EL SEGUNDO – Los Angeles made franchise history with a 118-110 victory over the Salt Lake City Stars at the Toyota Sports Center on Thursday. Now at 7-2 on the year, the D-Fenders are off to the best start in a season since the team’s inception 10 years ago.
Vander Blue notched his eighth 20-point game of the year with a team-high 27. Los Angeles Lakers assignment Ivica Zubac had a dominant showing, notching his second double-double of the year with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and point guard Josh Magette also contributed a double-double effort – his fourth of 2016 – with 18 points and 13 assists. Justin Harper (13) and Julian Jacobs (11) each finished in double figures.
Salt Lake City (1-8) was paced by 35 points from Atlanta Hawks assignee DeAndre’ Bembry. Meanwhile, Sundiata Gaines and Henry Sims also contributed strong showings for the Stars, finishing with 20 points each.
Despite eight points in the opening quarter from Blue, the D-Fenders got off to a slow start in the first frame, thanks in large part to 10 team turnovers. Bembry, Sims and guard Marcus Paige combined for 22 points in the first as the Stars took a 28-21 lead into the second frame. In the second, Los Angeles outscored the Stars, 28-24, but still trailed by three at halftime.
A balanced scoring effort that saw eight players score wasn’t enough to decrease the deficit in the third quarter, as the Stars used a one-point scoring advantage to take a 83-79 lead into the final frame. The back-and-forth blows continued into the fourth, well into the game’s closing moments, but an 8-0 run midway through the fourth quarter allowed the D-Fenders to take a lead in a contest that included 12 lead changes.
With less than two minutes remaining and needing a play, LA got one. As Los Angeles clinged to a slim 109-107 lead, David Nwaba drew a charge on Bembry that gave the D-Fenders the ball. The play that immediately followed would prove to be the game-clincher for the home team, as Magette converted on a 25-foot pull-up jump shot that gave the D-Fenders a 112-107 lead with 1:17 remaining. The Stars would not recover.
Overall, the D-Fenders shot 47.1 percent from the field, compared to a 51.7 percent mark for Salt Lake City. Los Angeles outnumbered the Stars 18-6 in second chance points, while also converting 29-of-37 free throw attempts on the day.