CEDAR PARK – As the Austin Spurs fly into Canada for the second time this season, Coach Ahearn and his squad will be looking for a more positive outcome than their previous trip.
No, the Spurs aren’t looking for retribution after losing to Raptors 905 on the last day of 2017; Although doing so would be an added bonus and clinch Austin’s second championship in franchise history.
This time the Spurs would just be happy to leave Mississauga with their luggage.
“We were on a 21-day road trip. It was when the whole bomb cyclone thing happened,” Coach Ahearn said. “We lost bags for six days, we were sitting on a plane for three hours. I mean we’ve been through it all.”
Sunday’s 105-93 victory over Raptors 905 was another example of how well this Spurs team functions under pressure.
Despite several miscues on fast breaks to start the game, the Spurs closed out the first quarter on a 9-2 run and a 30-23 lead thanks in large part to the play of Darrun Hilliard, who had 17 of his 23 points in the first half.
As Austin extended its lead to double digits in the second quarter, the 905’s defense fueled a swagger that the defending champions have trademarked under head coach Jerry Stackhouse.
Late in the second, Raptors guard Aaron Best drilled a 3-pointer in the corner completely covered by Hilliard, cutting the Spurs lead to just five.
As Best shouted at Hilliard running down the floor, the Spurs two-way forward quietly brought the ball up, hit Best with a deadly crossover and blew past him for an easy layup.
“That’s just the game and what comes with it,” Hilliard said. “Coming from the playground, coming from the boys club, you just thrive on things like that…but I wasn’t even trying to come at him.”
While tensions were high throughout the arena, with technicals being assessed to both teams, referees attempting to separate players from each other, and even fans from players at one point, one player’s cool demeanor stood out: Rookie guard Derrick White.
Despite a quiet 11 points in the first half on 4-of-8 shooting, White’s ability to flip a switch from selfless to aggressor is his best characteristic.
Both teams came out cold to start the second half, but the 905 produced enough offense to cut Austin’s lead down to two points.
As the lead shrunk, White shifted into what’s been dubbed on Twitter as ‘afro-mamba’ mode, scoring 16 of the Spurs 18 points midway through the third quarter.
“My teammates did a good job of getting me an open look early and from there I just saw a huge basket and wanted to attack,” White said.
White’s 35 points in 35 minutes tied his playoff-high as the rookie had the same point total in Friday’s conference finals win over the South Bay Lakers.
Even though White’s third quarter nearly burned down the nets at the H-E-B Center at Cedar Park, the Raptors defense responded aptly in the fourth.
Former first round pick Malachi Richardson came off the bench for the 905 and simply torched the Spurs from the free throw line with his aggression around the rim.
A 3-pointer by Richardson, followed by a layup from Kennedy Meeks tied the game at 89 with six minutes remaining.
But the label of best defense in the G League would go to Austin following Meeks’ layup, as the Spurs duo of Johnson and Julian Washburn hit a pair of 3-pointers and locked down defensively, holding the Raptors scoreless for nearly five minutes.
“I think [Washburn] is the best defender in this league. But with him and Nick Johnson, it’s like 1 and 1A” Coach Ahearn said. “Julian can play three minutes or play 40 minutes and he can play the exact same way. He’s not going to worry about shot attempts. He knows his role is to help the team and he’s going to do it every single night.”
Even with his squad one win away from clinching the G League championship, Coach Ahearn isn’t satisfied with Sunday’s statement victory.
“We need to do a lot. They’re a great team. Us going on the road, being together and being a close-knit group helps.”
Just don’t bring up any loss luggage or 3-hour plane delays from Austin’s last trip to Canada.
“I try not to think about. Knock on wood, hopefully that doesn’t happen tomorrow. But I could coach a game in a golf shirt and golf pants…that wouldn’t be too bad I guess.”