With the D-League season for the Raptors 905 now in the books, there’s only one thing left to say in Mississauga: We are the champions, my friend!
The legend of Bruno Caboclo just wrote itself a new chapter, as the polarizing 20th overall draft pick from 2014 tied his career-high in dropping 31 points on 13-of-19 shooting with five threes and nine rebounds to help the Raptors 905 collect their first D-League Championship in just their second year of existence with the 121-96 victory over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the third and decisive game.
Fred VanVleet also shone when the lights were brightest, dropping 28 points and dishing out a career high 14 assists, while Pascal Siakam chipped in with 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists while being named the D-League Finals MVP.
It has been quite the ride for the tantalizing Brazilian in Caboclo, as after being drafted 21st overall in 2014, Masai Ujiri’s “four-year plan” feels at times as though it has yet to take off. But for the 905, the four-year plan ended up taking just two, as in the biggest game of his professional career, Caboclo stepped up and delivered when it mattered most.
“I just tried to play normal and was focused on getting stops and making my shots, playing a little more aggressive and I had a big game,” said Caboclo as he took in the victory. “I’m developing, I’m growing as a basketball player and I have more to show here—much more to show.”
Siakam averaged 23 points and nine rebounds in the series and has soaked up about as much experience as one can in their rookie campaign, from playing and even starting in a boatload of games for his parent Toronto Raptors to now winning a D-league championship and collecting MVP credentials in the process.
“I went from starting, to not playing at all, to playing in the D League and it was tough and just shows how tough the season can be for a rookie but I just stuck with it, man,” explained Siakam. “To me it’s all about them [his team] they worked so hard and what makes me happy is that I can help them in accomplishing their goals.”
Yannick Moreira took control of the paint, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds for the double-double while collecting one block along the way.
“Hug your brothers,” said head coach Jerry Stackhouse. This phrase has become somewhat of an unwritten mantra for the Raptors 905, as all season long, no matter how high the high’s or how low the lows became, this team was special and stuck together all the way through to a championship.
“It means that you can’t just rely on your individual game, it may not be your night, so lean on your brother, have your support, we’ve had support of each other all year long and it hasn’t all been pretty, there have been times where they probably haven’t liked me some days and some days I don’t like them too much, but when we finish up, hug your brothers,” said Stackhouse. “It’s all about us getting better and accomplishing the ultimate goal and that was to be here and that’s our theme, we just looking for one big reason to hug our brothers.”
The Vipers got a big boost from Troy Williams, who saw spurts of starting minutes throughout the season with Rio’s parent team in the Houston Rockets. Williams was brought up to fill the offensive void of the teams leading scorer in Isaiah Taylor, who suffered a leg injury just three minutes into Game 2 and did not dress for Game 3.
Williams was held to just 11 points in the first half on 4-of-11 shooting and finished with a team-high 23 points on the night.
The 905 absorbed all the energy from a packed Hershey Centre early on, starting the game on a 19-9 run and finishing the quarter up 27-18, led by Bruno Caboclo’s 14 points.
It was a sluggish start to the second quarter for the 905, as the bench unit fell victim to a plethora of Rio three-balls and allowed what was a 12-point lead to shrink to just four points. VanVleet was able to stabilize things however, absorbing the blows and punching right back with a few clutch shots of his own to thwart any serious run from the Vipers.
After a stellar Game 2 in which he dropped 25 points on the Raptors, Kyle Wiltjer was smothered by Siakam and Caboclo and eaten alive in the pick-and-roll while on defense. Wiltjer finished tying his season low with seven points on 3-of-14 shooting.
Darius Morris shared the 905 nightmares along with Wiltjer as the Vipers go-to scorer and distributor was held to a playoff low 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting and dished out just three assists in 41 minutes of action.
The third quarter saw the game turn in favour of the good guy’s as the 905 dominated the frame, embracing it with a furious 13-2 run and ultimately winning it by 13 points to carry a 90-69 lead into the final quarter of the season.
Despite shooting a combined 17-for-54 from three-point land in the first two games, the Raptors shooting returned with conviction in Game 3 as the 905 shot 12-of-24 from three-point land and also won the battle down low, outscoring the Vipers 64-50 in the paint.
The 905 finished the post-season with a 6-1 record, going undefeated on their home court at 4-0.
For a team who finished with a 23-27 record just one season ago, they will now have quite the decorated gym, as their brand new championship banner will hang proudly beside their Central Division and Eastern Conference championship banners at the Hershey Centre from this, the 2017 season, where history for the Raptors 905 and the cities of Toronto and Mississauga was made.