The Raptors 905 took care of business in a packed Paramount Fine Foods Centre in it’s annual Bell Let’s Tallk Day game, defeating the Birmingham Squadron 110-89 in their first meeting since the Erie Bayhawks moved to Alabama. It was a true team victory with a balanced offence that generated 31 assists, had six Raptors with double-digit scoring, and a defence that tightened the screws as the game progressed.
It was a tight contest through the first three quarters which featured seven lead changes and a halftime break that had the Squadron leading 49-46. The 905 blew the game open in the fourth quarter where they outscored Birmingham 33-19, holding them to seven-of-22 shooting in the frame.
Leading the Raptors in scoring for the first time was Sterling Brown who returned to the team on January 16 following a 10-day call-up with the Los Angeles Lakers. He was an instant spark plug off the bench, making six threes and shooting a red hot seven-of-10 from the field for a game-high of 20 points.
Brown utilized his momentum well to create opportunities for teammates, finding open cutters, getting the ball to the open man on the perimeter, and even throwing a pinpoint accurate lob to Gabe Brown in transition for an alley-oop jam. Sterling Brown rounded out his line with four rebounds and six assists.
“I’m just making winning plays on both ends of the floor,” said Brown. “That energy is just how I play. I can’t do nothing but play with that type of mentality.”
Gabe Brown had a solid 22-minute outing with 17 points and four rebounds of his own. David Johnson chipped in 13 points and six rebounds while demonstrating some growth on the defensive end. He also had a steal and a block. Overall, the 905’s bench outscored the Squadron’s 52-22.
It was the first game at home with the newly assigned Christian Koloko, and his second game overall with the 905. What was immediately obvious was his length, standing over seven feet tall and towering over an opponent whose tallest player is just 6’8”. He put that advantage to good use, grabbing 14 boards — nine of which came from the offensive glass — and blocking four shots. The rookie out of Arizona also contributed 12 points, 10 of which came from dunks, and the other two were earned at the free throw line.
However, the 22-year-old’s game didn’t go without a hitch. He’s still prone to making avoidable fouls characteristic of young players, picking up four in total today. He also had eight turnovers, the most egregious being off a blocked shot on Dereon Seabron which he secured the rebound for, but then was quickly picked by Seabron while idly scanning for a teammate to pass to. Still, his presence was instrumental in helping the 905 control possessions. They attempted 97 shots to Birmingham’s 79.
“I had eight turnovers today, and I think three or four of them were them taking the ball away from me,” said Koloko. “Tomorrow, we play the same team, so I just got to do a better job, be more aware of that. I know they’re coming as soon as I catch the ball, so I just got to be more aware and take care of the ball.”
Toronto Raptors two-way players Jeff Dowtin Jr. and Ron Harper Jr. were also responsible for the lopsided scoring opportunities. Both players had three steals and enough dimes to buy something of value in this economy. Dowtin had a jackpot line of seven points, rebounds, and assists while Harper finished the game with 13 points, six rebounds, and six assists.
The Squadron’s offence was led by Kelan Martin who had 16 points in the first half alone. He slowed down significantly once the 905, particularly Reggie Perry, keyed in on the 6’5” forward defensively. He made just one field goal in the second half and finished the game with 20 points.
Perry took a step back from scoring and played more of a facilitating role today, scoring 13 points with nine assists, nine rebounds, and two steals. He’s averaging 24.3 points on the season.
“He’s one of the smartest basketball players I’ve ever been around, and I’m not talking G-League — I’m talking G-League and NBA,” said 905 head coach Eric Khoury of Perry. “He sees the game very well… When teams switch and he’s able to absorb a second defender, a third defender, and create advantages for his teammates, even if it’s not to get the assist but to put the team into rotation, is when he’s at his best.”
For Kira Lewis Jr., the New Orleans Pelicans lottery pick in 2020, this was his first game of the NBA G-League regular season having just been assigned to the Birmingham Squadron. He struggled mightily, making just 25 percent of his shots for 11 points and four assists. The burst he once had before his devastating ACL injury appears to still be diminished.
Birmingham’s Feron Hunt was an efficient eight-of-13 from the field for 17 points and eight rebounds. Fellow frontcourt starter Zylan Cheatham had 11 rebounds but had more turnovers than points with five and four respectively.
Curiously, the 905 didn’t attempt a free throw until the middle of the third quarter. The game ended with the Raptors making a mere three-of-four from the charity stripe while the Squadron found more success having made 10-of-11.
The 905 improved to 6-4 on the season while the Birmingham Squadron fell to 2-12, the worst record in the NBA G-League.
In support of Bell Let’s Talk Day, an annual campaign to raise awareness and funds to combat the growing mental health crisis in Canada, Raptors 905 players donned special blue jerseys in support of the cause. Fans also received Bell Let’s Talk branded toques upon seating and participated in various activations in the concourse of Paramount Fine Foods Centre.
Raptors 905 vs. Birmingham Squadron boxscore click HERE.
Photo courtesy Faz Visions