Tavares, Thomas dominate as Spurs blowout Vipers to force Game 3

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CEDAR PARK – Even after the disastrous end to Tuesday’s Game 1 against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Austin Spurs would find a way to regroup and come out of the gate on fire Thursday night, defeating the Vipers 116-91 to force a decisive Game 3.

Deshaun Thomas found himself leading the Spurs in scoring once again with 23 points, while adding in six rebounds and nine assists. Walter Tavares dominated the paint with 18 points and seven rebounds in just 17 minutes. Keifer Sykes and Demetri McCamey had 17 points and 15 points, respectively, as the Spurs had six players score in double figures.

The Vipers would be led by the duo of Jaron Johnson and Will Cummings, with both players scoring 19 points. Johnson would also add six rebounds and four steals for Rio Grande Valley, but shot a poor 5-of-14 from the field. Jarvis Threatt tallied 13 points and four rebounds, while Chris Walker notched a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes.

Austin dominated the paint early and often, with 18 of their 28 first quarter points coming via layup or dunk, lifting them to a 12-point lead to end the first. The Spurs would add a handful of three-pointers to their offensive repertoire in the second quarter, helping Austin extend their lead to 18 points before halftime.

Rio Grande Valley came out of the locker room at halftime attempting to replicate Game 1’s comeback story, using a 9-0 run midway through the third quarter to cut Austin’s lead down to just six. But back-to-back emphatic dunks by Atlanta Hawks assignee, Walter Tavares, and dunk contest participant, Keifer Sykes, would put the nail in the Vipers comeback coffin. The Spurs would lead by as much as 27 down the stretch, before settling on the 25-point win.

Even though the Spurs managed to hold on to their lead on Thursday, there is still plenty of things the silver and black can improve on to win Game 3 and advance to the NBADL Western Conference Finals.

Head coach Ken McDonald’s decision to move Tavares and Nick Johnson to the bench gave the second unit a much needed scoring punch and rim protection, without sacrificing anything from the starting five. Taking care of the ball is still as big of an issue as it was to start the season, with the silver and black committing 19 turnovers in Game 2, tying the third-highest total this season. And the Vipers continue to get to the free throw line at an alarming rate with 30 more attempts on Thursday, but only converting on half of their attempts saved Austin from another disaster.

Game 3 will be an early tipoff to decide who will advance to the conference finals and who will go home.

A developing storyline for Rio Grande Valley will be the return of rookie, Montrezl Harrell, who is on assignment from the Houston Rockets. After serving his five-game suspension, Harrell will be available for Game 3, unless he gets called up by Houston before Saturday. The Rockets have practically eliminated themselves from playoff contention, so it’s up to Houston’s front office whether they see Harrell better served with meaningful Development League games, or meaningless NBA regular season games.

The Vipers and Spurs will meet for the last time this season on Saturday, with tipoff at noon from the Cedar Park Center.

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