Ignite hang on for third win in last four tries
The G League Ignite held off a comeback effort from the Salt Lake City Stars to pick up their third win in their last four outings.
This year’s NBA development group beat the Stars, 112-107, Friday, Nov. 18 from The Dollar Loan Center. Earlier this month, the Ignite blew a 12-point lead in a one-point loss to Salt Lake City.
“Winning cures all,” center Eric Mika said. “Even if guys are banged up, it just feels good to get it done. That’s a big part of the G League, sometimes the refs aren’t great and sometimes you don’t feel great because you just played a game.
“We’ve had a game every other day now for the last week or maybe even longer. We’ve had a lot of games, we were getting banged up but you just get it done. When you get it done, everything feels good.”
Overall, the team is now 3-4 on the year and currently sit in third place of the Western Division.
It was the team’s first game back since returning from a two-game Oklahoma City road trip, marking the team’s first home game since Nov. 12.
There will be another near two weeks before the Ignite will return to The Dollar Loan Center as it prepares to head to the road for four straight games.
“They’re starting to know each other,” head coach Jason Hart said. “They’re cheering and rooting for each other. At the end of the day, that’s what you’re looking for in a team. They’re all pulling for each other because everybody plays and everybody gets an opportunity.”
Those string of games will begin with back-to-back road matchups with the Ontario Clippers. As of now, Ontario (6-1) leads the Western Division.
Paint presence provided the Ignite with the necessary spark to propel the team to its first win streak of the season.
Mika used a layup to end an 8-0 SLC run as part of his nine-point first quarter. He has scored 17 first quarter points over the last two games. “My role is to get the ball moving,” he said while crediting his coaches during his career. “I hate when the ball sticks. I hate it because it looks bad, everyone looks bad and it sort of throws off the rhythm of the whole game.” Hart opted to move Mika into the starting lineup two games ago in Oklahoma City.
“Eric allows for players to go back into their roles and he can be the voice of the defense and the offense,” Hart said. “That allows other guys to settle into their roles and it’s huge for us because he’s another coach on-the-court.”
Whether starting or coming off-the-bench, the five-year pro has settled into his role on-the-court.
“My role is to help the young guys be ready mentally but more importantly physically for these games,” Mika said. “They have the big dudes on the other teams and that’s been a nightly thing. I feel like we’re getting banged up in the middle every single time.
“Teams definitely see us and see our young guys and think it’s an opportunity to be physically dominant, set a little bit harder screens and play a little bit dirtier on defense because guys are young [...] I definitely know my role is to counteract that.”
The Ignite won the points in the paint battle, 62-42. Mika finished with an 11-point, 10-rebound double-double to go along with five assists.
Fellow big man Efe Abogidi packed the paint for spells when Mika left the floor. With the team up one in the third quarter, he stuffed a posterizing dunk attempt on one end and ran the floor for a two-hand flush on the other end.
He would later hit a turnaround jump shot to put the Ignite up five. He’d end the night with eight points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocks.
“That’s something that coach and I talked about back in July or August,” Mika said. “He wanted me to start games to sort of set the tone and the tempo. Then as we get farther into the season, it will flip-flop. Efe will be more experienced, be more physical, put on some weight – be more used to the game. It’ll slow down for him from the jump.
“The hope is he kind of takes over and I would kind of fade out into the darkness.”
With Abogidi anchoring the charge, the Ignite built a lead as large as 18 points in the third quarter and it would prove to be the team’s largest deficit of the night.
Guard Scoot Henderson left the game with 9:02 remaining in the second quarter after banging heads with Stars forward Leandro Bolmaro, who first collided with Ignite guard Aubrey Dawkins. Henderson would leave the game and not return. “No, because he’s not going to want to do that,” Hart said when asked about the possibility of shutting him down for the season. “He’s a hooper and he’s super competitive. That’s like resting on what you’ve [already] done and he hasn’t done anything yet, if you ask him. So he’s still trying to become his own [version] of great.”
Earlier this season, Henderson missed a game due to right quad soreness as well as leaving the team’s second exhibition game after banging knees with Metro 92 center Victor Wembanyama.
Both have been believed to be precautionary moves.
Guards Mojave King and Pooh Jeter picked up the slack, scoring 21 points apiece on a combined 14-of-25 from the field.
Guard Babacar Sane added 15 points on 6-of-13 shooting while Dawkins chipped in 11 points off-the-bench.