Lonnie Walker IV snatched the ball from the Memphis Hustle on the opening drive, flung it across the midcourt line into the waiting hands of power forward Chimezie Metu. On the receiving end, the USC product finished the rapid fast break with a two-handed slam.
Although it appeared the connection between the two San Antonio Spurs’ draft picks would set the tone for the night, the Austin Spurs were unable to escape victorious, losing to Memphis, 120-106.
“It’s difficult for them to come here and figure out an offense,” head coach Blake Ahearn said regarding Walker and Metu. “They’re such good guys that it’s hard for them to come in and just take over and do a whole bunch of stuff. The more we can be together — whenever that is, I don’t know when that is — I think the better it’ll be for our group.”
Behind the authoritative all-around play of NBA-seasoned power forward Ivan Rabb, Memphis outshined Austin in Cedar Park. Rabb primarily attacked the Spurs down low with his 6’10” build and 7’2” wingspan. But the second-year Grizzly made his mark on the outside too, nailing a pair of threes en route to a 31-point, 14-rebound double-double.
“There’s some nights when NBA players make NBA plays, and we’ve got to do a better job of getting physical,” Ahearn said. “We let them get too comfortable early and in this league, or any league, when really good players get comfortable, it’s hard to stop.”
The Spurs were unable to counter with a player that could take over the game like Rabb, but Austin had the luxury of trotting out a pair of two-way contract players. On tight minute restrictions, Walker registered 14 points in 24 minutes while Metu added 11 in 28. The duo hadn’t played together since NBA Summer League after a torn meniscus hampered much of Walker’s availability this fall.
“It was fun being out there with him,” Metu said. “Hopefully we can continue to build that connection for years to come.”
Back home for the second-straight contest, Austin came out poised in the early minutes. But an 11-0 second quarter run, spurred by a barrage of threes by shooting guard Tyler Harvey, expanded the gap between the two teams to construct a 58-57 advantage for Memphis heading into halftime.
The tense third quarter featured a total of four technical fouls issued to players. While the intensity rose, highlight plays and and-ones became more abundant. A technical hurt Austin as Memphis earned a then-game-high 13-point lead on a free throw. In response, the arena reached peak volume, and Austin retaliated with a sequence where center Amida Brimah denied a Hustle fast break with a volleyball swat to set up a Nick Johnson triple on the other end.
However, the final of the four technicals helped Austin convert an unconventional 4-point play during a comeback effort as Jeff Ledbetter drew contact on a three. Ledbetter was fouled by Dusty Hannahs (14 points) on the closeout, resulting in a technical and ejection for Hannahs, who vehemently disagreed with the call.
“Tonight was just a weird, weird game. Lots of techs and a lot of stoppage in the game,” Metu said on the chippiness of the game, which featured 55 fouls. “But I mean, it’s our job to go out there and try to play.”
In the fourth quarter, Memphis’ lead would re-develop into a 14-point advantage. But a 12-0 Austin run capped by a pair of Brimah free throws dwindled the Hustle’s sizeable lead to 106-104 with under five minutes to go. With added pressure on the Hustle offense to add to the scoreboard, Kyle Casey halted the Spurs’ impressive stretch with an outside jumper from the left wing. Once this shot made its way through the silk of the basket, the Spurs never closed the gap within one-possession again.
“We need to play like (the fourth quarter) from start to finish,” Ahearn said. “I always tell these guys that somebody’s always watching. You never know who it is, where you’re playing, or what you’re doing, and we need to come out with that edge and that mindset.”
The loss concludes Austin’s three-game winning streak which dates back to Dec. 1. Although the roster could fluctuate in the upcoming days, the Spurs resume to action in Salt Lake City this Tuesday.