The drama never ends; at least the second game didn't have a single digit gap?
The Hustle eked out a hotly contested victory by three points. But is that even news? If anything, these incredibly close encounters are almost becoming routine. It would be nice if, down the stretch, the Hustle could comfortably see out the game. But hey, a win’s a win, and the victory against the Delaware 87ers made it two on the bounce last Saturday. Included among the standout performers were local boy Austin Nichols, who put up 18 points on 8-15 shooting, and included seven rebounds for good measure.
Against Delaware, the word of the day was efficiency. Not always the Hustle’s strong suit, they managed to make more field goals than the 87ers, even while taking 20 less shots (Memphis’ 41 of 85 vs Delaware’s 39-105). In addition, the Hustle went 8-18 from three point range while Delaware put up a shocking 9-38. That meant plenty of wasted possessions for the 87ers, which the Hustle used to good effect early on when racing out to a 10-2 lead, ending the first quarter up 27-19. Delaware tried to keep pace for most of the second quarter, but Omari Johnson’s 10 points during the quarter helped extend the Hustle’s lead to 14 at the end of the half.
Trahson Burrell exploded for 11 points on 100% shooting in the third quarter, leading the Hustle to their biggest lead of the night at 81-61. The quarter ended with the Hustle holding a 17 point lead, and that was where things got dicey. I’m sure that, in a line of fine print on each Hustle players contract, is a mandate that each contest be as close as possible. That, certainly, is a more palatable explanation than a late-game collapse which almost saw the victory slip away. It’s not the first time we’ve seen this from the Hustle, but they still held on for the win. One of the main factors was the inability to shut down Delaware’s Chris Wood, who scored 13 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter. His dunk to make it a three point game with the clock edging close to zero made the end more nervy than it should have been. To their credit, however, Memphis never relinquished their lead the whole game.
In the end, the victory was an important step to settle a changing team. It’s tough with Grizzlies players coming and going, but it was a big loss for the Hustle when our parent team called up Ivan Rabb to help with the Grizzlies’ injury crisis. While he wasn’t at his best after the concussion, Rabb had been one of the top performers for the Hustle in the early season, and his absence leaves a bit of a void. His consistency would have been helpful for a team that struggles in the fourth quarter. But, you can’t claim that the Hustle don’t ‘hustle.’ The graft and hard work luckily led them over the finish line this time. But the mentality needs to improve when game momentum shifts. But like above, a win’s a win.
Less appealing, however, was the Hustle’s next game against the Oklahoma City Blue.
“Finally,” one might exclaim, “ a Hustle outcome with a large scoreline margin!” Unfortunately, the 10 point gap favored Oklahoma City. All the damage at the Cox Convention Center was done in the first quarter, which Oklahoma took 34-24. For the rest of the game, each team scored the same amount of points in each quarter, with the Blue never looking back and holding a steady lead.
The Hustle’s loss against Oklahoma on Tuesday can be traced partly back to poor shooting. Trahson Burrell shot 2-7 and only contributed five points. Omari Johnson pitched in with 15, but only on 5-14 shooting. Marquis Teague, a strong veteran presence to keep the team competitive through their losing streak last week, put up 17 points on 5-13 shooting. For fans of homegrown talent, Austin Nichols had a decent game with 12 points on 5-7 shooting accompanied by three blocks and eight rebounds.
‘Tis the season of giving, so we’ll go ahead and ‘give’ this one to the Hustle and look forward to our winnable next game against the 4-9 Greensboro Swarm, before we have a chance at revenge against the Blue on our home turf. Rounding it out next Wednesday are the familiar foes Iowa Wolves. Make it three wins in a row, and we’ll have ourselves a positive record.