SALT LAKE CITY — Martin Schiller has often spoke of “stretches” during his 10 games as the Salt Lake City Stars' head coach.
Offensive scoring droughts, defensive lapses, or some combination thereof, have been a theme for the Stars during their 1-9 start.
On Monday, it was another stretch — a 40-point second quarter from Rio Grande Valley — that proved to be their undoing.
“It was our lack of defense, our lack of getting back, our lack of transition defense,” Schiller said following his team’s 117-104 loss in an honorary home game at Vivint Arena on Monday.
Added Stars combo-guard Naz Mitrou-Long: “We just didn’t execute, you know what I’m saying? They knocked down shots. They went on a burst — 40 points in the second quarter. That’s just unacceptable, and why we lost the game.”
Jazz two-way players Eric Griffin and Nate Wolters led the Stars in scoring, finishing with 23 each. Griffin also added four rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots, while Wolters contributed five rebounds and five assists. Jazz assignee Tony Bradley finished with eight points on 3-of-9 shooting and pulled down eight rebounds, tying with Mitrou-Long for a team-high in only his second G-League game.
Bradley, who has played only a combined 70 minutes in the NBA and G-League during his time with the Jazz and Stars, cited a lack of conditioning and experience as the reasons for his struggles Monday.
“Most of the time, I just try do my own conditioning, like before or after practice,” explained Bradley, who played 29 minutes Monday. “My own conditioning is still not game-shape. It’s different.
“I just need more reps, more experience, more playing experience. That’s it.”
The Vipers, who entered Monday’s game as the highest-scoring offense in the G-League (124.7 per game), got out to a 17-10 lead behind the sweet-shooting of RJ Hunter, who converted his third consecutive 3-pointer with 8:33 in the first quarter. The Stars responded with 10-3 run to even the game at 20 before a series of turnovers and missed opportunities allowed the Vipers to close the opening frame on a 10-6 run.
The volatility of the 3-point shot loomed large in a second quarter that saw the Stars shoot 38 percent from the floor and 0-8 from three while yielding 40 points to Rio Grande Valley.
Down 34-32 with 10:21 remaining in the second quarter, the Stars endured a scoring drought that lasted a little over three minutes before Jermaine Taylor laid in an alley-oop delivered by Naz Mitrou-Long to reduce their deficit to 11. But the lead only continued to grow for Rio Grande Valley, which behind a combined 28 points from Hunter, Demetrius Jackson and Danuel House during the final 7:05 of the second quarter, entered halftime with a 70-51 lead that Salt Lake only lightly approached in the second half.
The Vipers, who famously prioritize shots near the basket and from 3, shot an ultra-efficient 66 percent from the field during their second-quarter scoring onslaught.
“For whatever reason, we just stopped trusting our defensive principles,” said Mitrou-Long, who finished with 21 points while shooting 4 of 14 from three. “We just weren’t rotating on the backside, we weren’t getting out to shooters.”
Back-to-back buckets from Griffin and Mitrou-Long pulled Salt Lake as close as 14 with 2:54 remaining in the third quarter before a 19-8 run by the Vipers swelled the deficit to 23.
Salt Lake had a brief chance to cut its deficit to single digits after a pair of Wolters’ free-throws cut it to 11 with 1:19 remaining in the fourth quarter, but a missed Mitrou-Long three on the ensuing possession ended any sliver of hope the Stars had.
“I’m looking forward to a week of practice,” Schiller said. “We can go back to work.”
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