WHAT. A. GAME.
The Raptors 905 started last night’s playoff game against the Capital City Go-Go looking like it would be an easy win, leading by as much as 18 points early in the first half. Still, lo-and-behold: The Go-Go kept prodding the Raptors 905’s defense, and used a huge second-quarter explosion to control most of the game.
Until the Raptors 905 dug deep and outlasted the Go-Go in an OT thriller, 131-126.
Dalano Banton and Justin Champagnie carried the team for the most part, but their X-Factor, Kevon Harris’ two-way performance, pulled the team from the quicksand and put them in a position to win in extra time. Due to a couple of bad calls going his way to start his game, Kevon Harris had a slow start, but that did not stop him from putting up 25 points and nine rebounds off the bench. More importantly, 14 of those points came in the fourth period and OT, with the Raptors 905 trying to claw back and get the game back. If that’s not enough to convince you of his impact, consider this: Harris was a +20 in a game that went into OT.
The rookies went off tonight to lead the @raptors905 to a huge 131-126 OT victory and into the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year!— NBA G League (@nbagleague) April 8, 2022
Justin Champagnie: 27 PTS (team-high)
Dalano Banton: 23 PTS, 11 REB, 5 AST pic.twitter.com/A0weUc6NXo
Banton, Champagnie, and David Johnson combined for 22 of the Raptors 905’s 35 first-quarter points, but the team allowed the Capital City Go-Go to turn the game around. The Raptors 905’s defense, particularly defending the ball penetration, went south in the second period, despite building an early 18 point lead. Champagnie continued to demonstrate his growth, showing off shot creation and manufacturing points when his perimeter shot was not falling. He finished the game with 29 points and three steals.
Banton finished with an all-around game of 25 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. Breein Tyree added 19 points and five assists, including going 3-for-4 from behind the arc.
The Go-Go’s Brandon Goodwin torched the Raptors 905 early, dropping 20 points in the second quarter en route to a game-high 35 points and six assists. However, the Raptors 905 shut him down, holding him scoreless in the fourth and in OT. Throughout the game, Cassius Winston got his way, dropping 28 points on 11-for-14 shooting before fouling out late. Jordan Schakel added 22 points, sinking four trifectas.
It was a game of adjustments for both teams, with the Go-Go tightening up their defense on Banton’s penetration and milking the dribble drive/PnR in the halfcourt. On coach Patrick Mutombo’s end, the most significant was finding the right defensive combination — starting with giving Michael Gilmore an opportunity, putting Harris on Goodwin to lock him up, and finding the right front-court combination to close the game.
Dalano Banton started the game on a mission. He was decisive in getting to the basket early, setting the tone for the Raptors 905. They jumped ahead early, leading 14-6 on a quick five-point sequence with David Johnson hitting a three-pointer, followed by Banton going coast-to-coast off a Go-Go miss. Unfortunately, the Raptors 905’s interior defense took a hit, as Bonga picked up his second foul with five minutes left in the first quarter. It coincided with Cassius Winston starting to wax hot, putting the Go-Go on his back with nine quick points.
Champagnie and Banton carried the Raptors 905 to a 35-23 lead early in the first quarter, and got some help from Breein Tyree, who immediately dropped two trifectas after coming off the bench. Their stout defense bothered every Go-Go except for Winston, who had nine points in the first frame. Bonga committed his second foul with less than four minutes to go, and that’s probably the crack on the defense that the Go-Go was waiting for.
The Raptors 905 maintained scoring prowess through the second quarter, as they went on a 14-8 run capped off by Kevon Harris’ pick-six, forcing the Go-Go to call a timeout with the hosts holding their biggest lead, 49-31. However, even if the Go-Go scored only eight points during that stretch, most of those points were points in the paint. The Go-Go’s guards started to see holes in the Raptors 905’s defense, as they started slipping. Brandon Goodwin exploded for 20 of his team’s 27 points as the Go-Go turned it up a notch offensively, going on a 27-11 run. The Go-Go eventually took the lead via Jordan Schakel’s three-pointer with 26 seconds to go, and the score stood at 65-62 in favour of Go-Go at the half.
The Go-Go rode that momentum into the third period, getting into a good rhythm of generating scoring opportunities by breaking down the Raptors 905’s defense by their guards who consistently got in the paint. The Go-Go packed the paint on the flip side, limiting Banton’s ability to glide to the basket. It also didn’t help that the Raptors 905 picked the wrong day to shoot bricks from the perimeter. They went 1-for-5 to start the period and were 6-for-23 from deep through the first 30 minutes of the game.
Coach Mutombo called Michael Gilmore’s number early in the third quarter, as Justin Smith and Isaac Bonga were struggling defensively and haven’t shown anything offensively up to this point. Gilmore responded, providing the energy and a quick six points off dunks and putbacks. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough, as the Go-Go built multiple-possession leads until late in the third period.
Raps905 were dead in the water in the 3Q & needed a spark. Aaron Best's grit and determination, leveraging 200% effort battling 3-4 Go-Go for the board might be that spark that they needed. The Champagnie+Best+Harris+Tyree+Hagans closed 3Q on a 14-7 run to make it a game. pic.twitter.com/QusnE2VUgT— JD Quirante (@jdkeyrants) April 8, 2022
If there was a turning point in the game, my vote would have to go to Aaron Best’s never-give-up attitude. Down 89-81 and the team looking flat offensively AND defensively, Best battled for the board several times against multiple Go-Go players. It was about who wanted it most, and Best certainly wanted it better than anybody else on the floor. That seemed to energize the crew of Ashton Hagans-Champagnie-Kevon Harris-Breein Tyree-Aaron Best as they dialed up their intensity, closing the quarter on a 14-7 run to make it a rock fight for the rest of the game.
The Raptors 905 and the Go-Go traded blows to start the fourth, but the visitors remained at the driver seat thanks to the pick-and-roll action of the law firm of Spencer and Cline. Despite Harris’ efforts to carry the scoring load, the reserves were starting to run out of gas almost midway through the quarter, so coach Mutombo called for Bonga and Banton’s number.
Tyree, Banton, and Harris combined for a 7-2 run to tie the game at 113, but Jordan Schakel responded with a trifecta. The lead changed four more times until Bonga’s layup put the Raptors up, 121-118, with 1:40 remaining. Winston responded with a three-pointer to tie the game, but Banton came back and found Champagnie for a layup to put the Raptors 905 up, 123-121, with 46 seconds to go. The Go-Go came back with an ATO, leading to Jaime Echenique’s reverse layup to tie the game with 29 seconds left. The Raptors called for a timeout, and their ATO play got Banton a layup, but Echanique was there to block it. The Go-Go elected not to call a timeout, and Goodwin’s middy bricked, leading into OT.
It’s a two-minute OT in the NBA G League, so there’s no room to catch your breath. The Go-Go opened the OT period with Echenique’s dunk, followed by Raptors 905’s Harris’ trip to the line to tie the game. Champagnie “walled off” Echenique’s post-move, but the Raptors 905 failed to capitalize with an errant pass from Johnson, trying to lob the ball to Banton for an oop. Echenique got a deep seal that forced the Raptors 905 to send him to the line, but he splits the freebies. The Raptors 905 came back with Harris finding Banton cutting to the basket to give them a 127-126 lead with 39 seconds to go, forcing the Go-Go to call a timeout.
The Raptors 905 responded with their best and most important defensive possession of the season, pressuring the Go-Go as they tried to get their guards an open shot, but the defense moved left and right like they were connected with a string. The defense forced a three-second violation on Echenique, forcing the Go-Go to send Bonga to the line with 19 seconds left. Bonga made both freebies to give the Raptors 905 a 129-126 lead. Bonga came back with his best defensive play of the game by blocking Schakel’s three-point attempt and essentially calling it a game.
The Raptors 905 await the winner of the Motor City Cruise (Detroit) and Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia), happening tonight. The winner gets to take on the Raptors 905 in Mississauga on Sunday, April 10th at 7 PM EST, with the winner advancing to the NBA G League Finals.