The Hustle return to the friendly confines of Landers Center as they end the regular season with a 3-game home game. First on the ledger, the Western Conference leading the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. The Hustle come into the game 4-0 against the Vipers this season, including 2-0 in the regular season after sweeping a road trip to Texas last weekend. Despite the success, defeating a good team 5 times in a row is no small feat. The pressure is on for the Hustle, who will spend the last 3 games of the season fighting for a playoff spot. The Hustle are certainly set to end the season strong, with Santi Aldama and Yves Pons assigned to the Hustle for tonight’s game and hopefully the rest of the week.
It was a tight game early on as both teams traded baskets throughout the first 6 minutes of the game. The Vipers were able to hold 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 making some of their 3-point shots, helping them take a 9-point lead in the quarter. The Hustle were able to react and take a lead over the Vipers in the last minute of the quarter thanks to big buckets from Ben Moore. The Vipers, however, got the last basket of the quarter and took a 29-28 lead in the second period.
The Hustle came out shooting 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 few 3-pointers to make it a one-point game, but the Hustle responded with a run to regain their lead to 5. The Hustle held 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 grabbing 6 rebounds. It was a team-wide scoring outing by the Hustle with all 10 guys entering 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 attack.
The teams traded baskets throughout the first half of the 3rd quarter as the Hustle couldn’t extend their lead to more than 13. The Vipers ran midway through the quarter to completely erase the Hustle’s advance and gain the advantage over 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 defensively. The Vipers took a 10-point lead in the final quarter after a 27-9 run in the final 6:27 of the 3rd quarter.
The Vipers’ run continued into the 4th quarter, as the Vipers led a 16-9 run to start the 4th. The Hustle began to settle for 3-point attempts to try to balance the Vipers’ hot shot from beyond the arc. The Hustle just couldn’t get enough saves in the second half as the Vipers ran away with a 128-115 win.
It’s good to have David Stockton back. Stockton appeared in his second game since joining Team USA and was solid for the Hustle. With Tyrell Terry injured, the Hustle haven’t really had a real playmaker outside of Ahmad Caver, so Stockton will provide some guard stability off the bench come season’s end. Stockton finishes with just 6 points and 3 assists, but helps stabilize the bench unit on offense.
Santi Aldama is still quite good. Aldama really shined for the Hustle and continues to work on missions. His development over the past 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 always hit or miss, and was mostly missed tonight when he only went 1-5 deep.
The Vipers are good at throwing the ball. After shooting 5-23 from beyond the arc in the first half, the Vipers exploded to make 13 of 29 attempts from beyond the arc in the second half. Overall, the Vipers shot 18-52 from beyond the arc. Somewhere, Mike D’Antoni smiles.