What’s going on with the Santa Cruz Warriors? Sea Dubs broadcaster Kevin Danna provides an insider’s look at the team.
1. Thrilling Finish to the Regular Season
What a way to end the regular season for the Santa Cruz Warriors, who head into the playoffs on a three-game winning streak to finish up the 2018-19 campaign at 34-16, which is tied with three other teams for the best record in the league. It’s also the second-best regular season record in franchise history.
After beating the Capital City Go-Go 120-116 Wednesday night, Santa Cruz had a back-to-back with the Agua Caliente Clippers on Friday and Saturday to wrap up the regular season. It would turn out that Santa Cruz would need to win both games to get a first-round bye, while Agua Caliente would need to win one of the two to get into the playoffs.
The weekend did not get off to a good start, as Santa Cruz fell behind 60-41 in Friday’s game before heading into halftime down 15 points. However, the Sea Dubs roared back in the second half, eventually taking their first lead of the game midway through the fourth and going on a 10-1 run late in the fourth to “pull away” for a 113-109 win.
With both the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Oklahoma City Blue winning their finales on Saturday to get to 34-16, Santa Cruz knew by early in the first quarter of its season-capper that it would need to beat Agua Caliente one more time to get a first-round bye and secure the No. 2 seed in the West (RGV had the tiebreaker over Santa Cruz, while Santa Cruz had the tiebreaker over Oklahoma City). Otherwise, Santa Cruz and Agua Caliente would be right back at it in a first-round game Wednesday at Kaiser Permanente Arena. As head coach Aaron Miles told his team before Saturday’s contest, the regular season finale was very much like a playoff game – having won on Friday, Santa Cruz could get past Agua Caliente with another win on Saturday. Lose, and it would essentially turn into a best-of-three series.
Saturday’s game was a lot closer throughout, with neither team ever taking a double-digit lead. That said, the Clippers looked like they were starting to pull away late, taking a 107-98 lead with 4:57 to go in the game.
But as they have done all season, the Sea Dubs fought back. After Agua Caliente’s Manu Lecomte missed a 3-pointer that looked like it was going in that would have put the Clippers up 12, Michael Gbinije came right back to drill a three to get Santa Cruz within six. Then Kendrick Nunn had a steal and score, and a Darius Morris and-1 and the Clippers’ lead was down to two. Buckets by both Morris and Nunn gave Santa Cruz the lead, but the Clippers tied it back up at 110-110 with 22 seconds left to set up the final play of the regular season.
Nunn, who was making his first start of the season, brought the ball up with the shot clock off. This was his show – either he was eliminating the Clippers from postseason contention, or we were going to overtime. Nobody else was touching this thing. Sizing up Lecomte with three seconds to go, he made his move at the top of the arc, crossing over one way, stopping at the foul line and creating enough separation to put one up at the horn.
Swish. Santa Cruz gets the bye. Agua Caliente’s season is over.
“Just everybody get out the way,” Nunn said when asked about what was going through his mind on that final possession (he later said it was the fifth or sixth buzzer-beater of his career). “Let me go one-on-one.”
“It was exciting. Hard-fought battle on both ends. It was fun, fun to be a part of,” head coach Aaron Miles said after the game. “Competitive greatness is being at your best when your best is needed, and we had guys step up and make plays. We talk about resiliency; it’s pretty much been like that the whole season.”
In my seven years with the team, there really had never been a more exciting finish to the regular season.
2. Playoff Picture
So the Sea Dubs are now in postseason mode, and the G League Playoffs are considerably different than the NBA Playoffs. For starters, 12 teams make it (six teams from each conference) instead of 16. Also, the first three rounds leading up to the G League Finals are all do-or-die, single-elimination rounds, while the finals are a best-of-three series.
As mentioned earlier, Santa Cruz wrapped up one of the two first-round byes in the Western Conference as the No. 2 seed. The Sea Dubs will play the winner of Tuesday’s game between the third-seeded Oklahoma City Blue and sixth-seeded Salt Lake City Stars on Friday night at 7pm at Kaiser Permanente Arena. The top-seeded Rio Grande Valley Vipers, meanwhile, await the winner of the Stockton Kings and Memphis Hustle.
If Santa Cruz wins and RGV loses, Santa Cruz will host the Western Conference Finals on April 2 (if RGV wins, the Vipers host through the Western Conference Finals as the No. 1 seed).
Dates for the best-of-three G League Finals series are April 7 for Game 1, April 9 for Game 2 and April 12 for Game 3 (if necessary). If Santa Cruz makes it to the finals, the Sea Dubs would get two games at home against any team out of the East with the exception of the 34-16 Long Island Nets.
It’s an exciting time to be a Sea Dubs supporter. Come on out to Kaiser Permanente Arena for some Friday night fun.
3. End-of-Year Statistical Champions
Making their living on the defensive end, Santa Cruz wrapped up the regular season leading the G League in opponents’ points per game (101.7), steals per game (10.8), turnovers forced per game (19.7) and defensive rating (100.3).
Here are your team leaders for the 2018-19 season:
- Points per game: Damion Lee (20.3), Kendrick Nunn (19.3- 9th in the G League; Lee did not play in enough games to qualify for league-leader status)
- Rebounds per game: Deyonta Davis (7.5, 19th in the G League. Davis’ first 10-day contract with the Atlanta Hawks runs out Thursday. The Hawks can sign him to another 10-day and then for the rest of the season after that. If they do not sign him to another 10-day, there is a chance he could re-join the Sea Dubs for some or all of the postseason run), Juan Toscano-Anderson (7.0)
- Assists per game: Darius Morris (6.3), Will Cherry (4.3)
- Steals per game: Antonius Cleveland (1.62), Will Cherry (1.57)
- Blocks per game: Deyonta Davis (1.33)
- Field goal percentage: Deyonta Davis (.591), Kevin Young (.523)
- 3-point field goal percentage: Marcus Derrickson (.419), Damion Lee (.398)
- Free throw percentage: Kendrick Nunn (.857, 10th in the G League), Marcus Derrickson (.841)