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SALT LAKE CITY — On Friday night, in front of many fans dressed up like different princesses for Princess Night, the Salt Lake City Stars donned their shining armor and went to slay the dragon disguised as the Oklahoma City Blue. What they did not realize is that this dragon had some heat and scorched the Stars, 117-103.
Things got off to a rocky start for the Stars as they found themselves down double digits after the first quarter. For the Blue, their long-distance shooting kept the Stars at bay. The Blue went 13-of-23 from the floor with six 3-pointers. Blue’s Bryce Alford had nine points in the quarter and all were on open 3-point shots.
The Stars shot a lowly 12 percent from deep and had seven turnovers. Tony Bradley had a solid start with eight points and five rebounds. Bradley was active on the glass, collecting three offensive rebounds and drawing fouls. He went 4-of-5 from the free-throw line.
There was a three-minute stretch in the quarter in which the Stars scored no points, as OKC scored nine points and grew its lead.
The Stars surrendered 40 points in the second quarter alone, and the Blue jumped out to a 72-46 lead at intermission. Shooting improved slightly for the Stars, but they stayed under 40 percent from the field. The Blue continued to win the turnover battle as they forced 15 turnovers from the Stars while SLC only forced six in the entire half.
It seemed like the clock was about to strike midnight on this fairy tale just at the end of the first half.
Things started to flip for the Stars after halftime as they went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead down to 13. But OKC found its stride after a couple of made free throws and went back on the attack, extending the lead back to 20 by the end of the quarter.
New Utah Jazz two-way player Naz Mitrou-Long posted eight points and two steals in the quarter to help spur the Stars, but OKC forward Daniel Hamilton continued his offensive showcase with 24 points in the quarter and kept the Blue chugging along. Mitrou-Long finished the game with 15 points and nine assists.
Another scoring run for the Stars brought them back within 13 with 7:32 remaining in the fourth quarter. But Hamilton and Myke Henry of the Blue closed the Stars out after that run. Henry had 25 points for the game, five points down the stretch to end the game, and Hamilton put in another four points to ice it. The Stars brought themselves to within nine, but with only a minute left, the writing was on the castle wall.
The Blue had two players with over 20 points, and three others scored in double digits. OKC shot just under 50 percent for the entire game. Despite scoring 72 points in the first half, the Blue were held to only 45 points in the second half and were actually outscored by the Stars 57-45.
Head coach Martin Schiller thought the team’s effort on defense early on dug them in a hole they couldn’t get out of.
“We started guarding, it’s like as simple as it is,” said Schiller, “72 points, then it stops being a concept. Can you guard somebody one on one? Can you take some pride in being a basketball player to guard. I think they took more pride in guarding.”
Meanwhile, Schiller praised Torian Graham, who had 20 points and was the second leading scorer for the Stars, as someone who has made strides in his development with the Stars.
“(Graham) is like defending better so we can play him. Before, he wasn’t guarding at all or not well, it was difficult to play him,” Schiller said. “He’s picked some stuff up out there so he can play more. That’s a good development.”
McCree, who the team acquired last week, was signed to the Jazz under the two-way contract, and in his third game for the Stars led them in scoring with 21 points and six rebounds. McCree was previously with the Sioux Falls Skyforce.
“Offensively, I’m a guy who can score the ball … like to get my teammates involved. Make people around me better, drive the ball,” said McCree. “You just gotta come out and play. I know they're counting on me, you’re the guy they’re leaning on, but I just gotta come out and play.”
“We gotta be more locked in and not let lapses happen,” Mitrou-Long said. “We put ourselves in holes and we try to fight back. We’ve lost a bunch of close games that we shouldn’t have lost. I think if you count those two things in, that’s the story of us right now. We’re gonna keep fighting to try and flip the script.”
The next game for the Stars (3-19) is Saturday on the road against the South Bay Lakers (13-7). They return home next week to face the Texas Legends on Tuesday.