A promising start to the week gives way to defeats
The Hustle’s game week started out strong, showing off a dominance that we’re unaccustomed to en route to a 19 point victory. The unfortunate victim? The now 5-10 Greensboro Swarm, who were swept away by the Hustle’s 1st quarter offense and never looked like threatening a comeback. On a bittersweet note, Natch the Bear saw out the last game of his 10-day contract, so we’ll see if his mascot performances merited an extension. Once attention swapped back to the floor, fans were treated to an opening two minutes with no baskets. Then, Ivan Rabb made a layup and the Hustle kicked it up a gear.
After their first two points, the Hustle ferociously swarmed the paint, and Greensboro simply wasn’t able to contain them. With seven minutes left in the quarter, the Hustle had a 15-2 lead. Whenever the Swarm had possession of the ball, the Hustle defense forced them into taking bad shots. Meanwhile, Memphis continued to attack the paint with impunity, capped by a Vince Hunter alley-oop and Jordan Crawford burning defenders en route to the basket. At the end of the quarter, the Hustle led 32-18, and that lead would hold for the rest of the game.
With the lead growing as big as 25 points, this game was over before the fourth quarter buzzer signaled the end of regulation. The Hustle never allowed Greensboro to find any sort of rhythm, all the while maintaining their own efficiency on offense. A large part of that effort is credited to Omari Johnson, who led scoring for the Hustle with 18 points. Plus, the Hustle hit a season-high 52.4 percent from the three-point line. While that’s a great percentage, Dusty Hannahs took a look at that number and decided he could do better in the next game against the Oklahoma City Blue.
Unfortunately, that game turned out to be a loss. Memphis couldn’t contain the Blue’s Bryce Alford, who dominated off the bench with 35 points. The Blue got out to a 30-20 lead at the end of the first quarter and never found themselves trailing. Their lead increased to as much as 25 over the course of the game, but the Hustle found an extra gear in the fourth quarter, putting up a whopping 49 points. An excellent performer during the Hustle’s three-game home stretch, Omari Johnson put up 20 points; Dusty Hannahs, in 15 less minutes of play time, shot lights out from beyond the arc. 11 of his 23 points came in the fourth quarter comeback attempt, which he spearheaded alongside Kobi Simmons’ 13 fourth quarter points.
Despite the momentum, the comeback was thwarted when the Hustle’s nemesis on the night, Alford, banked in a three pointer. Beyond Alford’s contribution, the Hustle struggled to maintain the defensive intensity they displayed against Greensboro. OKC outshot us 62-42 in the paint and also shot at their highest percentage of the season at 56.1 percent. While it’s thrilling to see a comeback, we shouldn’t be forced to make up so much ground. Next time, it’d be nice to savor Hannah’s stellar shooting record with a win.
Instead, the Hustle were accommodating enough to hand the Iowa Wolves their first road win of the season. The Wolves somehow all found hot hands and shot 65 percent from the field in the first half, ending with a 65-49 lead. Each starter for Iowa scored at least 13 points, making it tough to pinpoint an easy defensive target. Sometimes, though, you have to chalk it up to a bad night. None of the Hustle players really shot well; Hannahs wasn’t able to keep up his heroics, while Omari Johnson, despite a respectable 18 points, missed 8 of his 12 three point attempts. Not a great return, Johnson still turned in one of the better performances for Memphis and continued his solid sequence of games.
The Hustle's record now stands at 6-9. While it’s not the best end to this series of home games, reinforcements will hopefully be coming to the team. Austin Nichols and Jeremy Morgan, with an ankle and knee problem, respectively, should provide a welcome boost when they return to action. For now, the Hustle head to California for their next two games against Santa Cruz Warriors and South Bay Lakers. The latter holds an 11-3 record, so it would be an excellent time to bounce back and get a statement win over one of the better teams of the season so far.