Talks about scheduling issues have been a reoccurring theme throughout the past few NBA seasons; earlier in February, Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was outraged when he alerted the media of a murderous stretch of poorly spaced games. He had no choice but to rest his core players, relying heavily on the production coming off the bench.
Unlike the situation with the Golden State Warriors, the Raptors organization was faced with a different scheduling issue – on April 27th, both their NBA team and D-League affiliate were slated to play at 7:00PM EST, the Toronto Raptors in Milwaukee, the Raptors 905 in Mississauga. Both teams were playing crucial games in their playoff runs, the Toronto Raptors looked to eliminate the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, while the Raptors 905 were playing the last game of the NBA D-League best of 3 finals. This left an interesting decision to be made – where would NBA assignments Bruno Caboclo, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet be at tip-off? Siakam, the 27th overall pick in 2016 draft, played a vital part in the success of the Raptors 905, averaging 18.2 points and and 8 rebounds in the NBA D-League playoffs. VanVleet fuelled a desperate Raptors 905 team in game 2, tallying 16 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds and forced a final and decisive third game. To the delight of the Raptors 905 and the dismay of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, all three suited for Coach Stackhouse.
The Rio Grande Valley Vipers were not short of talent themselves, they too had multiple players on NBA assignment. The Vipers were gifted Troy Williams from the Houston Rockets, after not being present for game 2. Kyle Wiltjer was locked in and looking for revenge, after scoring 25 points on 10-16 shooting in a loosing effort the prior game.
The Raptors started the game rolling, going on an 8-0 run. It was only until 9:10 in the first quarter when the Vipers recorded their first field goal. The Raptors were humming, never allowing the Vipers to get closer than 5 points of the lead. Caboclo outscored the opposition NBA affiliates, scoring 14 points including 2 3 pointers (Onuaku, Williams, Wiltjer combined for 10 points, all which played the entire quarter). When the quarter buzzer sounded, the Raptors were up 9, 27-18.
It continued to be smooth sailing for the Raptors. John Jordan’s two-handed alley-oop jam from VanVleet ignited the crowd. VanVleet’s court vision was on full display in the second quarter, as he finished the half with 16 points and 7 assists. However, with 3 minutes left in the half, a poor possession by VanVleet led to a turnover and a Viper fast break. Siakam and Caboclo were able to recover to slow the break, but Siakam was unable to land on two feet and struggled to get back up. A timeout was the remedy that Siakam needed, as he was able to score 6 points in the remaining minutes. The Raptors went into the break leading 57-49.
The Vipers tried to slither their way back, trotting out 10 different players in the third quarter. However, they were unable to get their offence going after halftime, dropping their field goal percentage to 43.3%, and 58.8% on free throws. The game would take a turn for the worst for the Vipers, as the Raptors would extend their lead to 21, 90-69. Caboclo finished the quarter with 27 points and 7 rebounds, and VanVleet had recorded a double-double, 24 points and 11 assists.
Fans in the Hershey Centre during the last quarter of the season sensed the looming victory. Chants were loud, sound sticks created an ocean of red and white. Fan favourite Brady Heslip received a standing ovation when he checked out for a final time, being replaced by John Jordan. The affiliate trio received a similar ovation, the roaring crowd showered them with “Let’s go Raptors!” chants as they each individually embraced Coach Stackhouse. The ending to the game should have been rather uneventful – the Raptors had cemented their victory by being up 25 points, 121, 96. The Raptors were ready to celebrate with champagne showers in the locker room, but a scrum erupted 1.8 seconds before the final buzzer could sound. A last second attempt to score sparked a bench emptying riot, by a clearly flustered loosing team. This mayhem lead to players leaving the court early, including one by ejection. The end of the game was delayed, a technical free throw along with common foul free throws had to be taken.
When the extracurricular activities concluded, the Raptors 905 were finally able to hoist the trophy. Pascal Siakam won the finals MVP award, averaging 23 points and 9 rebounds. In just only their second season of existence, the Raptors 905, under rookie coach Jerry Stackhouse was able to win the NBA D-League championship. “They really worked their butts off man,” Coach Stackhouse told the media after the game. “When you put in the work, it validates for you the confidence for you to have the swag to come out and perform.”
The Raptors 905 will host their championship celebration on Friday April 28th from 12:00 PM – 2:00 PM at Mississauga Celebration Square. It has not been announced when Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, and Bruno Caboclo will return to the Toronto Raptors.