Five Takeaways From NBA G League Ignite Debut vs. Santa Cruz

By chcook | February 10, 2021

After months of practices and scrimmages, it was finally time for Team Ignite to make their G League debut against the Santa Cruz Warriors in the opening game of the 2020-21 NBA G League season. Behind 19 points from star prospect Jonathan Kuminga and 23 points from NBA veteran Jarrett Jack, Team Ignite earned a 109-104 win over the Warriors on Wednesday afternoon.

Here are five key takeaways from Team Ignite’s win.

1. Kuminga In Command

Jonathan Kuminga was the star of the day as he finished with 19 points, four assists, two rebounds and two blocks in 33 minutes for Team Ignite. Making his professional debut, the 18-year-old looked poised well beyond his years and showcased all aspects of his game.

He scored in the post, he showed off his shooting range, he beat defenders off the dribble going both left and right, and either finished himself or found teammates for open looks. There was a patience to his game as he allowed plays to develop and made smart decisions with the ball in his hands.

“I wasn’t impressed because I see it every day in practice,” Ignite coach Brian Shaw said after the game. “It’s what I expect; it’s what I see every day. He does a lot for us and you guys are just seeing the beginning of what he can do.”

In addition to his contributions on offense, Kuminga also sealed the victory with a monster block on a Jordan Poole driving layup attempt with 7.2 seconds remaining in the game.

2. Second Quarter Ignition

Less than four minutes into the game, Team Ignite found themselves trailing 12-4 before they were able to settle themselves and get into a rhythm.

“They had some butterflies when game started and you saw that by how we were reactionary when game started,” Shaw said of his team following the game. “But as game went on we really figured it out and started to catch up to the speed of the game and the physicality of the game.”

Team Ignite led by two points, 33-31, at the end of the first quarter, but Santa Cruz would open the second period with a 12-0 run to take a 10-point lead. This was a great test for the young Ignite squad to see how they would respond to the adversity, stop the bleeding and try to make a run of their own.

And that is just what happened. Team Ignite would outscored the Warriors 32-5 over the next nine minutes to take a 17-point lead into the final minute of the half, and carried a 15-point lead into the locker room.

3. Slow Start, Better Finish for Green

In addition to Kuminga, the other prospect many pundits see as a top five lottery pick from Team Ignite is Jalen Green, who finished with 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes in his professional debut.

After making his first shot of the game – a layup with 9:41 left in the opening quarter – Green went scoreless for the rest of the first half, shooting 0-3 from the field, missing his two 3-pointers and committing two turnovers.

“Jalen pressed a bit; he was trying too hard, which is natural,” Shaw said after the game. “In having conversations with him about how other teams are gunning for him based on the attention he’s getting. I expect him to bounce back from this game and have a better game next game.”

Shaw thought Green was trying to do too much and was forcing his offense rather than taking what the defense gave him. To help get Green going in the second half, Team Ignite ran its opening play of the third quarter for him, clearing out to allow him to isolate. He beat his defender off the dribble and scored a layup.

Green would go on to score nine points in the second half and was at his best when he was in open spaces – he got a pair of transition opportunities, including this one on the nice feed from Kuminga.

4. Veterans Shine for Team Ignite

While the primary role of NBA veterans Jarrett Jack and Amir Johnson is to serve in a mentoring role for the young Team Ignite squad, that doesn’t mean that can’t still get buckets.

Jack scored a game-high 23 points on 9-10 shooting from the field, including 3-3 from beyond the arc in just 18 minutes off the Ignite bench. The 13-year NBA veteran is mentoring young guard Daishen Nix and Shaw played the two of them together so Jack could talk Nix through situations on the court and they could play off of one antoher.

A great example of that came on the final play of the third quarter, as Nix drove the lane, drew in the defense and kicked it out to a wide-open and red-hot Jack in the right corner for a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“He’s a very smart kid, the way he sees plays, which is something I haven’t seen in a lot of young players,” Jack said of Nix after the game. “I was just encouraging him to be aggressive, he was deferring to me and I said we can do this by committee. I know he’s here to establish himself, and I thought he did a good job of controlling the game.”

Jack, who said he feels better physically now at 37 than he has at any point in his pro career after dealing with a pair of gruesome knee injuries and an ankle surgery during his time in the NBA, still has aspirations of getting back to the league and contribute for a team.

“My whole reason to be down here is to help those young guys and potentially showcase myself and get an opportunity,” he said.

In addition to Jack, Team Ignite also features NBA veteran Amir Johnson and Bobby Brown, who played overseas for the past 10 years before joining Team Ignite. Johnson finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench, while Brown had eight points and three assists in 28 minutes as the starting point guard.

5. Close Game Down the Stretch

While Team Ignite took a 19-point early in the fourth quarter, Santa Cruz made a run to not only get back in the game but made it a single-possession game in the final two minutes, forcing the Ignite squad to show poise in a clutch situation.

This is where having the veteran presence of Jack and Johnson with their years of NBA experience really paid off for Team Ignite. After a pair of free throws by Nico Mannion made it a three-point game with 1:41 to play, Jack came back down the floor, used 20 seconds of the shot clock before burying a pull-up jumper to push the lead back to five.

Santa Cruz made it a three-point game again on a layup by Jordan Poole with 36 seconds left, but once again it was Jack that had the answer with a jumper to push the lead back to five with 19.3 seconds left.

After a quick foul by Kuminga led to a pair of free throws by Kaleb Wesson to once again make it a one-possession game, Team Ignite pushed the lead to four on a free throw by Brandon Ashley with 14 seconds left. That was followed by the Kuminga block on the other end to ice the game and give Team Ignite its first win.

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