5/25/2012The Stiemroller Rolls OnThe former NBA D-Leaguer's settled into a solid role for a Boston team out for an Eastern Conference Finals berth
When Greg Stiemsma – having reached his full 6-foot-11 height by the age of 18 – led his team to an unprecedented third straight Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division IV state in 2004, he didn’t have a whole lot of competition.
Playing in the WIAC’s Division IV meant that Stiemsma and his Randolph High teammates – representing a school with an enrollment less than 200 – spent the winter taking on other schools that could host entire pep rallies in the paint.
So, when the Randolph Rockets won the state final in 2004 over Superior’s Maranatha Academy (enrollment 40), it meant that one-eighth of an entire high school was on the court with the lone task of divining what to do with a force unlike anything they’d ever seen called Greg Stiemsma.
In the eight years since Stiemsma notched a double-double to help the Rockets to the first undefeated season in D-IV in nine years, he’s taken the long way toward becoming a fixture on a Boston Celtics team just one game away from the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals. It’s a journey that started at the University of Wisconsin, took him to Turkey and South Korea and lingered, most formatively, for more than a year in the NBA D-League, where Stiemsma went from a man grasping at hope to one swatting shots in the NBA.
After he revolutionized hoops at Randolph, Stiemsma did what Wisco prep star Brian Butch did before him – head to Madison. He then spent four years at the University of Wisconsin making it look like he’d finish his career there, too. Academic troubles – which kept him off the court and, in turn, brought about a crushing case of depression – and athletic limitations plagued him, holding him to 10 minutes a game across four years and effectively chasing him out of the country to keep playing hoops.
So, after wrapping up at UW in 2008, he headed to Turkey. Then South Korea. Here, he added an offensive dimension to a game that’d long featured shot-blocking and clogging up the lane.
Then, after a couple GATORADE Call-Ups between the end of the 2009-10 season and the 2010-11 season ended up with Stiemsma spending the entirety of his contract on the bench, he headed for Turkey. There, he blocked nearly two shots a game, showing that he could still make an impact on defense in the international game.
But when the 2011-12 NBA D-League season opened – with a lockout-shortened NBA season on the way – Stiemsma was back in Sioux Falls. Recognizing, like so many other NBA hopefuls, that a compressed season would pump up demand for NBA D-League players – especially ones who could affect shots like he could – he played four games and blocked 18 shots for Sioux Falls before heading to Celtics camp and sticking.
He’s still far from polished. And although the Celtics would love to see him turn into a scorer – or at least consider himself a shooter – he played 55 games with the C’s in the regular season, blocking 1.6 shots a game and filling a hole in the Boston frontcourt created with a smattering of injuries.
And now, eight years after standing above his competition, Stiemsma’s excelling purely by fitting in.5/22/2012Green, Chasing History, Finds a HomeThe former NBA D-Leaguer's been crucial off the bench for San Antonio all year
Of all the men who took rides down Tobacco Road, stood inches away from a million flailing fingers at Cameron Indoor Stadium or watched, on the right or wrong side, as the toilet paper hung from the trees in Winston-Salem, none of them did what Danny Green did.
Over four years at North Carolina – a run that ended with a national championship in 2009 – Green became not only the first UNC player to record 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 three-pointers, 150 blocks and 150 steals, he became the first player in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to do it.
Then, after going in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he spent two years trying to convince somebody – anybody – that he could play in the NBA. And it wasn’t until he worked his way through the NBA D-League that anybody did.
Now, of the more than two-dozen former NBA D-League players to crack into the NBA postseason this year, nobody’s shown themselves as well as Green, now a reserve swingman for the San Antonio Spurs. It doesn’t hurt that he’s playing on a team that’s moved through the Playoffs like it’s had a police escort, of course. But Green’s fit his game with perfection into the Spurs’ system, providing a young spark on both ends of the floor for a team that many thought would struggle even making it up and down.
After a regular season that saw him average more than nine points and 3.5 rebounds in 66 games (38 of them starts), he’s been even better in the Playoffs. Through San Antonio’s eight games, he’s put up 10.4 points and 4.0 rebounds with just under a block a game to help the Spurs hit the Western Conference Finals without a blemish.
Coming out of UNC, Green brought with him the game dominate in college and a body built for an NBA practice squad. A tweener at 6-foot-6, 210 pounds – with no real NBA-worthy offensive game to speak of, outside of the ability to make uncontested 3-pointers – he played just five minutes a game in 20 appearances for the Cavs in his rookie season, before falling out of the league after training camp the next fall. The Spurs picked him up for two games that November, but after falling out of the league completely, Green started the comeback in January with the Reno.
There, playing for 2012 NBA D-League Coach of the Year Eric Musselman, he starred. He starred on defense, where he’d always done so, but he dominated on offense, too.
Over the course of 16 games in Reno (including a stint sharing the same backcourt with Jeremy Lin), he averaged 20.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.
While he was doing so, the Spurs – among the league’s biggest supporters, utilizers and, well, plunderers of the NBA D-League – were watching. And on Mar. 16, he earned a trip back to the NBA, when the Spurs called him up (before sending him down to Austin for a one-game assignment). So when the lockout broke and Green came back from playing abroad in Slovenia, San Antonio invited him to camp and refused to let him go.
And now, with the Spurs riding a two-series sweep into the Western Conference Finals and an 18-game overall win streak that puts them in the top 10 in NBA history, he’s just eight wins from finishing his year – his first full one in the NBA – as a part of one of the league’s finest teams.5/14/2012Five to Follow In Round 2NBA D-League alumni are moving on in the NBA Playoffs
Ramon Sessions, L.A. Lakers: Of all the NBA D-League alumni in the NBA Playoffs, Sessions shone brightest in the first round -- at least on the offensive end, where he put up 11.7 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists across the seven games, even while sacrificing minutes to a red-hot Steve Blake over the final two games. However, the former Cavs PG struggled to keep up with Ty Lawson on the defensive end, forcing the Lakers to re-shape their defensive scheme late in the series. He did, however, Now, with the Lakers set to meet the Thunder, watch to see if Sessions can find a way to slow down an even more explosive Russell Westbrook at the point.
Louis Williams, Philadelphia: Williams couldn't hit much in the first round, shooting 36.9 percent from the floor (and 15.4 percent from 3-point range), but the usually defense-optional guard turned up the intensity against the Bulls, helping the Sixers' frontcourt shut down Chicago's case of D-Rose replacements. In Philly's series-claiming win in Game 6, he picked up three steals.
Brandon Bass, Boston Celtics: Consistent as ever, Bass put in solid minutes fortifying Boston's thin frontcourt in tandem with Kevin Garnett, while still putting up nine points a game to go along with nearly six boards. In Round 2, against a Sixers team that wears its opponents down with waves of depth, Bass will come in handy for a C's team looking to gain the edge on the inside.
Greg Stiemsma, Boston Celtics: Stiemsma, just like he did during the regular season, made his minutes count. Playing just 10 a game in the first round, the former Sioux Falls Skyforce big man still grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot per game. He's used mainly as a way to spell Garnett at the 5-spot, but Stiemsma -- who made the Celtics out of training camp this year -- has proven over and over again that he's more than just a big frame.
Danny Green, San Antonio Spurs: It seems like it's been a full month since the Spurs last played, with San Antonio wrapping up a sweep over the Jazz on May 7 and then waiting a full eight days to open up the second round against the Clippers. And if it means the Spurs will come into the Western Conference semis on the wrong side of rust, it also means they'll be on the right side of rest. Look for Gregg Popovich to try to use the Spurs' depth -- including Green, who scored 8.5 points with 4.0 rebounds per game in the first round -- to grind down a Clippers club coming off a seven-game win over the Grizzlies.
Others: Joel Anthony, Miami; Eric Bledsoe, L.A. Clippers; Bobby Simmons, L.A. Clippers; Gary Neal, San Antonio Spurs; Matt Barnes, L.A. Lakers; Daequan Cook, OKC Thunder5/7/2012NBA Playoffs Round-Up: The WeekendRamon Sessions helps the Lake Show go
Ramon Sessions, Los Angeles: – Sessions, a veteran of 24 NBA D-League games, boasts the highest average scoring (13.8 ppg), passing (4.3 apg) and minute (35.8) totals of any former D-Leaguer in the NBA Playoffs, helping the Lakers out to a 3-1 lead over the Nuggets in Sessions’ first-ever postseason. And although he starred in the Lakers’ Game 3 loss to Denver, picking up 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists, his play in Sunday’s Game 4 (12 points, 4 reb, 2 asst) were enough to help guide the Lakers to a 92-88 win.
Lou Williams, Philadelphia: Williams – not to mention everybody else in the 76ers frontcourt – struggled to make anything on against the Bulls on Sunday, with Williams, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner combining to go 12-for-45 from the floor. However, he followed up a 1-for-6, 9-point shooting night in Game 1 with a 20-point explosion in Game 2 in Chicago, so look for him to find his stroke again with the Sixers out to pull off the upset in five.
John Lucas III & CJ Watson, Chicago: For the Bulls to have any shot of overcoming Derrick Rose’s injury (and now, Joakim Noah’s), they needed a lot from Lucas and Watson. They needed the version of Lucas that put up 24 against the Heat on Mar. 14 and the one that hung 20 on the Magic five days later, and they needed the Watson who so capably ran point during the long stretches of the regular season that Rose missed. At times, they’ve gotten glimmers of both. But neither one’s been able to deliver any consistent offense against a Sixers defense that’s run them into traps at every corner.
Danny Green, San Antonio: Green, who played 17 games in the NBA D-League in 2010-11, has turned into a yet another well-functioning cog in the San Antonio machine. After averaging 9.1 points and 3.5 boards a game during the regular season, he came out with only two points in Game 1, and then followed it up with 27 points and 10 boards in the next two games.
Avery Bradley & Brandon Bass, Boston: Boston’s other B’s have each had their moments of glory this year as they slid in to keep a dinged-up Celtics team afloat all year long. But ever since the Playoffs have started, they’ve slid nealty into their roles, letting the Celtics’ stars shine and doing whatever they can to contribute. For Bass, that’s meant pretty much the exact same thing every game – he’s scored eight points twice and 10 once and grabbed five rebounds twice and six, once. For Bradley, that’s meant constant shutdown defense and a one-game assignment as Rajon Rondo’s replacement Game 2, a night that saw him play all but six minutes of the game, recording 14 points, three assists, three steals and three blocks.5/4/2012May 3 Roundup: What's Cookin?Daequan Cook heats up from 3 to help OKC to 3-0 lead
Daequan Cook, Thunder: Cook was a crucial part in the Thunder’s assault from 3-point range in Game 3, sticking 3-of-6 shots from behind the arc to help pace a 43-percent night for the team from long range. He also chipped in two rebounds.
Ian Mahinmi, Mavericks:: Mahinmi (4 pts, 4 reb) wound up as the only Maverick with 10 or more minutes in Thursday night’s Game 3 to finish with a positive plus-minus rating. Sure, it was only plus-2 (in 16 minutes of court time), but on a night when Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki clocked minus-22 and minus-20 totals, respectively, Mahinmi gave the Mavs an efficient force in the post against two of the league’s premier paint presences – Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka.
Steve Novak, Knicks: All year long, Novak’s dished out steady doses of pain to his opponents – three points at a time – as long as he’s had even a few inches to operate. On Thursday, he didn’t even have that. Whenever he was on the court, the Heat consistently blanketed him, either denying him the pass or flying into his face the moment he got the ball. Without open looks or the ability to create for himself against quicker Heat defenders, he managed just two shots on the night – and didn’t make either of them.
Joel Anthony, Heat: The Heat’s big man didn’t make a whole lot of noise in Game 3, though he didn’t have to. His job was to plug the middle to keep Carmelo Anthony from driving into it rebounds from falling right into Tyson Chandler’s lap. In 11 minutes, he grabbed two rebounds.
5/3/2012Austin Toros Honored at Spurs Playoff GameToros welcomed at the AT&T Center
To the victor goes the spoils!
During a timeout of San Antonio's blowout win over the Utah Jazz in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, members of the Austin Toros championship team and the coaching staff received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd for their achievements. The Spurs, the No. 1 seed in the NBA's Western Conference, will now try to follow in Austin's footsteps and take home a championship trophy, a feat that has never been accomplished in the same season by NBA team and NBA D-League affiliate.5/3/2012Former NBA D-League Players in the NBA Playoffs - April 2nd GamesGreen, Simmons play key roles on Wednesday nightEveryone thinks of the Spurs as a veteran team -- and they are -- but they are also getting contributions from a pair of former NBA D-League players.
In the same game, Blake Ahearn, on the same day being named to the 2011-12 All-NBA D-League First Team, scored five points on 2-for-3 shooting and added two assists in just over five minutes for the visiting Jazz.
In Memphis, former Reno Bighorns forward Bobby Simmons was thrust into a bigger role due to the injury of Caron Butler who is now out for the season with a broken hand. Simmons, who played in 21 games for Reno this year averaging 13.5 points and 7.6 rebounds, stepped into the Clippers' starting lineup and scored nine points on 4-for-5 shooting. Simmons played 22 minutes and his play to replace Butler will be very important in what appears to be a hotly contested series. Memphis topped L.A., 105-98, to even the series at one before it heads to Los Angeles.
5/2/2012Former NBA D-League Players in the NBA Playoffs - April 1st GamesWilliams, Sessions shine on Tuesday nightWith Derrick Rose out, the Philadelphia 76ers guards torched the Chicago Bulls in the backcourt on their way to a 109-92 win to even the First Round series at one apiece.
On the other end, two guards with NBA D-League experience, C.J. Watson and John Lucas III, did their part to fill in for the injured MVP. The duo combined for 27 points, seven assists and only two turnovers. The spotlight will be on these two players as long as the Bulls stay alive.
Staying in the backcourt but heading out West, Lakers guard Ramon Sessions continues to play dividends for Los Angeles. Sessions helped guide the Lakers to a commanding 2-0 series lead over the Nuggets with 14 points, four assists, two steals and no turnovers in a 104-100 win. Devin Ebanks, who played in the NBA D-League as recently as this year, finished with four points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes.
Rounding out Tuesday's impressive performances by former NBA D-League players was Avery Bradley who scored 14 points for the Boston Celtics as they were able to steal homecourt advantage from the Atlanta Hawks and tie the series 1-1.
5/1/2012Former NBA D-League Players to Watch in the NBA PlayoffsThe NBA D-League will impact the NBA Playoffs
As the focus of the basketball world shifts to the NBA Playoffs, there will be about two dozen former NBA D-League players that find themselves still competing for a championship. Here are 10 of those players that should not only make their impact felt on their respective teams, but who could be playing deep into June.
Matt Barnes – Los Angeles Lakers
An NBA fixture since 2003-04, Barnes played for the Fayettevile Patriots in 2002-03. The 6-foot-7 forward had one of his better seasons this year, averaging 7.8 points and tying a career high of 5.5 rebounds in 22.9 minutes. He is a key contributor for the Lakers off the bench, especially with Metta World Peace’s recent suspension.
Eric Bledsoe – Los Angeles Clippers
Coming back from an injury this season, Bledsoe used the NBA D-League as a way to get back in shape, playing two games in late January with the Bakersfield Jam. The second-year pro played 20 minutes in Game 1 of L.A’s First Round matchup versus the Memphis Grizzlies and scored nine points and also had four rebounds and two assists.
Avery Bradley – Boston Celtics
Thrust into a bigger role with an injury to Ray Allen, and now the one-game suspension to Rajon Rondo, the younger Bradley will be counted on by the veterans in Boston. In April, the Texas product has averaged 15.1 points per game in 33 minutes per game, mostly as a starter. Bradley spent nine games, and averaged 17.1 points per game, with the Maine Red Claws last season.
Devin Ebanks – Los Angeles Lakers
The former West Virginia star has had two separate stints -- including a three-game trip this year -- to the NBA D-League. In those games he averaged over 17 points and seven rebounds. With the Lakers, he had one of his best games of the season with a 12-point, five-rebound performance in L.A.’s Game 1 victory over the Denver Nuggets to round out a strong month of April.
Danny Green – San Antonio Spurs
After spending 17 games last season in the NBA D-League -- and torching opponents for 20.1 points and 7.5 rebounds -- Green has found a steady spot in San Antonio’s rotation. In 66 games, 38 of them starts, the 6-foot-6 forward averaged 9.1 points and 3.5 rebounds for the Spurs. A national champion with UNC in college, Green will be an important piece to San Antonio’s championship puzzle
Ivan Johnson – Atlanta Hawks
Recently named NBA’s Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for April, Johnson spent part of three seasons in the NBA D-League, including a full season with the Erie BayHawks last year, where he put up 22.6 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8 rookie averaged 10.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.5 minutes for the Hawks in April and he is peaking at the right time. His days in the NBA D-League are likely over.
Ian Mahinmi – Dallas Mavericks
In 2008-09, Mahinmi was a big factor in leading the Austin Toros to the NBA D-League Finals. Now, in the absence of Tyson Chandler who was so important to the team’s success last year, the 6-foot-11 center becomes a key enforcer in the paint for the Mavericks as they try to defend their NBA title. In 61 games this season, 12 starts, Mahinmi averaged 5.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 18 minutes in what amounted to his best season in the NBA yet.
Steve Novak – New York
The league leader in NBA 3-point shooting percentage at 47.2 percent, Novak can change the course of New York’s opening round tilt with the Miami Heat from behind the arc. The 6-foot-10 forward has played for the Reno Bighorns and Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League as well as a total of five NBA teams, but after averaging a career-high 8.8 points per game this year in just under 19 minutes, it looks as if he finally found his home in the NBA with New York.
Ramon Sessions – Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers point guard was actually the first NBA player to be assigned to the NBA D-League, being sent down to the Tulsa 66ers from the Milwaukee Bucks in 2007-08. After bouncing around with a few teams, Sessions has secured a starting gig L.A. after the Lakers acquired via a trade on draft day. The youthful distributor they needed, Sessions has scored 12.7 points and dished out 6.2 assists a night for the Lakers.
C.J. Watson – Chicago Bulls
With Derrick Rose being out for the season, a trio of former NBA D-League guards, C.J. Watson, John Lucas III and Mike James, will try to fill the reigning MVP’s shoes (Adidas or not). Watson will likely be the starter, but all three will now be counted upon to keep Chicago’s championship dreams alive. With Rose being out for several different stretches throughout the year, Watson started 25 games and averaged 11.3 points and 4.6 assists in those starts.
4/30/2012The Finals Five: Austin Toros Championship RecapAustin wins first NBA D-League title
On Tuesday, few would have thought – aside from those that wore Austin Toros black and white, of course – that Austin would have hoisted the championship trophy on Saturday night. That’s because Tuesday was a rough day for the Toros. The afternoon after losing a late lead in Game 1 of the NBA D-League Finals presented by BBVA, the Toros learned that they would likely be without starting forward Eric Dawson for the series (although he did play in the Game 3) and also that starting guard Cory Joseph was recalled by the San Antonio Spurs.
At the time, the odds of eventually winning the championship seemed insurmountable. They had to beat the L.A. D-Fenders -- a team that set a record for regular season wins (38) and had yet to lose in the Playoffs -- twice in a row on its home floor, a court where they won 85 percent of their games this season.
A deep team with plenty of top Prospects left, the Toros defeated the D-Fenders running away, the two victories coming by an average of 15.5 points. It was the first NBA D-League Championship for this franchise that has won at least 30 games four times.
How did they do it? The Toros succeeded in large part due to following the model set by them by their affiliate NBA team in San Antonio. Now the Spurs, the top seed in the NBA’s Western Conference, will try to follow in the Toros’ footsteps as their Playoff run is just beginning.
So much was made after Game 1 how good the L.A. D-Fenders were at home. Prior to hosting Austin for Games 2 and 3, the D-Fenders were 23-4 at home. Well, not only did the Toros win two in a row at the Toyota Sports Center, but the D-Fenders never even held a lead in the 96 minutes of game action in L.A. Not once.
When he was told this, Austin Head Coach Brad Jones was noticeably surprised. He even turned analyst.
“That’s impressive…wow,” Jones said.
Strong first quarters were a big reason for this. In Game 2, Austin held a 30-15 advantage after the first 12 minutes, and in Game 3 the Toros jumped out to an immediate 11-2 lead in the game’s first three minutes.
It appears, especially if you look at the start of both games, that the Toros had the mental edge in this series.
“We’ve had our backs against the wall being down 1-0 every series, so I just think it’s something we held our hats on, you know, the odds are against us,” Austin forward Julian Wright said. “And going into the D-Fenders court and winning is special for us.”
He Does it All
With the win on Saturday, Justin Denton became the third straight, and fourth-ever, league MVP to win a championship. And he did so in MVP fashion, scoring 18, 26 and 30 in the three Finals games.
“It’s very special,” Dentmon said of his season. “It’s a tribute to all the hard work, on and off the court. Even just me and the coaches going in late at night and shooting free throws, just hard work.”
Speaking of those free throws, Dentmon could have purchased a small time share on the charity stripe this week. His uncanny ability to get into the paint got him to the line 31 times, and he sank 28 of them (90.3 percent).
While he rounded out a great season, he also showed off a well-rounded game on Saturday because he displayed an extended range that, if it becomes more consistent, makes him a scary proposition for any defense. Dentmon hit four of his six attempts from 3-point range in the first half on the way to having a game-high 19 points in 19 minutes at the break.
His early spark – he scored 11 points in the first eight minutes – really set the tone for the Toros.
“Really I just saw opportunities to be more of a leader than I have been this year,” Dentmon said. “It was basically just going out there and doing it. It’s easier said than done, so it’s doing it with your actions instead of speaking.”
In the Black
It was in this blog, on the afternoon of Game 3, that we highlighted Brad Wanamker and the intangibles he brings to the game. He backed it up Saturday night with a vintage performance. In the end, the Toros outscored the D-Fenders by 23 points when the Pittsburgh graduate was on the floor. The next best plus/minus belonged to Wright, who finished at +13.
Wanamaker finished with 18 points, following up his 15-point performance in Game 2, and in typical Wananaker fashion, filled up the box score with an additional six rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block. Wanamaker’s play is why the Toros did not miss Cory Joseph.
Flipping the Script
The biggest advantage that the D-Fenders had on the Toros in the first two games was in rebounding. Playing without Eric Dawson for all but 35 seconds, the Toros were out-rebounded 109-77 in the first two games, a differential of 16 per game. In the decisive Game 3, however, the Toros actually out-rebounded the D-Fenders by four.
Dawson’s impact was without a doubt important, he grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, but the team gang-rebounded as a whole much better. In addition to Dawson, three other Toros grabbed at least six rebounds.
The combination of Wright and Dawson, the two most polished big men in the series, was really the deciding factor in the paint.
“We knew they had an athletic, strong frontcourt and we always talk it starts with us,” Wright said of him and Dawson. “Meaning on defense having to see everything in front of us and having to rebound.”
Fun. Aggressive. Together.
That’s what F.A.T means for the Austin Toros and that is the philosophy that Jones created for the team. Whatever it was, it worked.
“It’s been a long journey since we started the Playoffs having six straight elimination games and being able to win all of them,” Jones said. “When we started the Playoffs we talked about we were going to have more fun than any other team in the Playoffs, and we also talked about we were going to respect and enjoy the process.”
As champagne sprayed all across Locker Room 9 of the Toyota Sports Center, it’s safe to say that the Toros more than enjoyed their Playoff run.
4/30/2012Finals Five, Game 3: L.A. D-FendersL.A. drops second straight in stunning upset loss
Elijah Millsap played the second half of Saturday’s Game of the NBA D-League Finals on one leg. And the leading scorer in the NBA D-League Playoffs still managed to put up nine points with five rebounds.
“It’s not good,” he said after the game, looking down. “Not good.”
After spraining his ankle in the second quarter, Millsap came out of the locker room hobbling to start the third. And while his limp vanished at times, the pain never did, he said.
“Not at all,” he said. “It was sore. I couldn’t do what I do best – get to the goal, get to the free throw line.”
This all came after Millsap looked poised for another offensive explosion. After putting up four 30-point performances over the past month, he’d scored 13 points in the first quarter, showing off an ability to finish at the hoop that doesn’t have many parallels at the NBA D-League level. But the injury took away his first step -- and second, third and fourth -- in the second half, limiting him to only jump shots on the offensive end.
"To do what he did on one leg was tough," said D-Fenders coach Eric Musselman.
“It was real frustrating, because I knew Justin Dentmon was gonna pull the chair on me [when it happened],” he said, “but I was off-balance.”
After a Game 1 loss, all the signs – well, except for the “Beat LA” ones that Toros fans brought with them to El Segundo – seemed to point toward an L.A. sweep. A perfect postseason to cap off the most prodigious run in the history of the league.
Then, 96 minutes of basketball later, the façade had cracked. Against a Toros team that hadn’t won on the road all postseason (although it had won two straight series after falling behind, 1-0), in a place where L.A. had lost only four times all year
“For me, I feel like the season means nothing, ya know, because we worked so hard to get all those wins,” said D-Fenders forward Malcolm Thomas. “You think you’re gonna win it all and it doesn’t happen, and it kinda feels like you did it for nothing. I know that’s not how it is, but it’s tough to take.”
Eric Dawson’s appearance in the final game – after missing all but 35 seconds of Games 1 and 2 after suffering a concussion – shocked even Dawson himself, who got clearance from Spurs team doctors to fly to L.A. before Game 3.
It'd been rumored that Dawson would be out for the remainder of the Finals. So, soon after he trotted onto the court for pregame introductions, it was clear that he wasn't in the D-Fenders' gameplan.
“Dawson was huge,” said D-Fenders coach Eric Musselman. “He was huge. Huge. This outcome could be different without him.”
Earning Their Stripes
“I’m shocked – we made one more field goal than they did, both teams shot 8-of-22 from 3, and in two games in a row, the free throw difference is the game,” Musselman said. “I’ve never been part of a game where you make more field goals and it’s the same from 3 [and you lose]. I’m really disappointed at the free throws attempted game in our home building. It’s a shock to me.
“I mean, they played great,” he continued. “But they took 43 free throws and 49 [in Game 2]. You’re not gonna beat a team when they do that. We could’ve had Kevin Durant, we could’ve a had Kobe, but when a team shoots that many foul shots you’re not gonna win. I don’t want to take anything away from Austin – they out-played us from start to finish – but it all started with the bonus in the first quarter.”
Waving GoodbyeAfter many of them spent four months in L.A., watching teammates go up to the NBA (some even getting their own Call-Ups) while those that remained compiled the best regular season record in league history, the D-Fenders will now part.
“It’s tough,” Thomas said. “It feels like Senior Night when you’re in college, but I’m pretty sure we’ll stay in contact. We all became really close.”
“[Saying goodbye] is real tough,” Millsap said. “That’s the hardest thing probably. These guys are like my brothers.”
4/29/2012Eric Dawson makes a surprise start in Game 3 and stars from the start
After suffering a concussion that forced him to miss all but 35 seconds of Games 1 and 2, forward Eric Dawson surprised everyone and played in Game 3 of the NBA D-League Finals, helping the Toros to their first-ever title. All in all, it was a fitting end to the best season of Dawson's career.
READ THE FULL STORY HERE!4/29/2012After a season of frustration, Mardy Collins heads into the summer on a high note
Mardy Collins came to the L.A. D-Fenders in 2011-12 to earn a trip back to the NBA. Instead, a string of injuries kept him from getting into a rhythm all season long. Until the Playoffs, that is. And after a 31-point night in Saturday's loss, he's got reason to be optimistic.
READ THE FULL STORY HERE!4/28/2012Game 3 Reaction: Austin Toros 122, L.A. D-Fenders 110With a 122-110 win in LA, Austin brings home the crown
The Austin Toros, a team that lost the first game of all three of its Playoffs series, used a dominating team effort to drop the top-seeded L.A. D-Fenders, 122-110, to claim the 2012 NBA D-League championship on Saturday night. We'll have much more soon, but for right now, suffice to say that the Toros just completed a season you could rightfully call the best in league history.
Eric Dawson, F, Austin Toros – Dawson, after a two-game hiatus because of a concussion suffered 35 seconds into Game 1, couldn’t have arrived at a better time for Austin. Along with Julian Wright, he tipped the balance of power in the paint toward the Toros – after two games that saw the D-Fenders out-rebound the Toros by nearly 40 rebounds combined – and finished with 21 points and 10 boards. His offensive game could get a little quicker, but it was a fitting end to the year for a player who’s made as big a leap as anyone this year, and now figures to be an NBA player in 2012-13.
Justin Dentmon, G, Austin Toros – Coming out of the gates on fire, Dentmon had 19 points by half to stake the Toros to an early lead. His quickness and outstanding body control were on display all night, and although he’ll never have the size to finish on the inside with any regularity, Dentmon proved that there’s no playmaker with more electricity in the league than the MVP. He finished with a team-high 30.
Julian Wright, F, Austin Toros – Toros fans have grown attached to Wright, the once-spurned NBA player who’s fashioned himself into one of the premier big men in the league. Against a talented D-Fenders core, he looked a level above all night long. He lost rebounds to Dawson, but he showed the fans in El Segundo what an NBA-caliber offensive game looks like
Eiljah Millsap, G, L.A. D-Fenders – Millsap looked like he was bound for a career night – and still finished with 26 points, 7 boards and 3 assists – but a sprained ankle slowed him in the second half. However, even on one good leg, he still created space on the offensive end and showed that his jump-shooting has come a long, long way.
Mardy Collins, G, L.A. D-Fenders – Collins had a year of stutter-steps, as a sprained MCL and tweaked hamstring picked apart a season that, at the pace he set Saturday, would have had him up in the NBA by mid-season. He was the singular offensive force of the night, picking up where Millsap (because of his ankle) left off by scoring 31 points, with 5 rebounds and 6 assists, showing a quick first step to get past the Toros’ guards, an ability to finish down low and a smooth jumper when he pulled up.
Malcolm Thomas, F, L.A. D-Fenders – With (the much bigger) Dawson to contend with, Thomas still scored 17 points with 11 boards. He didn’t have the success he did in the first two games, and showed some skittishness on the offensive end – after Game 1, he said that patience is the part of his game that needs the most work – but still managed
4/28/2012Break-Down: Game 3 Halftime ReportAustin carries a 67-60 lead into the half of the decisive third game
L.A. D-FENDERS: 60 AUSTIN TOROS: 67 The good news the L.A. D-Fenders is that the effort’s there. After a Game 2 performance that had all the energy of a performance review, the NBA D-League’s best team has come out of the gates in Game 3 like, well, like a team playing in the final game of the year.
The bad news is they’re still down seven.
The same problems that plagued L.A. in Game 2 have reared up again, with the Toros once again taking a huge advantage in free throws (going 21-for-26, compared to LA’s 10-for-14), points off turnovers (16, on 8 L.A. turnovers, compared to 9 and 7, respectively for the D-Fenders) and the D-Fenders still unable to keep up with the pace the Toros have set.
However, after going 53.5 percent from the floor and making a late, 13-4, run to close the half, the notoriously slow-starting D-Fenders are very much in this one.
And that’s in large part to the work of Elijah Millsap (16 points) and Mardy Collins (17), who’ve often driven the L.A. offense by themselves. While Austin’s spread the floor (with a 16-9 edge in assists), Millsap and Collins have sliced into the lane and created their own opportunities. It’s a volatile strategy, especially because having them drive into the lane means losing a guard on the defensive end (which helps to account for Austin’s 13-6 advantage in fast break points), but thus far, they’re carrying L.A. However, Millsap suffered a sprained ankle late in the half, and although he's playing, he may lose a step.
To get the win, the D-Fenders will need a big second half (once again) from Malcolm Thomas, who’s recorded only four points and three rebounds in 14 minutes, and had trouble operating in the paint on the offensive end with Eric Dawson and Julian Wright packing the middle for Austin.
Expect Eric Musselman – who yelled, “that’s 18 free throws now: defend, don’t foul” to his team three minutes into the second quarter – to call out his troops at the half and get a little more action on the defensive end, but also note that Orien Greene, the D-Fenders’ best perimeter defender, has four personal fouls already.
This game has the feel of an elimination game for both teams as the intensity is noticeably ramped up from Game 2. It’s been an offensive display, and on the strength of another strong start, the Austin Toros lead the L.A. D-Fenders, 67-60 at the break.
The Toros jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead with 9:35 left in the first quarter. The hot shooting continued as they hit nine of their first 12 shots, including three of their first four attempts from 3-point range. Justin Dentmon and Flip Murray have paced the potent Toros attack with 19 and 11 points respectively. Dentmon hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the second quarter that ignited this team and the Toros shot an impressive 7-for-14 from behind the arc as a team.
The big surprise, however, was that 6-foot-9 forward Eric Dawson, originally thought to be out for the series with a concussion, not only suited up, but started and played a little over 13 minutes in the first half. Dawson tallied with nine points and four rebounds, and, maybe as a result of his presence, the Toros were only outrebounded by one, 16-15, in the first 24 minutes. Dawson immediately becomes a focal point for this offense and D-Fenders big men Otis George and Malcolm Thomas are going to have work hard to keep him contained.
The only other Austin player in double figures is Julian Writght, who scored 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting which included a monstrous two-handed slam and a craft lefty finish over L.A’s Otis George.
Austin once again had an advantage on the free-throw line, with Austin nailing 20 of their 26 attempts while L.A. hit just 10 of their 14 attempts.
We’re 24 minutes away from crowning a champion at the Toyota Sports Center. Stay tuned.4/28/2012Take a look at the calm before the storm at the Toyota Sports Center
A select few will be on hand to witness the last game of the 2011-12 NBA D-League season, packed into the Los Angeles Lakers' practice facility at El Segundo's Toyota Sports Center. The rest of the world can watch it live on NBA Futurecast. Before tip, take a look at the scene that awaits the L.A. D-Fenders and Austin Toros at the conclusion of the greatest season in NBA D-League history.4/28/2012Game 3 Starting LineupsIt all comes down to thisThe time for talk is over. After 48 minutes (sans overtime) we will crown the 2011-12 NBA D-League champion tonight. It's been a banner year for the NBA D-League and tonight's winner-takes-all showdown between the L.A. D-Fenders and Austin Toros is a fitting end. We are underway here at the Toyota Sports Center.
Here are tonight's starting lineups. The surprise of the evening, Austin forward Eric Dawson, who suffered a concussion in Game 1, will play tonight and his impact in the paint will have a huge bearing on this game.
AUSTIN TOROS L.A. D-FENDERS G: Justin Dentmon G: Orien Greene G: Brad Wanamaker G: Elijah Millsap F: Terrance Woodbury F: Kareem Rush F: Julian Wright F: Otis George C: Eric Dawson F: Malcolm Thomas
|All Times Eastern|
NBA TV Broadcast Schedule
Game 1: Wed, 4/25, 2 p.m. ET
Game 2: Fri, 4/27, 12 p.m. ET
Game 3: Sun, 4/29, 1 p.m. ET
ALL GAMES AVAILABLE LIVE ON FUTURECAST
Top Prospects in the Finals
|1||Justin Dentmon, G||Austin|
|2||Malcolm Thomas, F||Los Angeles|
|3||Eric Dawson, F||Austin|
|4||Elijah Millsap, G||Los Angeles|
|5||Flip Murray, G||Austin|
|6||Julian Wright, F||Austin|
|7||Zach Andrews, F||Los Angeles|
|8||Orien Greene, G||Los Angeles|
|9||Mardy Collins, G||Los Angeles|
|10||Carldell Johnson, G||Austin|
|*Rankings updated April 24, 6 p.m.|
|Read the Prospect Watch or check out our Top 10 Prospects in the Finals gallery for more!|