SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Once trailing by as much as 17 points against the Santa Cruz Warriors, the Los Angeles D-Fenders used an explosive fourth quarter to take a 116-114 win on Saturday from the Kaiser Permanente Arena.
Los Angeles (2-0) led by no more than three points on the day, but it was good enough to remain undefeated on the season despite a challenging back-to-back series to open the year. The D-Fenders outscored Santa Cruz 40-25 in the final frame.
Guard Vander Blue led the team in scoring with his 25 points, 14 of which came in the final quarter as the D-Fenders fought their way back. Forward Justin Harper was integral in the comeback effort as well, recording 24 points and 14 rebounds that was good for the team’s only double-double on the day. Guard Speedy Smith matched a career-high with 19 points off the bench.
For Santa Cruz (0-1), guard Phil Pressey did a bit of everything with his stat line of 25 points, six assists and five boards. Scott Wood, Cameron Jones and Elgin Cook each added 16 points for the Warriors.
Cold shooting throughout the first half put the D-Fenders in a hole that was almost too much to overcome, as the visiting team trailed, 59-42, through two quarters. Los Angeles shot just 35 percent (16-of-46) in the first half, while the Warriors shot an efficient 45 percent that included a 10-of-20 mark from three-point range.
The third quarter was a back-and-forth affair, as seemingly every Los Angeles run was cancelled out by one from the Warriors. Harper led the way with 13 points in the quarter as Los Angeles would pull to within six points of the lead before another Santa Cruz run brought the third period to an end at 89-76.
But Los Angeles shot a staggering 61.9 percent from the field in the fourth frame to seize the momentum, and ball movement led to open looks as the D-Fenders knocked down 6-of-12 shots from three-point range to go along with 10 assists. The Warriors were unable to finish out the effort that gave them the lead for more than 46 minutes of the contest, going just 9-of-21 from the field in the final quarter.
In all, Los Angeles shot 43 percent (40-of-92) on the night, compared to a 46 percent (45-of-97) mark from the home team. The D-Fenders owned the advantage in assists, 30-25, while Santa Cruz enjoyed a slight 50-48 advantage on the glass.