The current iteration of Raptors 905 got their first taste of playoff action last Tuesday as they outlasted the Grand Rapids Drive in OT, winning 91-90 off a late put-back by Jordan Loyd. The game was a “do-or-die” playoff round, and now the 905 move on to face the Long Island Nets for yet another round of “do-or-die” action. Only this time, they will have to do this on the road.
Prior to the start of the playoffs, I profiled the current Raptors 905 lineup, reviewed how each player was being used and the team’s post-season rotation. The 905 got a welcome surprise by having Wade Baldwin IV back in the lineup, and as predicted, coach Jama Mahlalela ran with the usual starters plus the bench mob of Josh Adams, Derek Cooke Jr, and MiKyle McIntosh.
The only other player that did not see action as expected was Jordan Howard, who got caught in the numbers game in the guard rotation with Baldwin now suited up. It’s also worth noting that while Howard can play alongside Loyd on a two-point guard lineup, his size could have been a liability against the Drive’s bigger and stronger guards.
Let’s now look at the Nets’ key players, the head-to-head match-up, and the 905’s keys to the game:
Dzanan Musa, SF
Dzanan Musa was a late first-round draft pick by the Nets last year (29th overall), and at 19, he looks really impressive at the G League level. This young small forward boasts a very sound all-around game. He’s a threat to score in a variety of ways — creating shots off the dribble, floaters, perimeter catch-and-shoot, and cuts to the basket.
Musa’s got good court vision and will make the right pass for the most part. Defensively, he’s long and agile enough to disrupt passing lanes with deflections, and his body is starting to look like NBA-ready.
Alan Williams, PF/C
Alan Williams is an undersized old-school PF/C that relishes in physicality and contact in the paint. He’s a big immovable object on the block and has caused problems to the Raptors 905’s big men. He’s got some moves around the basket, and a decent touch from a few feet farther.
Theo Pinson, G/F
Theo Pinson — a 6’6” guard with a 6’11” wingspan — can play multiple positions from PG to PF, but is best used as a point-forward. He’s a tough cover for most teams, as he can shoot, drive, and pass the ball pretty well. Pinson is so well-rounded offensively, it’s easy to forget how good he can be on the defensive end.
It’s worth noting that the Nets also have regular G League roster players that have presented some issues for the Raptors in the past, such as Tahjere McCall, Kamari Murphy, and Jordan McLaughlin.
The Nets won the season series (3-1) but like most head-to-head match-ups in the playoffs, these games offer very little information as the teams have gone through either roster transformation or played games where key players were missing.
However, based on the four games (especially the last two), it’s clear that coach Jama is concerned about the Nets’ size and length. The Nets would most likely use a Williams-Pinson-Musa-McCall lineup (plus most likely Mitchell Creek), with McCall as the shortest at 6’5”. The 905 were put at a disadvantage whenever they moved Loyd off the ball as the Nets regularly targeted Jordan Howard in the post.
Keys to the game
Avoid a Slow Start - In the three losses to the Nets the 905 found themselves behind early. It’s not a situation the 905 want to be in under any circumstances, but against the solid Nets, on the road, they really can’t afford to give them that cushion.
Limit Second Chance Points - It’s said that a defensive sequence is not over until the defenders secure the rebound, and the 905 need to limit the Nets from getting extra possessions off their misses.
Contain the Point of Attack - The 905 caught a bit of a break when the Nets’ starting PG Shannon Scott went down with a season-ending injury weeks before the season ended. However, the ball is still in the capable hands of Theo Pinson, who will try to dissect the 905’s defense in various ways. If the 905 can limit Pinson’s/Nets’ penetration as they did with Isaiah Whitehead and Kalin Lucas the other night, their chances of advancing look much better.
Transition defense - The Nets like the open floor, and with their size, they can easily create mismatch opportunities that they can exploit if they can’t make a transition bucket.
Raptors 905: Jordan Loyd, Wade Baldwin IV, Malcolm Miller, Chris Boucher, Derek Cooke Jr
Long Island Nets: Theo Pinson, Tahjere McCall, Dzanan Musa, Alan Williams, Mitchell Creek
Coach Jama Mahlalela will have his hands full tonight, as he needs to find a way to slow down the Nets’ versatile, tall, and long wing players. Having a roster imbalance doesn’t help, as he’s got five players on the roster that are 6’5” and below, with Rodney Pryor the tallest to not yet see any post-season minutes. Malcolm Miller will have his hands full but will most likely be matched up with Dzanan Musa, and both he and Chris Boucher need to avoid getting into foul trouble.
The Nets’ transition game, perimeter shooting, ball movement, shot creation and rebounding are the main pieces of coach Jama’s jigsaw puzzle problem that he needs to solve. Does he have the answer and is it enough to steal this game? I guess we’ll see later tonight.
The Nets have the superior and balanced roster, but the 905 are now battle-tested. Catch the game on Facebook Live at 7:00 PM EST.