The Hustle return to the friendly confines of the Landers Center as they wrap up the regular season with a 3-game home stand. First up on the ledger, the Western Conference leading Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Hustle enter the matchup with a 4-0 record against the Vipers on the season, including 2-0 in the regular season after sweeping a road trip in Texas last weekend. Despite the success, defeating a good team 5 times in a row is no easy feat. Pressure is on for the Hustle, who will be spending the final 3 games of the season fighting for a playoff spot. The Hustle are certainly poised to finish the season strong, with both Santi Aldama and Yves Pons assigned to the Hustle for tonight’s game and hopefully the remainder of the week.
It was a close game early, as both teams traded baskets throughout the first 6 minutes of the game. The Vipers were able to hold onto a slim lead throughout the opening minutes of the quarter, but the Hustle clawed and stayed in the game as the Vipers missed their first six 3-point attempts. The Vipers started to make a couple of their 3-point shots, helping them take a 9 point lead in the quarter. The Hustle were able to respond and took a lead over the Vipers in the final minute of the quarter thanks to some big time buckets by Ben Moore. The Vipers got the last basket of the quarter, though, and took a 29-28 lead into the second frame.
The Hustle came out firing to start the 2nd quarter, making 3 triples in the opening minutes of the quarter to take a 10-point lead in the opening minutes of the quarter. The Vipers were able to fight back with a couple of 3-pointers to make it a one point game, but the Hustle responded with a run to get their lead back up to 5. The Hustle maintained that lead until a late run gave them a 9-point lead at halftime. Ahmad Caver was fantastic in the second quarter, scoring 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in the quarter alone.
Santi Aldama was huge for the Hustle in the first half, scoring 19 points and picking up 6 rebounds. It was a team-wide scoring output by the Hustle with all 10 guys getting in the scoring column. The Hustle also did a good job of limiting the Vipers to just 5-23 from beyond the arc in the first half. Marcus Foster (15 points), Mfiondu Kabengele (13 points) and Anthony Lamb (11 points) paced the Vipers offense.
The teams traded baskets throughout the first half of the 3rd quarter, as the Hustle couldn’t extend their lead to anything more than 13. The Vipers went on a run midway through the quarter to complete erase the Hustle lead and take a lead of their own. The Vipers run gave them a 10 point lead late in the 3rd quarter as the Hustle struggled to execute offensively, and gave up a bunch of rebounds on the defensive end. The Vipers took a 10 point lead into the final frame after a 27-9 run over the final 6:27 of the 3rd quarter.
The Vipers run continued in the 4th quarter, as the Vipers went on a 16-9 run to start the 4th. The Hustle started settling for 3-point attempts to try and balance out the hot shooting from beyond the arc by the Vipers. The Hustle just couldn’t get enough stops in the second half as the Vipers ran away with a 128-115 victory.
It’s good to have David Stockton back. Stockton appeared in his second game since his Team USA stint and was solid for the Hustle. With Tyrell Terry out with injury, the Hustle haven’t really had a true point guard outside of Ahmad Caver so Stockton will provide some guard stability off the bench as the season wraps up. Stockton finishes with just 6 points and 3 assists but helps stabilizes the bench unit on offense.
Santi Aldama is still quite good. Aldama really shined for the Hustle and continues to put in work on assignment. His development over the last few weeks with the Hustle has been pretty obvious and a sign of things to come for the big man. Aldama finished with 36 points and 11 rebounds on 11-22 shooting. His 3-point shot is still hit or miss, and was mostly a miss tonight as he went just 1-5 from deep.
The Vipers are good at shooting the ball. After shooting 5-23 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Vipers exploded to make 13 of their 29 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half. In total, the Vipers shot 18-52 from beyond the arc. Somewhere Mike D’Antoni is smiling.