Beachcombings: Played Hard Until the End

By Kevin Danna

What's going on with the Santa Cruz Warriors? Sea Dubs broadcaster Kevin Danna provides an insider's look at the team.

1. Season comes to a close

The 2018-19 season came to a close one game short of the G League Finals for the Sea Dubs. After taking care of the Oklahoma City Blue 117-102 Friday at home in the Western Conference Semifinals, Santa Cruz lost to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 144-125 Tuesday night in the Western Conference Finals.

Friday’s win was impressive to say the least. The Sea Dubs scored a franchise playoff-record 77 points in the first half and built a 27-point halftime lead; it was arguably the best half of basketball Santa Cruz played all season. Oklahoma City crawled all the way back to within eight in the fourth quarter before Santa Cruz closed things out for good.

Tuesday’s game started out well enough, as Santa Cruz got out to a 38-32 lead after the first quarter in large thanks to a 13-2 edge in points off turnovers in the opening frame. From there, however, it was all RGV – the Vipers scored 43 points in the second quarter to take a 16-point halftime lead, forcing 12 Santa Cruz turnovers in the second in the process. RGV built a lead as big as 28 in the third quarter; you figured a run for Santa Cruz was eventually coming, but the Sea Dubs never got within 18 in the fourth quarter and the Vipers cruised into the G League Finals thanks to hitting 22 three-pointers and guard Gary Payton II going for a points-rebounds-STEALS triple-double (20 points, 12 rebounds, 10 steals, seven assists).

From a Santa Cruz perspective, Kendrick Nunn balled out in both playoff games, scoring 31 points in the win over Oklahoma City before going for 29 points, seven boards, five assists and three steals in the loss to RGV. Darius Morris also had a nice outing Tuesday night, putting up 21 points and 7 assists.

2. Takeaways from the 2018-19 Season
Despite the big loss on Tuesday night, the 2018-19 season was a great one for the Santa Cruz Warriors. The Sea Dubs went 34-16 in the regular season, tied for the best record in the G League and second most regular season wins in franchise history. While it didn’t show Tuesday night, Santa Cruz owned the best defense in the G, leading the league in opponents’ scoring, defensive rating, steals per game and turnovers forced per game in the regular season. Heck, even in Tuesday’s loss, the Sea Dubs still forced a whopping 26 turnovers (yes, the Vipers love to get up and down so there are a lot of possessions to be had, but still, 26 turnovers is a lot). As head coach Aaron Miles would say, this team would really “guard its yard.”

The lasting memory for me from the 2018-19 season was just how hard this team played. No team in franchise history had more want-to than this group. There were plenty of games the Sea Dubs pulled out that they really had no business winning, whether it was coming back from 19 down against Agua Caliente, 18 down against Northern Arizona, erasing a double-digit deficit in the final half of the fourth quarter at Iowa or storming back from nine down in the final five minutes in the regular-season finale against Agua Caliente (different game from the 19-point comeback).

Will Cherry played like a man possessed, always upping the defensive intensity when he stepped onto the floor. Juan Toscano-Anderson and Kevin Young kept countless possessions alive with their grit and hustle – even in Tuesday’s 19-point loss, Young was a +13 in the 13 minutes he was on the floor. These dudes were integral to winning.

This was a great group through and through, and Aaron Miles and staff – assistants Mike Lee and Kris Weems, player-development guys Anthony Vereen and Tommy Abdenour, two-way coach Luke Loucks, strength coach Isaiah Covington and athletic trainer Long Lam, not to mention GM Kent Lacob and assistant GM Ryan Atkinson – did a tremendous job with this group. They will be missed.

3. What’s next?
On the 2018-19 front, RGV will play the Long Island Nets in the G League Finals. Game 1 is Sunday, Game 2 is Tuesday and Game 3 (if necessary) is April 12.

On the 2019-20 front, you might be wondering who will be back next year, and your guess is as good as mine. Your typical G League team will have a small handful of returners from the previous season (Damion Lee, Antonius Cleveland, Michael Gbinije and Kevin Young all played for the Sea Dubs in 2017-18), so the 2019-20 Santa Cruz Warriors are going to look a LOT different.

My immediate hopes? That a few of these guys get Summer League work with Golden State, especially Juan Toscano-Anderson. It’d be great to see Kendrick Nunn on an NBA regular-season contract next year; he certainly proved his worth on the court (I wouldn’t be mad if he was on a 2-way deal with Golden State and Santa Cruz). Deyonta Davis can be a rotation player in the NBA, and Antonius Cleveland is 100 percent an NBA player. His stats don’t necessarily scream as much, but on such a deep roster, minutes were tough to come by at times. All you have to do is take one look at him when he plays and you can see the athleticism and defensive capabilities oozing out of his pores, not to mention his very solid jumper.

It’s been real, folks. See ya next year.

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