MacKenzie: Raptors 905's Road To The Championship
After the Toronto Raptors closed out their first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, Kyle Lowry talked about the importance of trusting your teammates. Though he mentioned that the Raptors are “one team, one through 15”, Toronto was without three of the 15 players on the roster because they were with the team’s D-League squad, closing out their own series to win the D-League Championship.
Led by Bruno Caboclo and D-League Finals MVP Pascal Siakam, Raptors 905 defeated the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 122-96 to win the best-of-three Finals matchup and capture the 2017 D-League Championship. It was the first championship for head coach Jerry Stackhouse who made the move to Raptors 905 as head coach this season after serving as an assistant with the Raptors.
Raptors 905 dropped the first game to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, but returned to Toronto to play the final two games, the reward of a 39-11 regular season record that was the second-best record in NBA D-League history. After collecting a 95-85 Game 2 victory behind a 32-point, 10-rebound performance from Siakam, the stage was set for Caboclo’s big night. It was a picture-perfect conclusion of a fantastic season for 905 as Caboclo led the 905 to a 122-96 victory with 31 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. He shot 13-for-19 from the floor, including 5-for-7 from beyond the arc in 32 minutes.
When the Raptors organization announced that they would have their own D-League team in 2015, having a place for young players like Caboclo to develop was the biggest factor in the decision. Having Caboclo and Siakam lead the team to a D-League championship while the Raptors closed out a first-round series in Milwaukee shows how the team, led by Stackhouse and his coaching staff, is developing and preparing players for the NBA level.
Though the finish reads like a fairy-tale, the road to get there was paved with hard work and plenty of it. Stackhouse is the first one to say he challenged his team from training camp to final buzzer.
“It seems cliched, but these guys really worked their butts off,” Stackhouse said. “I made them work, but then they became accustomed to it as well. They appreciated it. I heard the chatter when they were talking to other people about how much they worked. They were proud of the fact that we got on the lines. We felt like we were doing things this year that other teams weren’t doing because we felt like it would give us an edge at this time of the season.”
As Caboclo thrilled the 905 crowd with his performance, his coach wasn’t at all surprised that he saved his best performance for the biggest moment of the season.
“I told my wife today, we were having lunch, [I said] ‘Bruno is going to have a good game today.’ I might be Nostradamus or somebody. I’m just foreshadowing all of this stuff. I just felt like he had a confidence from last game. He just had a pep in his step in shootaround. I just seen a vibe. I know he’s playing well, he’s comfortable and he’s happy. I’m so proud of him. I didn't take it easy on him this year. I didn't take it easy on him. That was part of Masai wanting me to take on this job. Bruno was at the forefront of that.”
As players traveled from Mississauga to Toronto, reporting for duty with the Raptors and then the Raptors 905, their focus never wavered.
“[Bruno] was really engaged and locked in,” Stackhouse said. “To see him come and have a moment like that was unbelievable. I’m so happy for him. Pascal was huge for us, Fred [VanVleet] was just a steady hand and our normal, regular guys that have been with us all season long and guided us to this point. Those guys are the ones that got us here.”
For Stackhouse himself, the culmination of a season of work was sweet. While the basketball successes were hard earned, the opportunity to be the head coach of Raptors 905 brought other victories, away from the floor as well. In a lengthy response about the season, the Mississauga community that has supported the team was mentioned often by Stackhouse.
“When you trust the work and you put in the work good things happen. I’m just proud. This whole situation this year, Masai offering me this opportunity, Casey, all those guys, last year I was an assistant, this wasn’t even on my radar. Just in this short amount of time to trust the leadership in me to be able to come in and take over this team and kind of build a blueprint, build a bible of how we should do things, I’m just thankful for those guys. Thankful for this community, Mississauga, I made some friends that are going to be lifetime friends. People, if we want to talk about Cory Smith, and a little kid Nathan Smith who has cystic fibrosis, we had him as a team guy, I want to dedicate this whole championship to his family, man. Understand, we take so much for granted, when we’ve got healthy kids and just go about our daily [business] and there are people that are really dealing with some things, and just for him, the outlet of bringing him to the games and seeing the enjoyment on his face, it’s a break for them from all the work they have to do 24 hours a day when you have a kid who has special needs and man, those people are our family now. They followed us on the road to different places. And I wouldn’t have those relationships if I didn't have this job.
Raptors 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse
Maybe that’s what it’s all about. It’s not so much about the basketball accomplishments. I’ve had enough of those to last a lifetime. To be able to forge friendships and build a bond with a group of young men that we’ve done this year and our ancillary staff who took care of those guys, Shelby, Stefano who did our media responsibilities, everybody, Dan who put this team together, John Wiggins making sure things were right in the building, creating a great environment for our group, all of my coaches, the hard work they put in in the mornings, on the player development side, making sure these guys [are ready], then we come back a couple of hours, get a few hours sleep, then we come back to practice, that’s what this moment is all about and I’m extremely proud of everybody that’s been a part of this whole deal.”
While Stackhouse was giving thanks to everyone involved with his first season, his players had the same praise for all of his work in making this season such a success.
“It’s a testament to the organization from top to bottom,” Fred VanVleet said. “The way the management is run, and the way Dan [Tolzman] runs things for 905, and obviously it trickles down to [Coach] Stack and they give him a bunch of freedom and the relationships are great. Stack challenges the guys. He came in with a plan and a culture and an idea and guys could either buy in or not and for the most part of the season guys bought in and it paid off. Everybody trusted what he wanted to do and it paid off.”
VanVleet, though thrilled to win the D-League championship, was already looking ahead to what’s next as he, Siakam and Caboclo re-join the Raptors with the D-League season complete.
“We’ll get to enjoy this,” VanVleet said. “But we’ve still got practice tomorrow.”