Beachcombings: Five Games to Go

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. Franchise win No. 200

With a 101-97 win over the Greensboro Swarm Wednesday night at Kaiser Permanente Arena, the Santa Cruz Warriors secured their 200th regular season win in franchise history since moving from North Dakota in 2012. Santa Cruz is now 200-145 all-time in regular season games.

“Best win” talk has permeated throughout the Santa Cruz office and broadcast crew over the last week or so with 200 on the horizon. If you’re asking me, a guy who has been in Surf City since the jump, there’s one very clear-cut answer – Dec. 12, 2013 at Bakersfield, when Kiwi Gardner dropped 23 points in the fourth quarter, mostly against Atlanta Hawks assignee Dennis Schröder, to lead the Sea Dubs back from an 18-point deficit in the final nine minutes to win. If you were one of the roughly 200 people in the building that night, you knew you witnessed something special. Then-Santa Cruz assistant Phil Hubbard, a man with more than 30 years of experience of playing and coaching pro ball, told me he had never seen anything like it. At the time, Gardner was basically Santa Cruz’s “Rudy” – he was one of the last 10 picks of the 2013 G League Draft, he was the last guy to make the regular season roster and he had barely played anything more than garbage-time minutes to that point…

And then he lit up a dude who is currently averaging 15.5 points per game off the bench for the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was incredible.

2. Standings update
The Sea Dubs are safely into the playoffs at 31-14 with five games to go. Santa Cruz can finish no worse than fourth in the Western Conference, which means the Sea Dubs will get at minimum one home game in the postseason.

But forget fourth – Santa Cruz is the No. 1 seed at the moment and tied with the red-hot Long Island Nets for the best record in the G League (the Nets have won 10 in a row to match Santa Cruz at 31-14). However, it’s a precarious lead – Santa Cruz is just a half-game up on the 32-16 RGV Vipers and a game up on the 30-15 Oklahoma City Blue. Santa Cruz has the tiebreaker against Oklahoma City but not against RGV, and with the games left on RGV’s schedule – at 11-35 Northern Arizona and against a 23-22 Sioux Falls team that has lost eight straight – Santa Cruz likely needs to go 4-1 to wrap up the top spot in the West.

The path to a division title is much easier, as Santa Cruz holds a three-and-a-half game lead over the 28-18 Stockton Kings in the Pacific. With the Sea Dubs’ magic number at two to clinch the division (combined Santa Cruz wins and Stockton losses), Santa Cruz could potentially clinch the Pacific on Friday if the Kings lose at Grand Rapids (the Drive is playing VERY well right now) and if the Sea Dubs beat the Austin Spurs.

3. Will Cherry to the rescue
It wasn’t looking so hot for Santa Cruz on Wednesday night against Greensboro. After controlling the game in the first half, the Sea Dubs were playing some pretty sloppy basketball in the second half and fell behind Greensboro in the fourth quarter.

Luckily, Will Cherry was in top form, leading the Warriors back in front with his lock-down defense, rim finishes and outlet passes. In the fourth quarter alone, Cherry had eight points, two rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block and capped off an 11-1 run that gave the Warriors the lead for good with a full-court outlet pass off a rebound, hitting Kendrick Nunn in stride for an easy layup that forced a Greensboro timeout.

“I thought his energy was really good, so I kinda just decided to ride him out and he ended up making some plays for us, and that was key,” head coach Aaron Miles said after the game. “That was big for us, and then obviously Kendrick stepped in and knocked down some shots.”

4. Big Shot Nunn
To follow up on Miles’ last sentence above, Kendrick Nunn continued to do Kendrick Nunn-like things on the court, leading the way with 24 points off the bench in the win. As usual, the player dubbed “Bucket Man” by Miles hit some monster shots late, following up that layup off Cherry’s assist with back-to-back 3-pointers that put Santa Cruz up 99-89 with 1:49 to play.

“I think if I’m on the floor, I could contribute; bring to the game what I do, and that’s scoring the ball, making plays, making winning plays,” said Nunn, who is eighth in the G League in scoring at 19.4 points per game. “As long as I’m on the floor, I’m going to be able to do those things.”

5. What’s next?

The Sea Dubs have a busy finish to the regular season, with five games over the final nine days of the regular season. Fortunately, four of those games are at Kaiser Permanente Arena, starting with Friday night’s tilt against the defending G League champion Austin Spurs (who will not be defending their title in the playoffs at 18-27).

The final road game of the season is Monday against the South Bay Lakers in El Segundo before the Sea Dubs finish up with three straight in Surf City against Capital City on Wednesday and a back-to-back against the Agua Caliente Clippers of Ontario on Friday and Saturday.

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