Rio Grande Valley Vipers 135, Reno Bighorns 118 (Box Score)
The #2 seeded Rio Grande Valley Vipers advanced to the second round of the D-League playoffs with a victory over the #6 Reno Bighorns last night, thanks to an excellent fourth quarter performance from NBA assignee Mike Harris. The Vipers won the game despite a 28-45 free throw attempt deficit, poor three-point shooting and foul trouble for several key players. The Vipers move on to face the #3 Austin Toros, a series that begins on Saturday in Austin. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, here were the stars and non-stars of the game:
- The first star is Mike Harris, of course. The Houston Rocket shook off some early struggles to score 23 points in the fourth quarter and 45 overall, to go with 13 rebounds, four assists and two blocks. Most of Harris's work came inside and on midrange jumpers, and seven of those rebounds came on the offensive end, a game-high. I'm a little less frustrated with NBA teams assigning players to the D-League just for the playoffs than Scott is, but Harris clearly was a difference maker late in the game.
- Of course, Harris may not have had a chance to lead the Vipers to victory if Will Conroy hadn't played so well early on to keep his team in the game. On a night when Antonio Anderson was limited due to foul trouble and Jonathan Wallace wasn't doing much distributing, Conroy was the backcourt leader and was able to make things happen for his teammates. Conroy finished with 24 points on 13 shots, a team-high six assists and just two turnovers.
- Rod Benson once again played very well for the Bighorns, and probably should be the series MVP. Benson's output was lower in this game than in the other two, 21 points and 11 rebounds (as well as three blocks), although he was once again unstoppable inside. He played fewer minutes than Doug Thomas for no real reason, as he finished with only two fouls. You can see some longer comments about Reno coach Jay Humphries in last night's comment thread, but in retrospect it seems kind of mind-boggling that the team's best player wasn't playing big minutes in the deciding game of a playoff series.
- One more: Richie Frahm came off the bench to score 20 points on 6-9 shooting, including 4-6 from outside (one of those missed shots being a semi-desperate long three as time was running down). Frahm struggled in the first game of this series and was just okay in the second, but last night he was hitting big shots and playing more up to the standard he set in the regular season.
- It's pretty hard to sugarcoat Desmon Farmer's performance. A missed three led to an early flagrant foul plus a technical (he got tangled up with and intentionally tried to trip Wallace while getting back on defense after his miss), and while he finished with 15 points he never really established much of a rhythm for himself. The former Viper was also booed lustily every time he touched the ball.
- D.J. Strawberry played well in the first two games, but just wasn't really feeling it in this one. He needed 10 shots to score nine points, and while he had seven rebounds off the bench, he also found himself in foul trouble and wasn't playing his usual stellar defense. He looked tired, which is understandable, but he wasn't able to play through it as other guys were.
- Ernest Scott picked up five fouls in less than 13 minutes of playing time. Moved to the bench to accommodate Harris, Scott was completely ineffective in the first half, then couldn't go more than a few possessions without fouling someone. If he had been able to contribute more early on, the Vipers may not have needed Harris's heroics.