Thursday, November 26, 2015

Idaho Stampede 91 at Raptors 905 93 (NBA D-League) - November 25, 2015


The NBA's D-League added a 19th team this past off-season as it continues to become a true minor league. The Toronto Raptors now have their own affiliate just a few miles away in Mississauga. Known as Raptors 905 for the city's area code, the team plays out of the Hershey Centre, also home of the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL.



The arena is located southwest of the intersection of highways 401, 410, and 403, and easy enough to get to off Matheson Boulevard. Parking is free, and the majority of tickets are reasonably priced at $14 and $24, about the same as you would pay for a junior hockey game. There are courtside seats between the benches (optimistically called celebrity seats) for $90 while the rest of the floor level seating is $75.



I had visited here in early 2011 for hockey, but the venue is completely different for basketball. As you can see, the court is right in the middle of the rink, so the end seats, the cheapest at $14, really aren't that good. As the season has just started and this was only the 905's second home game though, attendance was not that strong and you could move around to the other sections. I did the Stadium Journey review, so got in before the fans and took a few more pictures.









You can see them setting up the souvenir stand in the bottom left of the photo above, this is on the floor so all fans can access this area before the game and during halftime, and probably during the game as well.





It is really an odd sight to see the empty spaces at the ends of the court, in most multi-use facilities there are seats that fill in this gap but obviously they are not necessary here.



The team has hired a dance troupe called the 'Sauga City Dancers, who greet fans at the main entrance and sit idly by before the game. They perform a couple of times and toss t-shirts and the like, and generally get the crowd going. There is also an in-game host and a mini-Raptor mascot called Stripes to add to the festivities.



As it is still early in the franchise's existence, it will take time to establish a fan base, a rivalry or two, and some traditions, but the Raptors have done well so far. I was impressed with the crowd on the night I attended, particularly as the parent club was taking on LeBron James and the Cavaliers at the same time. The fans were diverse, with many families taking in the game along with some older hoopheads. If you like basketball and live in the Toronto area, make an effort to see the Raptors 905, they are a great value and highly entertaining.

The Game

Raptors 2015 first-round pick Delon Wright was assigned to the 905 a couple of days before to join Bruno Caboclo, the team's first rounder from 2014 (below). In fact, it was Caboclo's assignment to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, a D-League club with no affiliate, that convinced the Raptors to create the 905, so they would have complete control over their projects. In order to make the team a bit more marketable to locals, a few Canadians were acquired, including Sim Bhullar, a lumbering giant who was the first player of Indian descent to play in the NBA when he suited up for Sacramento last season.



This was a crazy game, not only are the players in the D-League but so are the referees and the scoreboard operators. The first quarter was evenly played and the 905 had a 27-25 lead, but they put on a defensive show in the early second period, going on a 14-3 run over six minutes and taking a 57-37 lead into halftime.



Idaho, who are Utah's affiliate and had lost the night before in Westchester, came out on fire in the third, scoring the first 12 points and the quarter finished with the Stampede still down 8, 78-70. The Raptors managed to build a 14-point advantage early in the final frame, but Idaho continued to sink key shots and got it within 87-80. When the Stampede's Treveon Graham missed a free throw, the scoreboard operator gave him the point anyway, while the officials were oblivious. This was the start of some interesting mistakes by all parties. The additional point remained on the board for a few possessions before someone figured out the mistake and corrected it. The Stampede complained stupidly, but the score was correct at 87-83 with three minutes left.



Then Jack Cooley committed the Stampede's fourth foul of the quarter with 2:09 left. The scoreboard operator made it the fifth foul (perhaps thinking there were less than 2 minutes left), again without the officials noticing. The Stampede tied it at 89 when Brandon Fields hit a jumper with just over a minute to go and overtime loomed. Caboclo and Fields missed shots on the next possessions, and then Scott Suggs played hero for the Raptors, draining a three with just 6 seconds left (above, Suggs is #5 middle left). After an Idaho timeout, Wright committed a rather silly foul, and J.J. O'Brien sank both shots to make it 92-91. Idaho committed their own foul, and the Caboclo went to shoot free throws. But wait! How many team fouls was that for Idaho? The correct answer was five, but there was confusion over the rule. As this was the first foul in the last two minutes, the penalty wasn't in effect, so the Raptors inbounded again, only to be immediately fouled again. The whole conversation took a couple of minutes, delaying an already lengthy fourth quarter. Anyway, Ronald Roberts sank his first shot, but missed the second. The rebound could not be corralled by the Stampede and went out of bounds as the horn sounded. Another review was needed, this time to determine how much time was on the clock.  The answer was 0.4 seconds, not enough for the Stampede to inbound the ball past a dancing Bhullar, and the Raptors held on 93-91 for their first home win in franchise history.



The last six seconds of the game took over 10 minutes to play out, a crazy ending that is not uncommon in basketball. It was a fun evening, but one that could have ended much earlier had the scoreboard operator and officiating crew been a bit more polished. But that's the D-League, still one of the best sports values out there. As the 905 gain traction in the Toronto sports marketplace, I expect them to become a popular attraction during the winter months.

Notes

Wright was the player of the game, finishing 9/9 from the floor and 5/5 from the stripe for 24 points.

The path to the NBA is known as "Road to the Six" here, after Toronto's area code, which is 416.

Best,

Sean

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