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Defense Pushed Austin To Winning A G League Title

Editor Dakota Schmidt looks at how phenomenal defense helped lead the Austin Spurs to winning an NBA G League title.

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Back in my G League Finals preview, I spent a lot of time raving about the marvelous defense of the Raptors 905. To anybody that’s had an eye on the G League for the last few years, that mindset shouldn’t surprise anyone as the 905’s defense has been fantastic since Jerry Stackhouse took over as head coach back in the fall of 2016.

During this past regular season, the 905 held opponents to score a league-low 97.7 points per game. That defensive success carried over into the post-season as the 905 held their first two playoff foes, Grand Rapids and Westchester, to 88 and 92 points, respectively.

However, the 905’s status as a spectacular defensive powerhouse quickly evaporated once they reached the G League Finals and met the Austin Spurs. Thanks in part to an extremely deep back-court that’s headlined by the duo of Darrun Hilliard and Derrick White but also features great scorers like Olivier Hanlan, Nick Johnson and Jeff Ledbetter, the Spurs were able to pull off a clean sweep over the 905 as they won both games in the best-of-3 series.

In Game 1, that pairing of White (35 points) and Hilliard (23 points) were the headline acts as they combined to score 68 of the team’s points in their 105-93 victory over the 905. As the teams entered Game 2, the 905 did a pretty decent job of shutting down that pairing as the duo combined to score 21 points on 8-30 from the field.

However, their strong 2nd unit trio of Johnson, Ledbetter and Hanlan were able to pick up the slack. In that series-clinching game, the trio combined to score 47 of the their points on an extremely efficient 17-28 from the field and 10-17 from beyond the arc in the Spurs 98-76 victory.

Aside form an extremely talented backcourt, the main reason why the Austin Spurs left the G League Finals as champions was their dominating defense. Although the 905 were never known for their great offense, the Spurs just shut them down from all areas, whether its from beyond the arc or inside the paint.

In Game 2, the Spurs defense held the 905 to shooting a jaw-droppingly low 7% from beyond the arc on 27 perimeter attempts. That incredibly low perimeter shooting percentage was largely due to the Spurs’ great defense as the bigs stayed up when guards were shooting and the rest of the team just either stuck by their man or made great closeouts.

Looking away from the perimeter, Austin’s pick-and-roll defense was just on-point when it came to guarding both the back and front-court. The cohesiveness between the two units led to a lot of 905 errors as the opposing team committed 21 turnovers over the course of the game. Last but certainly not least, the stellar front-court pairing of Matt Costello and Amida Brimah took care of business as they held the 905 to shoot just 50% from inside the restricted area during that Game 2 victory.

When most people look back at the Austin Spurs winning the G League title, they’d either talk about Derrick White’s 35 point outing in Game 1 or Nick Johnson being a consistent offensive threat that ultimately won the Finals MVP. However, my thoughts when I look back on this series will be the fantastic defensive performance that the Spurs put in during both games. Because while White and Johnson were fantastic difference-makers, that defense was just flat-out dominating from the moment the series began.