On Thursday evening, the Santa Cruz Warriors clawed their way back from a double-digit deficit to propel past the higher seeded Los Angeles D-Fenders, securing a victory in the opening game of their first-round playoff series.
Beating Los Angeles by a score of 140-27, the Warriors' point total was a season high. Cameron Jones and Seth Curry combined for 74 points, while the latter scored a franchise-record of 44 points, sinking nine long bombs from beyond the arc all the while.
As impressive as such outings were, the offensive output of Golden State assignee Ognjen Kuzmic proved to be all the more refreshing. Attacking the D-Fenders' front-line with a new found confidence that wasn't often on display during the regular season, Kuzmic added 15 points of his own on 6 of 8 shooting from the field. As usual, the big man also crashed the boards, grabbing 10 rebounds. An eye-popping seven of those grabs happened to be on offensive glass.
Having averaged just 6.8 points through 29 contests in the regular season, Kuzmic wasn't the most assertive big man down in the low post. A rather raw prospect, he appears to still be learning the pro game in the states, and stands to be a work in progress. That said, Kuzmic still emerged as the NBA D-League's leading rebounder with 11.7 per game.
As Santa Cruz locks in and hopes to sustain a respectable playoff run, Kuzmic's work began paying off at quite the opportune time, and the Warriors undoubtedly reaped such evident benefits right away.
Having such a low-post threat will certainly help the Warriors' offense become all the more versatile down the stretch. Further evidence, as to just how mightily the big man's presence was felt can found in some rather telling plus/minus statistics for the game. Whereas Kuzmic was a +16 (higher than both Jones and Curry), his front-court opponent, Brandon Costner, was a -14 for Los Angeles.
If Kuzmic can continue to to assert himself and come through in the clutch, such a postseason quest could become a much easier one for Santa Cruz in the days and (potential) weeks to come.
The likes of Jones and Curry may be the team's resident "stars," so to speak, but Kuzmic certainly stands to serve as a potential X-Factor.