After a dreadful defensive effort against the Texas Legends last week, the Raptor’s 905 defense has been trending up. It wasn’t just about playing the passing lanes and gambling for steals. Still, this road trip in Alabama has shown that this team is quite capable of a defensive effort that will make the previous iterations of this team proud.
Despite being near the bottom of the standings, the Birmingham Squadron is one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the league, finishing the Showcase Cup 3rd at 3PM. After this series, the Raptors 905 somehow brought them down to 2nd at 3PM for the regular season. They are a dangerous team, with an imposing big in Trey Jemison, especially when they get reinforcements from the main club, as we’ve seen with the addition of EJ Liddell and Kira Lewis Jr.
Still, the shorthanded Raptors 905 showcased their perhaps best defensive game of the season (Showcase Cup including, good lord). Against the Squadrons, the Raptors 905 did a great job chasing the shooters off the perimeter. Still, they also did well in playing the passing lanes, causing deflections, providing resistance, clogging the paint, and crashing the boards. At the root of them all is effort. Effort, effort, effort. Every player that stepped on the floor was locked in and was looking to make a defensive play, sometimes to a fault. Still, we must commend the team after talking about how badly they were defensively against the Legends.
Also, since you’re here, don’t forget to vote for Markquis Nowell. He’s among the top vote getters, but let’s keep the momentum going!
Markquis Nowell continues to make a solid case as an NBA G League all-star with 15.5 points, 11.5 dimes, and five boards while shooting 37.5% from the perimeter during this series. Justise Winslow’s trending up, with his minutes inching closer to 30 minutes per game. He averaged 14 points in two games, but it’s great to see him shoot 44.4% from the perimeter in 4.5 attempts. Kevin Obanor had an efficient series against the Squadron, putting up 18.5 points and 5.5 rebounds on 14-for-21 shooting overall. He’s also trending up from the perimeter, hitting 5-for-11 against the Squadron in two games after a rough start to this regular season.
Omari Moore had a breakout game on the series’ first game, scoring a career-high 22 points. Makur Maker and Kobi Simmons did not play in this series due to injuries, while Jontay Porter was with the main club, deservingly. Javon Freeman-Liberty, Drake Jeffries, and Darryl Morsell each missed a game in this series.
The Raptors 905 had a masterclass in scoring off turnovers and misses to take the first game of their series against the Birmingham Squadron, winning easily 112-98. However, the Squadron made some adjustments and got some reinforcements, making it difficult for the Raptors 905 to earn a sweep in this series. Despite the firepower, the Squadron barely won, and had the Raptors 905 (*cough*Mo Gueye*cough*) took better care of the ball and wasn’t forcing the issue defensively (everyone), they could have pulled off another win.
The Raptors 905 “improve” to 3-6 for the season and currently sit 2 games behind the play-in range.
Regular Season Game 08: Raptors 905 found their defensive identity
Final Score: Raptors 905 112, Birmingham Squadron 98
Raptors 905: Markquis Nowell (TW)
Birmingham Squadron: None
Raptors 905: Markquis Nowell (TW), Justise Winslow, Drake Jeffries, Kevin Obanor, Mo Gueye
Birmingham Squadron: Jalen Crutcher, Devin Cannady, Malcolm Hill, Izaiah Brockington, Trey Jemison
The shorthanded Raptors 905 played their best all-around defensive effort en route to a 112-98 win against the Birmingham Squadron. It was a balanced attack offensively, but what stood out from this game from the Raptors 905’s perspective was how well they defended for most of the game.
Defense and the bench starred in this game for the Raptors 905, as Omari Moore scored a career-high 22 points and eight boards, and looking like he’s always ahead of the pack every time the Raptors 905 picks up a steal. Jaysean Paige added 20 points and five dimes as the Raptors 905 bench outscored their counterparts 49-22.
Markquis Nowell had the “usual,” contributing 11 points and 12 assists. Kevin Obanor had another efficient night, scoring 16 points in 8 attempts. Drake Jeffries got the starting job for this game, and he did not disappoint with his 13 points and three trifectas.
Malcolm Hill led the Squadron with 19 points but had an awful shooting night. He managed to get to the line seven times, yielding 11 points off freebies. Jalen Crutcher added 17 points and five dimes.
The Raptors 905 set the tone early, racing to a 25-15 advantage in points off turnovers in the first half. Still, the Squadron stayed in the game with their perimeter shooting, going for 9-for-18 from behind the arc. The Raptors 905’s relentless attacks in transition, whether off turnovers or misses, gave them a +26 advantage in points in the paint. They finished with a +22 lead in fastbreak points, capitalizing off Squadron’s 24 turnovers.
The Raptors 905 raced to an early 11-5 lead, taking advantage of the Squadron’s sloppy start to the game. Squadron’s Trey Jemison got the Squadron going. Jalen Crutcher’s trifecta gave the hosts a 15-13 lead, prompting coach Khoury to call for time. Unfortunately, the Raptors 905 could not buy a bucket, and it was their turn to be sloppy, letting the Squadron grab pretty much all the offensive rebounds available and let them make it rain from the perimeter. The next thing you know, it’s a 33-18 lead by Birmingham. A late 4-0 run made the Raptors 905 inch closer at the end of the first period, down 33-22.
Winslow powered a 7-2 run to start the second period, forcing Squadron coach TJ Saint to call for time. Jemison and Crutcher responded for the Squadron, pushing the lead back to eight. The Raptors 905 stepped up their defense a few notches, turning almost every Squadron possession into a pick-six opportunity. A 14-3 run forced the Squadron to press the panic button, sensing the momentum shift to the visitors. Omari Moore was feasting in transition for the visitors. Just when the Squadron thought they had slowed down the visitors when they tied the game at 52, the Raptors 905’s defense dialled back in, and a 9-2 finish to the half gave the Raptors 905 a 61-54 lead.
MARKQUIS IS EVERYWHERE— Raptors 905 (@Raptors905) January 14, 2024
Omari with the finish pic.twitter.com/PZhsmhVHIL
Nowell and the Raptors 905 opened the second half in control, with the visitors putting a lid on the basket and Nowell orchestrating the offense. An 11-0 run to start the second half forced the Squadron to call for time, as the Raptors 905 built an 18-point lead. The timeout didn’t help right away. Nowell forced a turnover and found Drake Jeffries for an early trifecta, giving the Raptors 905 their biggest lead at 21. Squadron’s Izaiah Brockington’s trifecta broke the Squadron’s slump, going scoreless for almost four minutes. The hosts struggled to find their footing throughout the quarter. The bench trio of Jaysean Paige, Omari Moore, and Myles Burns held serve to end the quarter with a commanding 91-73, with the final period turning out to be a glorified pickup run.
Regular Season Game 08: Late rally came up short
Final Score: Raptors 905 105, Birmingham Squadron 108
Raptors 905: Markquis Nowell (TW), Javon Freeman-Liberty (TW)
Birmingham Squadron: Kira Lewis Jr. (NBA), EJ Liddell (NBA)
Raptors 905: Markquis Nowell (TW), Justise Winslow, Javon Freeman-Liberty (TW), Kevin Obanor, Mo Gueye
Birmingham Squadron: Jalen Crutcher, Kira Lewis Jr (NBA), Malcolm Hill, EJ Liddell (NBA), Trey Jemison
The Raptors 905 tried to use the same formula that got them the W on their first meeting. Still, it wasn’t enough, as the New Orleans Pelicans sent reinforcements for this MLK matinee game. Kira Lewis Jr. and EJ Liddell’s addition was enough to eke out a victory from the shorthanded Raptors 905, outlasting them in the fourth to the tune of 108-105.Markquis Nowell dropped 20 points, 11 dimes and six boards to lead the Raptors 905. Kevin Obanor had another efficient night, scoring 21 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Justise Winslow added 19 points, including 3-for-4 from the perimeter.
Nothing went well for Mo Gueye in this game. Ok, that’s an exaggeration. He did manage to put up 16 points and eight boards. Still, he had an awful time keeping the ball, turning the ball over seven times, missing 2-for-1 freebies, and having a tough time finishing around the rim. Gueye could’ve easily gotten 30 points.While all eyes were on Lidell and Lewis Jr., Malcolm Hill did the most damage early and often. He scored 20 of his 30 points in the first half. Liddell had a strong start with 16 points and 11 boards but was not a big factor offensively in the fourth. It was Lewis Jr. who made an impact in the fourth, scoring 9 of his 19 points in the final frame. He’s also got nine dimes and four steals. Trey Jemison was a load in the paint, carving the Raptors with 16 points, 11 boards, and three blocks.
The Raptors 905 looked to keep the same formula going, attacking the Squadron in transition, whether off turnovers or misses, giving them an early 7-3 lead. However, the Squadron had additional reinforcements, sending EJ Liddell and Kira Lewis Jr. for this MLK matinee. Liddell didn’t waste time making an impact, scoring 8 of the Squadron’s first 11 points, giving them an 11-9 lead. The hosts clamped down defensively, extending their run to 16-2 for five minutes, giving them a 19-9 lead. The Raptors 905’s transition lineup picked up the slack, going on a 9-4 run. Still, the Squadrons took advantage of the visitor’s defensive mistakes, pushing the lead to 10. Winslow’s late-quarter spurt powered a 7-2 run to close the quarter with a manageable deficit, trailing the Squadron 25-30.
A quick 5-0 Raptors 905 run tied the game at 30 to start the second period, but the Raptors 905 fell in love with the three-pointers, missing several as they tried to hit a home run. Nowell’s transition layup gave them a 34-32 lead that quickly evaporated as they went under on Malcolm Hill, one of the Squadron’s better perimeter shooters. Izaiah Brockington’s dunk turned it into an 8-2 run, forcing coach Khoury to call for time. The Squadron leaned on their size to punish the visitors as Liddell and Jemison relentlessly attacked the paint, pushing their lead back to 10 late in the second frame. Luckily, a TV timeout was just around the corner, allowing coach Khoury to reset. The Raptors 905 went back to the tried-and-tested formula, forcing turnovers and running in transition. A quick 6-0 run cut the Squadron’s lead to 50-44. The hosts fought back, pushing the lead to nine, but Freeman-Liberty keyed a 5-0 run to close the half trailing the Squadron, 53-57.
The start of the second half was a back-and-forth affair, with Nowell and Lewis Jr. flexing their strengths. Gueye tried to contest Lewis Jr.’s layup but turned his ankle on his landing, prompting coach Khoury to call for time; fortunately, the injury wasn’t too bad, as Gueye remained in the game. Jemison continued to do damage in the paint, scoring nine points in the period, and just as he subbed out — his replacement, Ike Anigbogu, used his size to tip a layup in to give the Squadron a 78-69 lead late in the period. Gueye, admiringly playing through a tough game, managed to put together a decent quarter, providing some offense late in the quarter. Perhaps Nowell’s usage and minutes caught up to him, as he made a mental lapse turning the ball over, giving the Squadron a pick-six and an eight-point lead at the tail end of the quarter. Still, Nowell made it up with a drive and kick to Obanor for a corner three to close the third frame, trailing the Squadron 79-84.
Winslow and Obanor made a push early in the fourth period, but Lewis Jr. provided some resistance for the Squadron. The Raptors 905 had a chance to tie the game around the 8-minute mark, as the Squadron lost their momentum. Darryl Morsell came up with a steal and tried to get to the basket despite having multiple defenders waiting in the paint. He got fouled but did not convert on the freebie. The Squadron returned and took advantage of the visitors’ defensive lapse but could not convert the and-1. This time, it was the Squadron’s turn to attack in transition, while the Raptors 905 looked like they were running out of gas as they trailed Squadron 89-95 midway through the final frame. Nowell and Winslow needed a quick blow and had to be taken out. The Squadron took advantage of the visitors’ nonexistent offense, pushing the lead to 11, prompting coach Khoury to put Winslow and Nowell back in quickly.
Nowell appeared to have turned his ankle on a drive to the basket but shook it off and converted his freebie. Devin Cannady’s corner 3 gave the Squadron their biggest lead with a 103-91 lead. The Raptors 905 caught a break as Jemison picked up his sixth foul, forcing the Squadron to play more even-sized with them. The 905 starters pressed hard on both ends of the floor, going on an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 105-10 with 80 seconds remaining. Nowell missed a potential game-tying trifecta, and the Raptors 905’s press forced a jump ball with 26 seconds remaining. Gueye tipped the ball to Winslow, who was already going downhill, and his layup cut the Squadron’s lead to 104-105 with 22 seconds remaining.
JUSTISE TO GET US WITHIN 1!!! pic.twitter.com/ZLcYnNpLof— Raptors 905 (@Raptors905) January 15, 2024
The 905 tried to trap Jalen Crutcher, but they were able to call for a timeout with 11 seconds left. They quickly sent Squadron’s Cannady to the line, who split his freebies, missing the back end. Obanor grabbed the rebound, and coach Khoury called for time immediately, drawing a SLOB play. Winslow tried to postup Hill but lost the ball as he turned, and the Raptors 905 had no choice but to send Lewis Jr to the line. He made both of them, and that’s game.