Blake Murphy – Raptors905.com
From one Showcase to another, Lorenzo Brown had himself a day on Thursday.
The Toronto Raptors point guard is on a two-way contract that’s made him a fill-in rotation player at the NBA level when needed and an MVP candidate in the G League with Raptors 905 the rest of the time. Brown is an established player with an established style and identity, and while he’s developing as much as anyone this season, it wasn’t surprising to see him score 24 points and dish 12 assists in an afternoon game at Hershey Centre.
What was more impressive was Brown playing 17 minutes for the Raptors later that night, helping key a pull-away run against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Raptors would ultimately win by 34, and Brown would be joined by Malcolm Miller in double-header duty. Brown and Miller became the 19th and 20th instances of players doing the two-a-day, with Brown matching Jordan Farmar for the most ever (three) and Miller becoming the 15th different individual to do it. Eight of those 20 instances have come from the Raptors, who had little problem tasking Brown with the exhausting day (though he’d deny being tired yet after the night-cap).
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Across the two games, Brown came up just short of Troy Daniels’ record for minutes played in a G-League/NBA double-dip, and he was plus-41 in his 51 minutes at the two levels. It was a great individual showing for Brown, in front of plenty of NBA eyeballs with The G League Showcase taking place and the Cavaliers and Warriors in town.
Brown was not the only 905 player to put his best foot forward on Thursday. In a 109-83 victory over Santa Cruz, Kennedy Meeks joined Brown with a monstrous double-double (17 points, 18 rebounds), Miller nearly did the same (15 points, nine rebounds), and Shevon Thompson flirted with it, too (nine points, 13 rebounds).
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More than any individual stat line, though, was the rising tide of the 905 as a team lifting each individual. That’s the approach the team has taken for the two-game, four-day showcase event that they’re hosting for a second consecutive year – yes, everyone wants to look good individually, but it’s the strong play of the team that’s going to draw eyes to the players. It’s the same approach the team used last year, when they’d eventually lose two players to call-ups and graduate a number of key pieces to the NBA or high-level international teams.
“We don’t wanna play for the crowd. We wanna play for our teammates, play for our coaches, play for our brothers,” head coach Jerry Stackhouse says. “We wanna make sure that we come in with the same approach and try to do something that’s going to help everybody. If we continue to do what we’re doing, they’re gonna take notice. What are these guys doing? How are they doing it? And then there’ll be a more in-depth look at how these guys are playing, and they’ll all benefit. Just like the guys we had last year.”
This message may not have been as well received as recently as a month ago, when the 905 were 4-9 and struggling through tumult. They’d lost Edy Tavares and Kyle Wiltjer after a combined one game played, they’d lost Meeks and Kaza Keane briefly to FIBA qualifiers, Miller was still working his way back from offseason surgery, and Brown was regularly with the Raptors. Stackhouse continued to ask for buy-in to the system, promising results would come.
They have. Thursday’s win over a quality, 16-11 Warriors team was the 10th in a row for the 905. That not only ties last season’s franchise record, but it’s pushed the 905 firmly back into the playoff picture. (The G League record is 19 games, by the way.) If the season ended today, they would be the Eastern Conference’s top wild-card team, and they trail Westchester by only 1.5 games for the Atlantic Division lead.
Because of the slow start, though, the 905 feel like maybe the league hasn’t quite taken notice. The Showcase, then, hasn’t been about individuals getting noticed so much as the team as a whole trying to put the entire league on notice.
“Yeah, I think even before we started the winning streak, we saw things coming together,” center Andre Washington says. “I think one of the things was, it’s time to put the league on notice, and then that’s when we went on the winning streak.”
For the 905, particularly their bigs, that’s a message they wanted to send on the defensive end. The box-score numbers popped, to be sure. It was the team’s defense against Santa Cruz that was most impressive, though – the Warriors managed just 31 second-half points and shot 36.5 percent from the field for the game, unfamiliar marks for a team with the league’s third-best offensive efficiency. The 905 allow 4.6 fewer points per-game than any team in the league, and they’re a half-point per-100 possessions from catching Long Island for the league’s best defensive rating.
“Oh, yeah. We’re No. 1 in defense for a reason,” Meeks says. “I think that’s what we work on each and every day, and we take pride in getting stops on the defensive end. We try to do the same thing each and every game, and I think defense definitely wins games, so we have a great opportunity.”
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Even after the win Thursday, the 905 feel they have more to prove. Stackhouse laments a one-point loss in Greensboro right before this streak that, had the 905 closed that game out, would make this a 12-game winning streak. They’ve come a long way in a short time from just trying to turn things around.
“We knew, alright, it’ll settle down,” general manager Dan Tolzman says. “It was one of those things where it wasn’t all doom and gloom early on, but I think we’re finally getting to a point to where we’re playing our type of basketball, being able to have success with the way that these guys are playing, to where we feel pretty good at where we’re at and where I think we can get to.”
Where they want to get to is defending their title. There is another good opportunity in front of a heavy NBA executive contingent Saturday, when the 905 wrap up their weekend in a battle of the last two G League Champions, squaring off with Sioux Falls. And while there’s no longer an official Showcase winner – Sioux Falls won the last won in 2016, the 905 were 2-0 in 2017 – sending another message to the league that the 905 have arrived might be victory enough for the hosts.