While the Toronto Raptors prepare for their best chance at a run to the NBA Finals, there's another group of basketballers westerly in the 905 that are blowing away their competition.
The Raptors 905 are the D-League (soon to be renamed, G-League) affiliate of the Toronto Raptors and play out of the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. The NBA is moving towards every pro team having a "minor league" squad much like Major League Baseball. I admit before the 2016-2017 season I didn't know a hell of a lot about the D-League, except that it existed, Hasan Whiteside made a name for himself there, Shaun Livingston made his comeback there, and Bruno Caboclo has seemingly made his home there.
Having season tickets to *something* has always been a goal of mine. I don't have an explanation as to exactly why, just that it seems fun as shit. Go to most of the home games, follow the team as close as you can, be a part of the atmosphere, and get free swag (bonus!).
So entering this season, I decided the 905 would be my cherry popper. This being merely their second season in existence, it felt a natural fit that I could grow with them. It helps that I'm a Raptors fan and know all the players. And it also helps that I live 40 minutes from the arena.
From the very first preseason game I learned that this shit is awesome. It may be a developmental league, but the production value is top notch. It really is like a mini Raptors game from the pyro, player introductions, mascots, dancers ;) and, most importantly, the quality of basketball.
Jerry Stackhouse, who was an assistant on the Raptors bench last season, now mans the 905. Guys like Bruno, Fred Van Fleet, Pascal Siakim have all played in several games. Alex Toupane who is a member of the Milwaukee Bucks. Edy Tavares who was just called up to the Cleveland Cavaliers (and had a heck of a game against Toronto in his debut). There is some serious NBA level talent throughout the league.
What's made it even more special, is that the 905 have been absolutely dominant. They posted league best 39 wins, which tied for the most in D-League history. They also had the best defense, which if you don't know.. now you know [leads to championships].
The 905 then made easy work of Cleveland's affiliate in Round 1 of the playoffs, and boy that was satisfying. They now have their sights set on the East Final against the Maine Red Claws. The format is a little different. The playoffs last only three rounds, and each round is a best 2 out of 3 series, including The Finals. There isn't much margin for error, but there is opportunity for constant excitement.
If there was a downside to the season, it was the seemingly poor attendance at the Hershey Centre. In an arena that can hold up to 5,000 people, the seats are frequently half (or more) empty. This despite the best team in the league. This despite frequent sideline appearances by the likes of DeMar DeRozan, DeMarre Carroll, Normal Powell and Cory Joseph.
Perhaps it is because the league is still in its infancy in the GTA. Folks aren't yet aware that there exists professional level basketball a skip and a jump from the Air Canada Centre. I hope it catches on, and I hope perhaps this post will encourage at least one person to check out a game. If it does, they will be hooked.
Game 1 is in Maine, with Game 2 and 3 (if needed back in Mississauga)
And if you're looking for tickets, I'll be right back at the Hershey for the rest of their run, and all season next year - hit me up.