White’s 35 points propel Austin past South Bay, to G League Finals


CEDAR PARK — Just two years after ending on the wrong side of a heartbreaking series to the Los Angeles D-Fenders in the Western Conference Finals, the Austin Spurs completed the redemption process in dominant fashion. Behind the addition of San Antonio assignee Derrick White, Austin steamrolled the same franchise — now called the South Bay Lakers — 104-93 in Cedar Park.

White’s 35 points were instrumental in guiding the Spurs to the 11-point victory. The point guard flew from Los Angeles to Austin on Thursday and asserted his NBA expertise in nearly every facet of the game. He converted on 13-of-24 attempts, collected seven rebounds, and even rejected a trio of South Bay shots.

“His confidence has been great,” first-year head coach Blake Ahearn said. “I think the best thing about him is when he comes to Austin, he slides into this group like he’s one of the guys. Like he’s not a first-round draft pick. He has zero ego to him, he’s a great guy — he just wants to work and wants to get better.”

Austin separated itself instantly from South Bay just moments after tip-off. The Spurs roared to a 9-0 advantage in their own gym, but then the Lakers’ Gary Payton II proved unguardable for a sequence. Payton pitched in 13 of his 28 points in the first quarter alone, slicing Austin’s interior defense and finishing strong at the rim.

“We didn’t think that it was gonna be a blowout,” shooting guard Darrun Hilliard said. “It was gonna be a game of runs. They’re a great team with great players, so we just had to withstand it and keep moving on.”

For a period in the second quarter, the Spurs experienced an offensive slump where the Lakers blanketed all of their shot attempts in the paint and South Bay blossomed its lead to as great as eight points. But White factored himself in the game again, drilling consecutive threes to a cap a 15-5 run to knot the score up at 51 apiece.

At the halftime break, White spent no time cooling down. He opened the half in a similar aura by draining a pair of threes, continuing to shower the Lakers’ defense with triples and midrange jumpers. As a team, Austin served lethal beyond the arc during the third quarter, hitting six threes in the game-altering period.

“I started the game off a little sluggish, so when I got back in during the second quarter, White said. “I just wanted to be aggressive, I just started making a couple shots and it went from there.”

During the largest momentum-swinging sequence of the night, Hilliard (20 points) sunk a corner three, Austin drew a foul on a play, and Derrick White finished with an authoritative putback dunk off the missed free throw. On the other end, center Matt Costello — who posted a ridiculous career-high of 11 blocks — rejected a layup and Hilliard finished on the other end with another three.

“They attacked the rim quite a bit, so I knew I was gonna have some opportunities tonight,” Costello said. “I messed up my left shoulder pretty bad, so I knew I couldn’t do much offensively or rebound the ball. I knew I had a right arm that worked pretty well, so I stuck it up and hoped for the best — and it worked out pretty well.”

Austin exited the third with a 78-70 lead, and continued building on that foundation in the fourth by launching a 15-4 run to start the final frame. After succeeding from the outside and struggling in the interior for most of the game, the paint finally opened up for the Spurs against a gassed Lakers defense. The Spurs extended their lead to a maximum of 20 in the quarter, not allowing South Bay to crawl back into it until the game was ultimately decided.

No factor played a more principal role in the contest than outside shooting, as Austin finished 14-of-39 on threes, while the Lakers fared just 2-of-18.

The Spurs celebrated with a trophy after claiming a Western Conference title and clinching their first G League Finals appearance since 2012. Ahearn’s young squad will test its abilities against either the Erie BayHawks or Raptors 905, with Game 1 commencing Sunday.

“We go through the whole year and we feel like we’re the best team in the league, so we want to flex our muscle and show everybody that we’re the best team,” shooting guard Nick Johnson said. “We get two wins, that’s all we need.”


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