Most organizations would be shocked upon first look at the offensive explosion in the fourth quarter coupled with the final score of Austin’s win against the Stockton Kings on Saturday night.
The Spurs aren’t most organizations.
Austin outscored Stockton 37-13 in the fourth quarter and spanned a two-game skid with a 128-104 win Saturday night at the HEB Center.
“We guarded in the fourth quarter, and with our organization, (San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich) always says it starts with defense,” Austin Spurs head coach Blake Ahearn said. “It allowed us to get out on the break and get some easy baskets.”
John Holland led the scoring for Austin with 22 points. Ben Moore finished with his twelfth double-double of the season with 17 points and 17 rebounds and Travis Trice added 20 points and seven assists.
San Antonio assignees Chimezie Metu and Lonnie Walker had 17 and 14 points, respectively. Metu also added eight rebounds. The duo combined for 19 points and seven rebounds in the second half alone.
“I’m trying to be the best player that I can,” Walker said. “I’ve just got to work on consistency. In the league, you're going to have your ups and downs. Everybody can put the ball in the hoop but not everybody can play terrific defense.”
At 18-26 on the season, the Spurs only avoided being eliminated from playoff contention Saturday night thanks to a loss by the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
Austin is on the road for its next three games beginning Wednesday night in Iowa against the Wolves. The Spurs are next at the HEB Center on March 19 when in-state rival Texas Legends come to town.
The first half was back-and-forth with the teams combining for seven lead changes and nine ties. Neither Stockton or Austin could build more than a three-possession lead and the Kings went into the break leading by six.
Tensions were high throughout the half. Both DeJuan Blair and Walker received technical fouls and Blair would later be ejected after picking up his second technical in the second half. The official report says he was ejected because of a “review for a possible hostile act.”
Ahearn was in the ref’s ear all night.
“I know what I can say and what I can’t say,” Ahearn said. “That’s an experienced crew and I think we all understand that we’re competitors in the heat of the moment. I’ve got a bit of sarcasm, and I throw that in there to keep it light.”
Austin tied the game at 91-91 after three quarters and dominated in the fourth, hosing Stockton to just 23.5 percent shooting with four field goals. The Spurs turned the ball over just four times in the second half compared to seven in the first.
“Our guys did an unbelievable job responding to a first half that was very mediocre,” Ahearn said. “It was a goofy first half defensive wise and they guarded and shared the ball. In this league when you do those things, you have a good opportunity to win.”
The Spurs were better when Trice was on the floor. He was one of just three players to have a positive +/- at the half and he finished with the best point differential on the team with a +36 and played more minutes than any other player.
The Michigan State grad played in Australia during the 2017-18 season and spent time with the Wisconsin Herd before joining Austin in January. Since joining the Spurs, he leads the team in points (17.4) and assists (8.5).
“Coach really got on us at the half for our defense,” Trice said. “Multiple times this year, the fourth quarter comes around and we kind of use it. But we put an emphasis on our defense and sharing the ball and that’s what we did.”