It was a rough stretch. The playoffs had been envisioned for the division-leading Austin Spurs for a prolonged period of time. A five-game losing streak and three-game home skid had hindered any excitement in the Cedar Park Center for the past week.
With a chance to clinch a playoff berth against the Texas Legends, Austin gave their fans something to cheer about. The Spurs defeated the Legends 106-93 after an exciting performance filled with numerous dunks, fast break alley-oops and authoritative blocks.
“[The win] means a lot,” said Deshaun Thomas, who led the team with 21 points. “One thing about this team is we stick together, even through hard times and adversity. I came back and just to tried to be a leader as much as I can, keeping them going and fighting to clinch a playoff spot.”
Thomas returned after missing the previous two games. He nearly posted a double-double, recording 9 rebounds. Most importantly, he brought back the Austin Spurs signature aggressive style of play that head coach Ken McDonald constantly preaches.
“We made more of a stand defensively, for sure,” McDonald said. “[Deshaun] jumped right back in rhythm. Cady [Lalanne] was a big guy coming off the bench. I could hear his voice and see his energy throughout the game.”
Lalanne finished with 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, and Keifer Sykes and Nick Johnson added 16 apiece. The Spurs offense was brought to life in the third quarter, where they transformed a first half deficit into a 12-point lead in the 12-minute timespan.
In a sport where the three-point shot is becoming increasingly prevalent, the Austin Spurs played to their strengths near the hoop. They outscored the Legends 68-38 in the paint and outrebounded them 52-35. Eight Legends’ shots were rejected by Austin, and Austin kept the energy high in the arena by frequently attacking the rim and dunking.
“We got big guys like me, Cady, Youssou [Ndoye] who can score,” Thomas said. “The three-point ball is a special in this league now. But also, getting easy buckets and getting to the free throw line can help too. Coaches want us to be greedy and play hard on the defensive end.”
Austin used these adjustments to purge their miniscule halftime deficit. In a first half that featured 15 lead changes, the teams started essentially equal. The Spurs changed this result by pushing the pace after halftime, creating high-percentage layups on countless fast break attempts.
“Our guards were rebounding it tonight and pushing it,” McDonald said. “When your guards are rebounding and starting to break, it’s going to allow some driving lanes for easy baskets.”
The driving lane to the championship is now open for the Spurs, who have clinched a spot in the NBA D-League playoffs. Austin has five more contests in the regular season before the playoff grind begins on April 5.