the paint to help keep the offense afloat.
The 905 caught a break early on as the Vipers regular season leading scorer Isaiah Taylor went down with a leg injury just three minutes into the game and did not return. Taylor cashed in 17 points to go along with 10 assists in Game 1 and it remains unclear as to if he will be healthy for the final game of the year.
A 13-4 run capped off by a Brady Heslip corner three to end the first half helped the 905 build their largest lead at ten points heading into the break on top 54-44.
In Game 1, Rio Grande Valley started a track meet, running out for transition buckets and pushing the 905 onto their heels. In Game 2, the 905 swung the tables, piercing the Vipers for 17 fast-break points in the first half alone and outscored Rio 23-7 in this department for the game.
“We want to be optimistic runners, so if we have the rebound and we can get out you know, they’re great at running one way, they run really good on the offensive end, but they don’t run as well back to the defensive end so we can take advantage of them,” said Stackhouse. “We’ve got to make sure to find a happy medium there, of getting in and finding some easy opportunities in transition but making them work and move the ball side to side in our half court sets.”
Kyle Wiltjer was on fire for the Vipers, carrying a heavy load of the offense with 25 points and 12 rebounds while shooting 10-of-16 from the floor and 5-of-9 from three, but was kept modest down the stretch, scoring just once in the entire fourth quarter — a major factor in the 905’s ability to close out this contest.
The tandem of VanVleet and John Jordan were able to hold the Vipers volume scorer in Darius Morris to a relatively quiet first half, scoring just 10 points and shooting just 1-of-4 from three. Morris finished with 19 points and seven assists on just 8-of-21 shooting.
Despite a 13-6 run by the Vipers towards the end of the game, the Raptors were able to hold on with excellent defensive intensity and a few clutch shots from E.J. Singler and Siakam down the stretch.
The Vipers are looking to become the first D-League team to win three championships but will have to wait until Game 3 on Thursday night to get another crack at breaking into the history books.
As for the 905, they are now one game away from a championship season in just their second year of existence.