Austin’s fourth quarter shooting downs Grand Rapids

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AUSTIN – A 16-point lead dwindled into an 8-point deficit. But fueled by a late game push by several members of the backcourt, the Austin Spurs surged to a 104-93 victory over the Grand Rapids Drive on Saturday.

The team added two assignees from San Antonio prior to tip-off. Point guard Derrick White and small forward Brandon Paul (who last played in the NBA G-League in 2015) both started for the team and combined for 24 points and seven assists.

“It’s a little bit of adjustment for some guys,” power forward Jaron Blossomgame said. “Minutes are cut a little bit, but we have a lot of high-character guys — guys who understand the situation. They don’t sit on the sidelines and be negative. When they get in the game, they have their opportunity, and they go out and make the most of it.”

Austin stormed out of the gate with relentless defense, holding Grand Rapids to just 13 first quarter points. The Spurs jumped ahead by as much as 16 in the early second quarter, but a strong inside-out game allowed the Drive to steadily slice into Austin’s lead.

Inside, it was center Landry Nnoko who dropped 18 points, grabbed nine rebounds, and caused fits for Austin’s outsized interior defense. Outside, it was former Wisconsin Badgers shooting guard Bronson Koeing who connected on four three-pointers for a game-high 20 points.

“It went up and down, as expected when you get a couple of new guys that come in,” head coach Blake Ahearn said. “I thought for the most part they did a great job playing the right way on the defensive end. You’re going to have lulls throughout the game, but that fourth quarter we had great effort from Austin guys and San Antonio guys.”

During a dominant fourth quarter, point guard Olivier Hanlan nailed several key jumpers inside the arc to finish with a team-best 19 points. Nick Johnson (15 points) and Darrun Hilliard (16) also pitched in their contributions and converted on several long field goals to transform a 71-63 deficit in into an 86-77 lead in the fourth quarter.

“Coach really emphasized a lot that we’re putting a lot of shooters out on the court, so (he told us to) make sure we get our bigs down low and make those guys space the floor, because our guys can really shoot it,” Blossomgame said.

Johnson’s energy was vital all game. The 25-year old brought the crowd at Cedar Park on its feet on several occasions. He finished a remarkable two-handed slam in the first half and drained a go-ahead three to pull Austin ahead 77-75 with 9:55 remaining in the contest. He continued to keep his foot on the gas on both sides of the ball, ensuring the Spurs would never relinquish their advantage.

Austin continued to shoot lights out in the game’s final minutes to cap off a 36-point fourth quarter. Hanlan and Hilliard served as the team’s closers, and Grand Rapids’ shooting finally cooled down again as the clock waned to zero.

After a long trip of six-consecutive road games from December 31 to January 15, the Spurs finished 2-0 on their brief return home. At 17-12, they still sit on the fringe of a playoff berth thanks to the G-League’s revised postseason format. Four road games will close out the month, and even a first-year G-League coach understands how vital these upcoming weeks are to the Spurs’ season.

“The three weeks we had from losing bags, and the travel, and back-and-forth, it makes for great stories down the road,” Ahearn said. “These next four to six weeks are big. At the end of the day, we play 50 games and each night is an opportunity to show what we can, control what you can, and just hope for the best.”

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