The Hustle opened up their season in the G-League bubble earlier today against the Austin Spurs. After not playing in 340 days, Jason March’s team was able to take the floor again although the team was drastically different. With Ahmad Caver and Shaq Buchanan the only returning players from last year who played, March had to incorporate a bunch of new players into his system. Fortunately for March, a couple of those players were highly touted prospects from last years draft on assignment with the Hustle.
It was somewhat of a slow start for the Hustle who started just 2-13 from the field to start the game. The ball movement was great, but the Hustle’s nerves showed as they were unable to knock down shots. Jason March was able to get his team to settle down a little bit and after being down by as much 8 points, the Hustle were able to cut the Spurs lead down to just 2 late in the first quarter. Shaq Buchanan was key in the Hustle’s mini-comeback, scoring a quick 4 points and 2 steals to energize the Hustle. The Hustle really struggled in transition defense in the first quarter, with the Spurs scoring 6 fastbreak points with a handful of other scoring opportunities coming early in the shot clock. The Hustle found themselves down 28-24 at the end of the first, which I think Jason March will take after the slow shooting start.
The Hustle had another slow start in the second quarter as the Spurs were able to jump back out to a 8 point lead early. The Hustle were able to bounce back and cut the lead deficit to just 3, but Robert Woodard continued a monster first half to help push the Spurs lead to 13 late in the first half. The Hustle were able to storm back in the final minutes of the first half, ending the 2nd quarter on a 10-0 run and cutting the Spurs lead to just 2, 58-56.
The 3 returning Hustle players from last season really paved the way for the Hustle comeback. Ahmad Caver finished the half leading the Hustle in scoring with 12 points and picking up 5 rebounds. Shaq Buchanan scored 9 points to go along with 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Bennie Boatwright, who was on the team but didn’t play last season due to injury, chipped in 9 points, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. Hustle newcomers Tyrell Terry and David Stockton scored 8 points a piece in the first half.
The Hustle shot just 35% from the field and 23% from beyond the arc. Those shooting numbers, along with Robert Woodard chipping in 17 points for the Spurs, and the Hustle have to be pretty happy to be down just 2 at the halftime break.
The Hustle opened up the second half much improved on the offensive end and found themselves with a 7-point lead early in the 3rd quarter. Tyrell Terry was a catalyst for the Hustle to start the second half with some nice finishes around the rim and some nice passing as well. The Spurs were able to respond, by continuing to push the pace, and tie the game back up midway through the quarter. The Hustle were able to respond late in the quarter to push their lead back up to 8 points, entering the final quarter with a 90-82 lead over the Spurs.
The Spurs responded at the start of the 4th and cut the Hustle lead back to a one possession game but the Hustle offense really woke up in the quarter and jumped out to a 10 point lead by the midway point. The Spurs got hot from beyond the arc late in the 4th and were able to come back and tie the game up in the final few minutes. The Hustle offense froze late in the game under pressure as the Spurs hot shooting helped them retake the lead and ultimately win with a final score of 119-111.
Talking with Jason March postgame, he said he was excited to get back on the court after nearly a year off. He mentioned there were a lot of hiccups on the court with various things like the scoreboard, officiating, and of course the on-court product as well and that the team will have to adjust to the new normal. March also mentioned that he wants to share the ball more tomorrow, with the team having just 20 assists today. He also mentioned that he thinks the defense can be cleaned up after watching film.
March also acknowledged that the team is fairly small, until they get Jontay Porter who is recovering from knee soreness. The team has a lot of flexibility to go small, though with a ton of talented guards and wings — including Tyrell Terry who played well after joining the team on a flex-assignment just a few days ago.
We also got to speak with Ahmad Caver postgame who mentioned he was excited just to get back out on the court after the long layoff. I asked Caver about him and Shaq Buchanan taking on a larger leadership role as they are the only two players on the roster who played minutes last year with the Hustle and Caver said that they definitely wanted to be leaders and talk to the new guys and calm them down but to just play with energy and have fun. Caver also said they’re still getting used to playing with one another.
It’ll be a quick turnaround for the Hustle as they are set to tip off against the Canton Charge tomorrow at 2:30 PM CT from the Gubble in Orlando, FL.