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Santa Cruz Warriors vs. Sioux Falls Skyforce: Notes from the 'dunk show' in Surf City

The Santa Cruz Warriors beat the Sioux Falls Skyforce 109-93 at Kaiser Permanente Arena today to extend their home winning streak to five games and remain undefeated at home. For (more) technical fouls, insane dunks, and Kent Bazemore's critique of Jeremy Tyler's windmill dunk, read the notes below. This one got a bit long so I've divided into game notes and post-game interview notes. (Also, please vote in the poll below even if you don't feel like reading all those random words.)

The view from behind the Sioux Falls Skyforce bench during their loss to the Santa Cruz Warriors.
The view from behind the Sioux Falls Skyforce bench during their loss to the Santa Cruz Warriors.
Photo by Nate Parham's cell phone.

Game notes:

  • After a bit of moving around, media seating ended up being behind the Sioux Falls bench today. It was obvious we'd be able to hear what Sioux Falls coach Joel Abelson was telling his guys in the huddle. I was sitting next to Geoffrey Gilbert who runs the Sunrise Santa Cruz blog and works with Jerry Hoffman. He kept things lively throughout, which was fun.

  • Pre-game meal: coffee and a 1.50 slice of pepperoni pizza from Rockers on Pacific. I believe it was Mike who told me Rockers made a pretty good slice of pizza. For that price, I won't be disagreeing.

  • The anthem singer, a local artist named Gina Rene, stumbled a bit during the anthem, which is a position none of us want to find ourselves in. Kudos to the Santa Cruz crowd for being supportive when she just stopped singing and asked the crowd for help. There was a stunned silence at first and then an uneasy smattering of people reciting the words.

  • Sioux Falls came out hot, shooting 3-for-3 from the 3-point line in the first three minutes to take an 11-8 lead. The way the last two opponents have been looking for threes, you'd think the scouting report says that defending the three is a weakness for the Warriors. In reality, it's looking like people are just reluctant to take the ball inside against a starting frontline of Mickell Gladness and Jeremy Tyler.

  • I figured before this one that Sioux Falls would give the Warriors more of a challenge because of their size in the post. One thing that stands out is that they did come out and execute better than some of the Warriors' other opponents.

  • Leslie showed off some of his athleticism with his driving layup around the five minute mark: he drove right at Skyforce center Dexter Pittman and finished the shot over him while slapping the board with both hands. Not often you see a guard pull off something like that.

  • Despite the fact that SF was running their sets pretty well early on, Santa Cruz's perimeter defense has been disruptive enough to create some turnover and fast break opportunities.

  • The Warriors were up 18-6 in points in the paint at the 2:32 mark in the first quarter.

  • Pittman was impressive around the basket, really pushing Chris Johnson around. It's a good test for Johnson and as strength has been mentioned a few times as something he needs to work on.

  • Chris Johnson's release on his jumper is great - he does a great job of keeping the ball high when he goes into his motion, which helps him shoot over most defenders. 7'5" Skyforce center Will Foster looks ginormous from our perspective and has long arms. And Johnson shot right over him with 8:01 left in the second quarter.

  • At that 8:01 mark, Sioux Falls was 3-for-9 from three point range. After going 3-for-3 in the first few minutes, they've bene 0-for-6 since, including an airball from Nichols who looked confident early.

  • Skyforce coach Joel Abelson is imploring his team to run every time down the floor and they're much better in their early offense when Santa Cruz hasn't yet established themselves.

  • The best part of Warriors guard Kent Bazemore's alley oop dunk with under 6 minutes left in the second quarter: he sprinted all the way back on defense to try to defend the fast break. Gladness ultimately blocked the resulting shot by Arnette Moultrie at the rim.

  • Bazemore again sprinted back to defend a shot by Mike Davis on the fast break and clearly fouled him. Davis and coach Abelson were beside themselves about the no-call. The game was getting physical both ways and Abelson is trying to restrain himself with one tech already for stepping onto the court to complain about an earlier call.

  • We could definitely hear the opposing coach's talk during timeouts. With 2:33 left in the first half he was telling his guys to make sure they hit somebody every time a shot goes p to prevent offensive boards. The Skyforce are down 14 points and rebounding is not their problem so far: the Warriors are losing the offensive board battle 10-3. The other comment: go up strong at the rim instead of trying to finger roll it.

  • Sioux Falls' coach is really upset with the refs and while he was going at them after a particularly noticeable missed call with around 2 mins left, referee Brett Nansel said, "Joel, Joel - that's enough." Then Pittman gets a tech (which I couldn't see particularly well) and comes over to explain what happened to the coach. Restraining himself was getting more difficult.

  • Leslie's dunk over Pittman off a beautiful cut and pass from Tyler was crazy. What's amazing about Leslie is how quick he gets up, whether it be for dunks or blocks. Pittman honestly never had any chance to defend that because he just can't jump with Leslie.

  • After Bazemore tossed up a shot to beat the buzzer with 4.8 left in the second he was cursing the refs as well wondering how he didn't get the foul. He was using much more colorful language than I'm using to describe it though.

  • Halftime was Bazemore's favorite act: the dunk guys. Shame he had to miss it today while in the locker room. But he might have been disappointed anyway: they missed a few dunks though so maybe they're just better on the road than at home.

  • The Warriors are up 56-38 at halftime and it's easy to see why: Sioux Falls was apparently inspired by Springfield's approach of living from the 3-pt line but after going 3-for-3 early they're 3-for-10 since. To their credit, they're beating SC on the boards 11-3, but with SC shooting 62.2% and having scored 22 points off of 16 Skyforce turnovers, second chance points assume less importance.

  • It's a blowout, but Santa Cruz PR is plenty happy about that: another sellout, plenty of highlight plays, much to be happy about for SC. It's probably safe to expect another dunk show video again.

  • I see why they like Mo Baker: he's a talker on D and can be easily heard from across the arena yelling "DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD DEAD." and telling players where to go while setting up.

  • I'm still not sure what I feel about the faux-ninja turtle mascot, but I'm pretty sure that he/she/it would have a good chance to win a dance contest against other mascots. Nice salsa moves.

  • Skyforce forward Demetris Nichols is actively cheerleading from the bench even with SF down 20 poitns with under a minute left in the third.

  • Sioux Falls shoots 5-for-7 from late in the third to early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to 91-79. It's worth noting that Santa Cruz took its first team out of the game with 3:11 left in the third quarter, but a lot of it was just Sioux Falls starting to make some of the point blank shots there were missing early on.

  • Warriors turnovers really started to hurt them early in the fourth as well. The game is really starting to get physical. Sioux Falls' Bryant Voiles had a nice pass to Moultrie for a big facial dunk to cut the lead to 93-83.

  • The place got dead quiet with 5:56 left and Mark Tyndale at the line. And for the first time, the two Sioux Falls fans in the back of section A got loud.

  • Sioux Falls' entire was bench standing when Voiles shot a 3 with 5:02 left and the team down 8. It would've been huge for them. Instead Hannah hit a 3 to push lead back to 11. The entire Sioux Falls bench sits down dejected after that one. To Nichols' credit though, he's still getting up to cheer his team on when CJ goes to line for 2 with 4:16 left.

  • Chris Johnson's second free throw was the Slurpee shot. Congratulations, to him and the sellout crowd in attendance.

  • And just like that, it goes from 8 to 18 in less than 2 minutes. 2 turnovers during that time killed Sioux Falls along with the big 3s for the W's.

  • I don't think I've ever seen anything like Leslie's alley oop from Hannah: Leslie put the ball through the rim one-handed and wasn't even looking at the rim. He was tracking the ball during his backcut after Hannah threw it, continued looking at the ball when he and it were both in the air, and then put it through the rim while still looking at Hannah. He came down, still looking at Hannah, and they shared a laugh as they got back on defense. That was absolutely insane.

  • Hot dogs went down to $1 with a minute left. Then I saw the full sign, which was hot dogs, peanuts, and popcorn (I think) all down to $1. Therefore, for the low low price of $3, you could leave Santa Cruz with full meal of a hot dog, peanuts, popcorn and a Slurpee. In fact, I think that gets you something from all the major food groups if you count the Slurpee as pureed fruit.

Post-game interview notes:

  • After the game, media spoke with Bazemore, Johnson, Tyler, coach Nate Bjorkgren, and Mickell Gladness.

  • For those wondering, there's nothing new in terms of Golden State communicating with Bazemore about his contract with the deadline looming on January 10. But putting up 21 points (game-high), 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals (game-high) today in 33 minutes can't possibly hurt his cause either.

  • Tyler mentioned his working with Santa Cruz assistant Vitaly Potapenko as a positive, as it gives him the opportunity to work with a post with more NBA experience. Both Gladness and Tyler described Potapenko as a student of the game who knows the tendencies of all the NBA players. So if you were looking for additional benefits of Tyler being with Santa Cruz, there's that.

  • Tyler, when asked whether the Golden State coaching staff asked him to attack the basket more: "It's hard to know what they want me to do. But I just figure they drafted me based off of what I've done before. So I just want to do everything that I've been doing to perfection. So, just running the floor, rebounding, trying to get blocked shots, running the offense, being in proper defensive spacing and just playing hard. So I think that's what they're looking for."
  • Bazemore's task from the Golden State staff has been simple: play defense, particularly with him proving that he can score in the D-League.
  • There was a brief period of time when it felt like Tyler wasn't much of a factor in the game, but he still ended up with 18 points. What still stands out might be the 4 turnovers that he had, one off a behind the back pass on a fast break late in the game. Bazemore's comment about that: "If you can do anything at any point in time, it's probably not the right move...He was probably having fun, experimenting a little bit, but don't let it get too out of hand."
  • One question that came up with Johnson, as someone who has been around the league for a while, was just how good this team is. Everybody believes they can make a deep playoff run, but they also mentioned just making cleaner rotations and continuing to move the ball on offense as things to work on.

  • Bazemore's redshirt year at Old Dominion sounds pretty entertaining. In addition to not being able to dribble, by his own account, he nearly got ejected from a game for celebrating at the end of the bench during one game. Yes, his celebration skills are something that he has been working on for years.

  • Apparently, Tyler's windmill dunk late in the game was the source of some joking in the locker room. Bazemore on that: "We was joking about it in the locker room: he got a little toe drag. If he was 6'8" he probably would've gotten hung."

  • Bazemore's comment on Leslie's dunk on Pittman was more positive: "I don't even think he bent his knees."
  • A couple of silly dietary notes: Johnson believes that Lance Goulbourne would be the one most likely to get a Slurpee after the game.
  • We learned after interviews that the final score was changed from 109-93 because there was a scorer error, in case you're confused from what you saw on the final scoreboard.

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