Play-Off Minded Memphis Hustle upset the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 122-113

With 11 games left in the season, the Memphis Hustle entered in Tuesday night’s game against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 21-18 on the season. Good enough for 6th in the West, which in the GLeague is the final playoff spot, like that of the NBA’s 8th seed. Their opponents, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, affiliate of the Houston Rockets, entered into the game at 2nd, one game back from 1st, with a 28-13 record boasting a resume of years of success full of scoring and shooting from behind the three point line.

However, the Vipers couldn’t get their 55 three-point attempts to fall, shooting 23.6%, or hold on to the ball finishing with 23 turnovers (for 20 Hustle points) as the Hustle used their “grit” to come away with a 122- 113 win. Brad Jones said afterwards, “We have this thing we call it in honor of the Godfather of Grit, we call [turnovers] TAs, Tony Allens. I thought we had a lot of Tony Allens tonight that led to some easy baskets for us.”

Brad Jones announced before the game that Tyler Harvey, who was dealing with a left foot injury with no definitive timetable for a return, Dusty Hannahs, who tweaked his back in the 137-132 loss to the Long Island Nets on February 24, 2019, and Kyle Casey, who had just returned this afternoon from Greensboro, NC, where he competed with Team USA Basketball for the FIBA World Cup Qualifiers, would all be listed as out for the Hustle. Those three players combine for 41 of the Hustle’s GLeague 4th best 114.1 points per game.

The Game

Even with that to deal with, the Hustle came out and performed spectacularly. Just 1:29 into the game, the Memphis Grizzlies and Memphis Hustle’s Two-Way players, Yuta Watanabe & Julian Washburn, got things started with an impressive 2-Man display ending with a Washburn cutting layup to tie the game at 2. From there, the Vipers had their way early. Isaiah Hartenstein was getting wherever he wanted, but went 2-5 from the field in the first quarter, unable to take advantage of the sluggish start by the hometeam.

It was not until mid quarter or so when things began to look especially well for the Hustle. Namely, Yuta Watanabe. Yuta was really impressive in demonstrating his ball handling while on the move in transition, being more and more of an overall leader, playing solid defense -as always-, and facilitating fast breaks. He (7), Tarik Phillip (7), Julian Washburn (5), and Jevon Carter (7), combined for 26 of the Hustle’s 32 first quarter points.

To end the quarter Jevon Carter flashed to the right corner, directly in front of John Hollinger, Tayshaun Prince, Adam Mazarei, and Daniel Marcus, and pulled up to hit the three after a careless turnover that resulted in 2 of the Vipers’ game leading 29 fastbreak points. After the shot went in, while still in front of the front office and coaching staff, he looked at the Landers Center video board and posed with his hands on his hips before running back to defense. The Hustle still went down 34 - 32 to end the first in partial thanks to the Vipers’ Diamond Stone & Dakarai Tucker’s 7 points apiece and Gary Payton II’s 6.

To open up the 2nd quarter, Doral Moore blew the roof off of the Landers Center after getting two and-1 fouls, one of those being a thunderous slam dunk just 1:52 into the quarter. Yuta unintentionally reignited the large crowd of fans after getting hit in the back of the head on his way up to the basket, resulting in a non-call. Then only moments later, with fans still grumbling, Isaiah Hartenstein received a tech following a scuffle for the ball leading to, yet again, another uproar of applause, screams for an ejection, and a ceremonious “You can’t do that!” chant.

Doral Moore said after the game that “it feels great” to have the ability and position to make highlight plays on both ends of the court. “It gives everybody energy, gives myself energy, and it puts the pressure on the defense if I run the floor and just run,” he continued. “I draw attention on myself and everybody else gets open, gets layups and shots.”

The Hustle gained a 63-61 lead with 1:09 left in the half after a missed 16 foot jumper by Yuta that was emphatically grabbed by Moore over Hartenstein and sent back to Watanabe for a layup. This was the first time the Hustle lead since 2:07 left in the first, and they never looked back as they went on to win outright without losing the lead or tying the game.

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Memphis extended their lead following a missed Dakarai Tucker layup that was sent back for Julian Washburn to slammed back in off a missed three. Then, a Jevon steal, bucket, and two free throws later, the Hustle walked into the locker room sitting with a comfortable 5 point lead, 68-63.

Jevon kept it up immediately out of halftime, hitting a three to start out the final 24 minutes strong. The third quarter belonged to Memphis. Not a sentence too often heard in the Mid-south when referring to our professional basketball. With 6:13 left in the quarter, Yuta pulled up for a three off the assist from Jay-R Strowbridge for the Hustle’s largest lead of the game of 18. The Vipers eventually closed the gap to 11 as the quarter came to a close.

Going into the 4th quarter up 100-89, Tarik Phillip met his February scoring average of 20 points to open up the 4th quarter for the Hustle with an impressive layup that garnered a few “oohs” and “ahhhs” and gave the Hustle enough gas to go on a miniature 6-0 run to out the lead back at 16.

Things got slightly rocky after that due to a lack of execution by the Hustle on both ends of the floor, much to Brad Jones’ visible frustration, but to give the team a bit more credit the officiating didn’t help much either. There were a number of times throughout the game when a Hustle player, notably Yuta, would be in the middle of either going up to the basket or would catch a body drifting around screens and get absolutely pummelled with a deafening silence of an official’s whistle.

With 3:23 left in the game the Hustle called a pivotal timeout with their lead at only 10, 113-103. Jevon Carter was sure to ease any fans’ worry for his final and total 22 points of the night. With 1:12 left in the game, Julian Washburn hit the dagger 23 ft three of the assist by Jevon Carter to win the game 122 -113 behind  a very impressive scoring distribution. “In my mind I thought it would be like that, or maybe hoped it would be like that,” Brad Jones said of the 6 Hustle players in double digits (3 with 20+). “I’ve played these guys more minutes than I’ve played them all year long. One, because we’re in the playoff stretch. Two, because I really love what that group was able to do.”

OUTLOOK

With just 10 games left to play in the regular season, I asked Brad Jones what he liked about the team’s play moving forward into the final stretch of the season. He said, “One thing I love about our team is our grit. I love our grit and our grind, who we are, we try to figure things out. They’re fun to coach… frustrating to coach at times, but we had a great practice yesterday, these guys were locked in today, and, as a result, we got the big big win on our home floor.”

It isn’t going to be easy moving forward for Memphis. Those final 10 games are all against bonafide and fringe playoff teams from the Western conference with a home and home split with the 1st seeded Santa Cruz Warriors, 3rd seeded Oklahoma City Blue, and the 5th seeded Sioux Falls Skyforce. The other 4 games are all on the road with one in Stockton versus the 4th seeded Kings, two in Salt Lake City against the Stars who are currently looking into the playoffs from 7th seed just 1 game behind the Hustle, and one in Agua Caliente to take on the Clippers who are only 1.5 games back from the Hustle.

NEXT UP

The Hustle take on the Santa Cruz Warriors on the West coast, the first game of a 4 game road trip. Damion Lee and the Warriors most recently defeated the OKC Blue on Sunday and will be back in action tonight against the Grand Rapids Drive.

Jay-R’s Long Awaited Memphis Debut

Announced on Monday afternoon, the Memphis Hustle claimed Jay-R Strowbridge on waivers to fill in the absence of Marcus Keene who left the team to play in South Korea for Jeonju KCC Egis, according to a report from Hustle Broadcast Color Commentator and Grind City Media’s Jon Roser. Jay-R and Nino Johnson, were both in this season’s training camp, but didn’t make the opening night roster because of roster crunches. “It’s funny because Nino and [Jay-R] were both the last two cuts that we had, and it kinda comes full circle now they’re back on our team,” Jones said before the Tuesday evening playoff matchup. “It’s a good lesson, right? You never know when a door closes, when another one may open, so we are excited to have both of them back with us.”

Getting to make his Hustle debut against his former team where he played under current Raptors’ head coach, Nick Nurse, Jay-R unfortunately went 0-6 from the field and 0-4 from deep, but, with the team’s second most assists (4) in the second to least amount of minutes (13), Brad Jones had high praise: “Just got off a plane from Canada and hadn’t been around us. Even though he couldn’t make a shot, I thought he helped us.”

Before the game, Jones spoke a bit more on Jay-R and what he’ll bring to the team.

GrizzEric Lentz