There won’t be a parade at Celebration Square any time soon — and not just because of the global pandemic. In their second knockout game of the 2021 G League playoffs, the Raptors 905 came up short against the Delaware Blue Coats, 127-100, ending their season earlier than expected.
Both teams were playing in their second game of a back-to-back, but the Blue Coats just seemed to have the fresher legs. They imposed their will on the 905 for most of the game, as their superior athleticism, perimeter shooting, and overall energy held the Raptors 905 to their worst game of the season. It ends what was something of a feel-good story in the Orlando G League Bubble (or Gubble).
To their credit, the Blue Coats put together a near-perfect game plan. Paul Reed and Rayjon Tucker’s relentlessly attacked the basket, while Isaiah Joe and Braxton Keys led the assault from the perimeter. Reed looked impressive with 26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and three blocked shots. The Philadelphia 76ers’ assignee Isaiah Joe dropped 24 points with five three-pointers. Meanwhile, Keys came off the bench to hang 21 points on the 905, hitting five of his six perimeter shots for the game.
It was a disappointing game for the Raptors 905, who could not get anything going except via Alize Johnson throwing his weight around. The league’s number one offense was miserable from the perimeter, converting only 7-of-34 attempts (21 percent). The Blue Coats’ length and ability to recover bothered their shooters throughout the game. Johnson’s 26 points and 15 rebounds were not enough to rally his team, with only Gary Payton II scoring more than their typical output.
The game started off slow, with the Raptors playing with a deliberate pace to make this a battle of execution rather than a run-and-gun game. The team knew Tucker’s athleticism could have been a problem early, but it was the 905ers’ better half-court two-way play that got them an early leg up, leading 10-7. Both teams combined to hit just two of their first eleven perimeter shots, which was probably due to some combination of tired legs and jitters.
It didn’t last forever though, as the Blue Coats started to warm up behind the arc courtesy of Joe and Keys. Still, the 905’s agents of chaos Tres Tinkle and Payton II’s defensive activity kept the game close, even with the momentum teetering towards the Blue Coats. For the most part, the 905ers’ half-court offense just could not get going thanks to the Blue Coats’ defensive pressure. The first frame ended with a 27-25 lead for Delaware.
The 905 tried to push the pace a bit by getting into their offense early to start the second quarter, but Jalen Harris’ timing was clearly still off. It also didn’t help that the Blue Coats were determined to prevent the 905 from getting into transition. On top of that, running the offense through Alize Johnson at the elbow or in the post proved ineffective this time out — largely because his teammates were too stationary. Instead, the 905 ran their offense through Harris with mixed results. Meanwhile, the Blue Coats’ transition game came alive, putting them up 43-34.
The Blue Coats’ lead would go up as much as 17 in the second quarter as the 905 continued to cough up the ball and get killed in transition. A pair of dunks from Payton II and Tinkle doused some water on the fire, but only for a moment. The Blue Coats’ lead was still 62-49 at the half.
Coach Mutombo’s team started the second half sluggishly, turning the ball over three straight times and letting Tucker and Reed get easy buckets. With the 905’s offense in a rut and the team now looking at a 19-point deficit, it felt like the Blue Coats were about to put this game away early. Johnson had other plans though. The 905’s go-to point forward staged a 17-0 comeback to get his squad back in it. It started with Johnson’s patented post-up, rinse-and-repeat en route to ten points during this stretch. His energy got his teammates to pick-up their defensive intensity as well, and they cut the lead to just two points. The Blue Coats would get their bearings back before the quarter ended, leading 82-77 as we headed to the fourth.
Unfortunately, Johnson had to get a breather to start the fourth, and the 905 lost all the momentum they had. The team’s offense sputtered again, and Nik Stauskas’ foul on Joe’s three-pointer pushed the lead back up to 11. Payton II’s defense kept the Blue Coats from running up the score, but he wasn’t helped by Henry Ellenson, who kept turning the ball over, effectively killing their momentum.
Tucker’s three-pointer pushed the lead back up to 14 midway through the fourth, and even Johnson’s return could not rally his team back. The 905 proceeded to score only three more times, while turning the ball over seven times over the next five minutes. With that, Delaware’s lead ballooned to 26 points and the game — along with the 905’s G League season — was over.
Alize Johnson’s stock is at an all-time high right now, with another strong performance. Per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, several teams are interested in Johnson, including the Raptors. The first half of this game acts as a good reference point for why he’s a worth a semi-long term rather than a mere ten-day signing. Maybe the play here is either a two-way contract with the Raptors.
On another note, Ellenson had a nightmare end to an otherwise excellent G League campaign. He finished well below his scoring average last night, turned the ball too many times, and looked very slow and unathletic. While part of that can be attributed to his base physical limitations, Ellenson’s typical play should be better than that — it’s hard not to assume the 36 minutes he played the night before really burned him out.
Raptors 905 just played 17 games in 28 days in the G League bubble & won 13 of them. Their season came to an end in the semi-finals earlier tonight, but that's an impressive run under tough circumstances. Patrick Mutombo, Brittni Donaldson & John Bennett deserve a ton of credit.— Josh Lewenberg (@JLew1050) March 10, 2021
Jalen Harris was largely ineffective since his return, which is also understandable given his finger injury and recent travel schedule. He’s also playing on a different wavelength from his team, so that’s another adjustment to make. I do wonder how this game would have gone if coach Mutombo had another guard who could break down the opposing team’s defense. In this, we can assume that Malachi Flynn could have be that difference-maker, but he’s still with the Toronto Raptors. Ah well, what could have been.
Despite coming up short in the post-season, this Raptors 905 Gubble season was a resounding success. The squad gained a lot of new and transferable data that could affect the current and future Raptors’ development and team-building plans. And in all of this, perhaps the biggest winner here is coach Patrick Mutombo, who definitely turned some heads with his coaching performance, to which we’ll add: good for him!
For now though, we’ll see the Raptors 905 (and you) next season in the G League.