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Beachcombings: Darius Morris' Winning Plays Tendency

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. On Track for a Road Split

The Sea Dubs are halfway through a four-game road swing in the state of Texas, dropping a hard-fought 97-89 contest to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on Thursday before roaring back to the defeat the Texas Legends 121-116 in Frisco.

If it wasn't for that pesky second quarter, Santa Cruz would have probably beaten RGV. The Sea Dubs took a 20-18 lead after 12 minutes but got outscored 36-17 in the second to fall behind 54-37 at halftime. The Sea Dubs roared out of the gates in the second half, ripping off a 26-4 run to start the third quarter before the Vipers settled back in. The Sea Dubs and Snakes went back and forth most of the rest of the way, as it was an 88-87 RGV lead with two minutes left before the Vipers pulled away down the stretch.

Saturday was a thriller. The Sea Dubs alternated quarters in playing great defense and allowing Texas to go buck wild. Leading 65-54 at the half, the Sea Dubs gave up 45 third-quarter points to the Legends before buckling back down and giving up only 17 in the fourth and just four in the final 5:30 of the game (more on this finish later).

The Sea Dubs are now 17-6 and four games clear of the 12-9 Stockton Kings for first place in the Pacific Division. They are also equal in the loss column with the 19-6 Oklahoma City Blue for home court throughout the Western Conference Playoffs if they were to start today. First things first- get in the tournament, and there is still more than half the season to play.

Santa Cruz wraps up this Texas trip with a Thursday game against the 2018 G League champion Austin Spurs before returning to RGV on Saturday to finish it off. After Thursday's 0-2 stint against the Houston Rockets organization (the 97-89 loss to RGV followed by Houston's 135-134 OT win over Golden State at Oracle), the Sea Dubs owe RGV one. An 18-7 record might be a game off the OKC Blue pace, but a split of this very tough trip (Texas might be 8-17 but its roster was loaded against Santa Cruz, boosted by two Portland assignees and the return of 2012 G League MVP Justin Dentmon) would be very, very good.

2. That Darius Morris Clutch Gene

Four-year NBA veteran Darius Morris had spent most of the Texas game focusing on distributing the rock in his PG role, but when he caught the rock open in the left corner with his team down 116-115 with 37 seconds on the clock, Santa Cruz fans knew two things: 1) Darius was going to shoot it and 2) Darius was going to make it.

It didn't matter that Morris was just 2-of-7 from the floor at the time, as soon as he caught it, I said to myself, "that's money." And it was, and it gave Santa Cruz the lead for good. He chased that 3-pointer by knocking down both free throws next trip down the floor to pad Santa Cruz's edge to two possessions with 17.5 seconds left, and then followed that up by securing the rebound off a Texas miss and getting back to the line to give Santa Cruz more cushion in the eventual win over the Legends.

It has taken Morris a bit to get back into a groove after spraining his ankle last month against Sioux Falls, but one thing is certain -- when the game is on the line, Darius will deliver. That was the third go-ahead or game-icing 3-pointer in the final minute of the fourth quarter that he has hit this season already.

Darius has that dawg in him; he's going to consistently make winning plays.

3. Juan Toscano-Anderson Expanding his Game?

We've discussed aplenty in previous installments about Juan Toscano-Anderson's hustle and how it is indispensable to the Sea Dubs. He and Kevin Young are the co-kings of the offensive rebound (and indeed, Young had five huge o-boards en route to a +16 in under 14 minutes in the win over Texas).

And yes, Juan was his old ball-so-hard self, but we did see him in a different light, as the Marquette product coolly knocked down both of his 3-point attempts. Entering the game just 1-of-9 from downtown, Toscano-Anderson confidently stroked it twice, so much so that Texas Legends analyst (and longtime G Leaguer himself, and all-around good guy from what our sources tell us) Booker Woodfox called him a "knockdown shooter" after his first triple.

Twenty-seven percent on limited attempts might not scream "knockdown shooter," but perhaps it's a sign of things to come.

4. Defensive Dubs

It's time we chat a little defense in this space. In a league that was once referred to as the "No D-League" by Jeff Van Gundy back when it was the D-League in 2014, Santa Cruz has always had a knack for strapping up the bootlaces on that end of the floor.

The 2018-19 Sea Dubs are no different -- despite giving up 116 to Texas on Saturday, Santa Cruz still leads the G League in scoring defense, allowing just 100.3 points per game in a high-pace league (the team's defensive rating of 99.4 is second behind Westchester, which is at 99.3). The Sea Dubs get it done by gobbling up the most steals in the G League (10.3 per game) while being the second best at defending the 3-point line (opponents shoot just 31 percent from beyond the arc against the Sea Dubs).

5. Santa Cruz Will be Back ... Soon

After playing in Austin Thursday and RGV Saturday, the Sea Dubs return home to take on the Austin Spurs next Wednesday (Jan. 16) and Salt Lake City Stars on the following Friday (Jan. 18). That two-game stint comprises two-thirds of the home schedule for the entire month of January, so if you need your G League fix, you're not going to want to miss those two games. Also, both Austin and Salt Lake City are right in thick of the playoff chase at the midpoint of the season, so they are critical contests from a postseason outlook.

Looking further down the line, circle Feb. 24 on your calendar. That's the date of Santa Cruz's third Oracle game in franchise history. This year, they'll take on the Oklahoma City Blue, which, if you remember from earlier in the article, are the only team with a better record than Santa Cruz in the Western Conference (and the entire G League, for that matter). It's still 15 games away, so a lot can happen, but that's shaping up to be a big one for both Santa Cruz and Oklahoma City.

The Blue beat Santa Cruz in the Sea Dubs' first Oracle game in 2017, so it's time to exact some revenge.

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