D-League MVP Mike Harris and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers are headed to the D-League Finals to face the Tulsa 66ers.
Rio Grande Valley Vipers 99, Austin Toros 98 (Box Score)
The Rio Grande Valley Vipers advanced to the 2010 D-League Finals, a remarkable achievement considering this is the first year in its history the team has made the playoffs. This was a back and forth game for the last three quarters and went down to the final seconds. Austin's Michael Joiner missed a pair of free throws with 1:23 left and his team up two points. The Vipers scored on their next two possessions, and after a pair of free throws by Marcus Williams put the Toros back up by one, a Mike Harris putback took the lead back for Rio Grande Valley. Curtis Jerrells had a chance to tie the game or take the lead as he drove into the lane with 1.3 seconds left, but Jerrells was called for an offensive foul, and the Vipers were able to maintain possession for the remainder of the game and win the series.
Austin dug itself into an early hole by shooting 1-12 from beyond the arc to start the game. In fact, both teams had problems hitting threes throughout the game, and missed 15 free throws between them. Still, this was an entertaining, intense game that a worthy end to this semifinal series. The #2 ranked Vipers now move on to face the #8 ranked Tulsa 66ers, who defeated the Iowa Energy last night in the deciding game of that series. It should be an interesting finals matchup, as both teams are directly affiliated with one NBA team - the Oklahoma City Thunder own the 66ers, and the Houston Rockets run the Vipers' basketball operations.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, my Monstars and Non-stars of this game are after the jump.
- Mike Harris turned the ball over five times and spent a little too much time on the perimeter early on in the game, but he finished with 23 points on 9-12 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds, and as I mentioned had the game-winning putback. Austin was able to keep him in check at times, but Harris had five points in the last two minutes. He also had six assists, good for a power forward like Harris (many of those coming on passes out of double-teams), and three steals.
- WIll Conroy didn't have the best shooting night, 14 points on 17 shots, but he had eight assists, six rebounds and just two turnovers in 37 minutes and once again was every bit the floor leader for the Vipers at the end of the game.
- Curtis Jerrells was one of the few Toros (if not the only one) not bothered by shooting woes. Jerrells scored 29 points on 11-14 shooting, including 4-7 from outside, and picked up six assists. He also had six turnovers, and had that charge at the end, but overall he had the best game start-to-finish of anyone on Austin's roster.
- We haven't talked about Rich Melzer much this post-season, but he did a solid job off the bench tonight. Signed just two games before the end of the regular season, Melzer has grown into a decent backup big man for RGV. He had 10 points on 3-5 shooting tonight, and grabbed five rebounds in 17 minutes.
- Marcus Williams played better as the game went on, but he started off shooting really terribly. Williams didn't attack the rim as often as he should've, and he had a tendency to fall away on his jumpers. He missed all three of his three-point attempts and finished with 18 points on 7-23 shooting.
- Michael Joiner was Austin's "center" on the floor at the end of the game, but I'm not really sure why. He had a hard time guarding Harris, picked up five fouls in 18 minutes and started off shooting 1-5 from the floor (he ended up with eight points on 3-6 shooting). Plus, let's not forget those missed free throws I mentioned earlier.
- Speaking of shot-jackers, Eddie Basden started the game firing away from outside, even though he kept missing. Basden went 2-7 on his three-point attempts and 5-16 overall for 14 points. His 11 rebounds (seven offensive) helped, but all of his bricks did not.
- I'll give the last non-star collectively to Austin's bench. Cory Underwood and David McClure each did a decent job defensively on Harris, and McClure had six rebounds in 23 and a half minutes, but overall those two plus Squeaky Johnson, Lewis Clinch and Luke Bonner combined for eight points on 3-11 shooting. Guys like Johnson and Clinch particularly could've come in to provide a spark while the starters struggled, but instead they followed suit.