TORONTO — Raptors Uprising GC looks to start the week by making history.
The Raptors (10-0) are after an NBA 2K League-record 11th straight victory when they host Heat Check Gaming (2-6) on Monday. Toronto tied the record, set by Mavs Gaming last season, in sweeping Orlando in their best-of-three series last Tuesday.
After going 8-6 in the league’s inaugural 2018 season and 8-8 last year, Toronto has been the class of the esports circuit in 2020.
Don’t expect the Raptors to take their foot of the gas, according to Shane Talbot, esports manager for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment.
“They keep getting doubted and it motivates them,” said Talbot.
“They feel like there is always something to prove within every game … Even though we’re 10-0, it feels like every game there’s something to play for,” he added.
Despite the COVID-19 delay in starting the season and having to play remotely rather than in the league’s New York studio, the Raptors reeled off nine straight wins — a run that included a league scoring record in a 109-51 demolition of Celtics Crossover Gaming on June 12. Pistons GT set the previous single-game mark in a 108-69 win over the Heat in July 2018.
The Raptors won the US$160,000 Tipoff Tournament earlier this month, dispatching Blazer5 Gaming, Lakers Gaming, Gen.G Tigers and Kings Guard Gaming en route to the $70,000 first prize.
Toronto then turned its attention back to league play, thumping Orlando 101-61 and 90-73 to tie the consecutive wins mark.
The five Raptors — Kenneth (Kenny Got Work) Hailey, Trent (Timelycook) Donald, Maurice (ReeceMode) Flowers, Jerry (Sick One) Knapp and younger brother Jake (Legit 973) Knapp — are a low-key bunch.
And they get on, which helps given they live and work under the same roof.
“Our guys are incredibly easy to deal with,” said Talbot. “We’ve got, I think, the perfect balance of personalities within the team, where everybody has a specific role that they play and they play it well. They don’t clash with one another.
“And it’s awesome because the decisions that were made way back in March significantly reduced the amount of effort it takes for me to keep that train on the tracks throughout the season.”
The Raptors pay attention to chemistry, parting way with Anthony (Wuan) Rivas, a second-round pick (27th overall) in the February draft, prior to the season. While he is still listed on their roster, Rivas is back home in Miami.
A team ethic is what Talbot was after in assembling this roster.
“I’ve seen in the 2K League how often egos, honestly, are the downfall of teams,” he said.
He found a centre to complement Hailey, the team’s star point guard, by acquiring Knapp from Cavs Legions GC in May 2019. The Raptors picked up Donald, Flowers and Jake Knapp in the February draft.
Donald, a lockdown defender, played for Kings Guard Gaming in 2018 but sat out the 2019 season for violating the league’s code of conduct on social media.
The Raptors won their 10th straight in style, combining for 60 assists and making 39-of-49 three-pointers over the two games. Orlando turned the ball over 32 times in total.
“That is the perfect blueprint,” said Talbot.
Toronto relies on a full-court press led by Hailey and Donald, who have played together previously.
“Those guys are just on the same wavelength,” said Talbot. “They have been since they met each other. They’re both high IQ basketball players and they’re guys who see the game the same way … Their chemistry on that full press is just incredible.”
As point guard, Hailey plays using an offensive archetype with just one defensive badge but still ranks second in steals in a league filled with lockdown defenders.
“That is an incredible accomplishment,” said Talbot.
Good defence leads to transition scoring. And when the Raptors set up in the halfcourt, they look to shoot from the outside.
“And when you have that combination of offence and defence and three-point shooting, it’s a really, really hard formula to beat,” said Talbot.
Talbot helps set the mood for the hard-charging team.
“I’m trying to stay even-keeled because the higher you are, the harder you can fall sometimes,” he said.
“There’s a lot more 2K left to play and we have much bigger goals ahead,” he added.
Leading that list are the playoffs, which carry a total prize pool of $900,000 with the champions splitting $420,000.
That’s a significant chunk of coin, especially to players earning six-month base salaries ranging from $33,000 to $37,500 (they also get free housing, medical and a retirement plan).
Hailey and Donald have won big before. They were part of the Still Trill team that won the NBA 2K17 All Star Tournament in 2017, with the five players splitting $250,000.
Hailey used his share to pay off his 2012 Camaro. A Memphis native, he was working for AT&T as a distribution co-ordinator until he quit his job to game professionally.
After the Heat, Toronto faces Shanghai’s Gen.G Tigers on Thursday.