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Dial 905: Raptors come up empty to start extended road trip

Life without Justin Anderson has worn on the 905, as their offense struggled on the road this week.

Raptors 905 v Sioux Falls Skyforce Photo by Todd Lussier/NBAE via Getty Images

Consider it part of how the G League operates. The 905 started this season without a lot of skilled offensive firepower, as last year’s superstars Chris Boucher and Jordan Loyd landed with the Raptors and the Euroleague, respectively.

Then, midway through the fall, they found an answer by signing Justin Anderson — a strong two-way scorer who has had intermittent success in the NBA. Anderson was a spark plug in a lot of games the 905 looked otherwise poor in. His ability to drive the ball, along with Paul Watson’s shooting prowess, lifted the G League squad out of the Eastern Conference basement and helped the team earn some narrow wins.

Then, the lifespan of success in the G League kicked in. Anderson and Watson both had drawn the attention of NBA scouts, and got picked up on 10-day contracts. This week started with the 905 struggling in the absence of both, but ended with them getting one back.

By waiving Shamorie Ponds, the Raptors were able to get Watson back on a two-way contract. He was present for last night’s game against Capital City, and already showed off how he can change the calculus for this 905 team.

Unfortunately, it didn’t result in wins. The 905 went 0-3 this week, dropping to 9-14 and back into the bottom five teams in the East. In the midst of a five-game road trip, it’s not getting any easier for the Raptors.

For now, let’s take a look back at the week that was.

Friday, January 10 at Oklahoma City Blue

Raptors 97
Blue 120

While the 905 may have lost 14 games in total this season, very few have looked like the drubbing they received against Oklahoma City on Friday. The Blue’s offense exploded in the second quarter, as they out-scored the Raptors 45-29, building a double-digit lead by halftime and only extending it in the second half.

The 905’s offense just couldn’t buy a shot in this one, which is much of the reason they couldn’t hang in. The team shot just 38% from the field and 8-for-43 (!!) from deep, with only centre Devin Robinson having a remotely efficient game at 11-for-18.

Oshae Brissett assumed starters’ responsibilities in this game, as the lineup shifted up in the absence of Anderson and Watson. This look has always been a bit awkward for the 905 for some reason, as Jama Mahlalela has preferred to use the energetic big off the bench. Brissett was a -27 in this game, going 6-for-16.

The backcourt didn’t support much either, as Ponds and Tyler Ennis combined to shot 13-for-34, while the usual bench baller Matt Morgan went full Sam Mitchell and shot 0-for-8.

Oklahoma City, meanwhile, shot 50% from three, including 7-for-9 from Markel Brown — getting hot against a team that couldn’t make anything. It had blowout written all over it, and that’s what ended up happening.

Sunday, January 12 at College Park Skyhawks

Raptors 119
Skyhawks 123

A much more competitive game followed on Sunday. While the 905 started poorly, going down 35-18 after one quarter, they battled back to cut the deficit to seven at halftime, and nearly stole the game late. A Tyler Ennis three with five seconds left cut the Skyhawks lead to two, but they made their free throws and sealed the win.

Ennis was much-improved in this game from Friday, tying the team lead with Matt Morgan by scoring 21 points and marking a +10.

The 905 were even more short-handed in this game, with Brissett up with the Raptors as they took on the Spurs and Sagaba Konate out with an illness.

Luckily, the backcourt stepped up — Ponds added 13 points to Ennis’ total — and the bench supported. New 905er Michael Bethea Jr. had 15 points on 4-for-8 shooting from downtown, while Nicholas Baer added 12.

The start was really what hurt the 905 with this one. The battle back was nice to see, but going down 17 in the first quarter isn’t a recipe for success when one of your best players is a regular with the Raptors (much-deserved, as Brissett has been excellent in NBA minutes).

Wednesday, January 15 at Capital City Go-Go

Raptors 123
Go-Go 126

A better start, and a close game throughout followed the loss to College Park, as the 905 hung with Capital City right from the opening tap.

Execution at the end was poor, though. Holding a three-point lead with 1:22 to go, Justin Reyes fouled Phil Booth on a three-point shot that ended up dropping, giving the Go-Go a four-point play at a critical juncture in the game. Reyes would foul Booth on the next possession too, as the Go-Go were able to secure the lead and hold on to it by simply making their free throws.

Bright spot, though: Paul Watson was back with the 905 for this game! His presence was felt too, as he scored 28 points on what was — for him — a poor shooting night, going 3-for-10 from downtown. Still, he had five rebounds and two assists to go with his points total.

Tyler Ennis matched Watson’s 28 points, as they two generated enough offense for the other struggling starters, as Reyes, Robinson, and Jawun Evans combined for just 22 points.

Robinson was actually ejected from this game for committing two technical fouls early in the second quarter. It was a cool technical, though, for flexing after a dunk — so who are we to judge.

In the end, the 905 just didn’t have an effective answer for Booth without fouling — the Go-Go guard had a game-high 29 points on 9-for-18 shooting and marked a +14 in his minutes on the floor.

Next up for the Raptors is a road back-to-back on Friday and Saturday against the Canton Charge, before finally coming home to play the Lakeland Magic on Monday.