The Rio Grande Valley Vipers Are the 2009-2010 D-League Champions

Craig Winder's championship-winning shot.

Rio Grande Valley Vipers 94, Tulsa 66ers 91 (Box Score)


Rio Grande Valley's Craig Winder hit an amazing shot as time expired to win the game and the championship for the Vipers (as seen in the highlights).  Amazing may sound like an over-statement, but how else would you describe a banked-in, game-winning, buzzer-beating three-pointer?  This was a close game all night long; The Vipers were up by two points after the first quarter, the 66ers were up by one at halftime, and that lead was extended to just three points after the third quarter.

There wasn't always great basketball being played, however.  Several players for both teams had some questionable shot selection, the teams combined to miss 36 three-pointers and RGV turned the ball over 17 times.  But there also was some excellent defense being played and some unstoppable offense on display, and overall it was a game worthy of deciding the championship.

RIo Grande Valley has had a pretty incredible season (some have called it the greatest D-League season of all time); finishing towards the bottom of the league last year before pioneering the new D-League hybrid affiliation system with the Houston Rockets, hiring a new coach, having five different players called-up to the NBA at various times this season; finishing with the league's second-best record and making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and now winning the D-League championship.  Last year's champion, the Colorado 14ers, folded soon after they won, but that's not happening this time.  Congratulations to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers on their championship season.

The Monstars and Non-stars of the game are after the jump.

Monstars

  • Mike Harris played like the D-League MVP he is, with 26 points and 16 rebounds.  His 1-5 three-point shooting wasn't great, but he was a force who had to be accounted for at all times, and he kept his fouling to a minimum.  His seven offensive rebounds were as much or more as almost everyone else who played had total rebounds, and they helped RGV compensate for its extremely poor three-point shooting.
  • Antonio Anderson didn't have the best shooting day, needing 11 shots to score 11 points, but he was fantastic at everything else.  He had a game-high nine assists, seven rebounds, and cut his turnovers in half from game 1, finishing with three in 45 minutes.  He also played excellent defense on Tulsa's Larry Owens and others including Wink Adams; Adams tried going to the rim with about eight seconds left and the game tied, but Anderson did an excellent job of forcing Adams to go too far underneath the backboard and causing a difficult shot without fouling.
  • Speaking of Larry Owens, despite having some problems against Anderson, he otherwise played a great game.  He made 12 of his 17 shots for 25 points, grabbed six rebounds and had three assists, and tied his season-high with four blocks.  Owens has played well all season long, but he really has stepped his game up in the playoffs and deserves a shot at the NBA next season.
  • Latavious Williams also has impressed in the playoffs, and had 14 points and eight rebounds last night.  He has gone from something of a curiosity at the beginning of the year (as a fairly raw player who went straight from high school to the D-League) to a long-shot prospect to a legitimate second-round draft option.  He still needs some development time, but he has been a quick learner this season, and last night showed off a midrange jumper that, while still inconsistent, was pretty much unthinkable at the beginning of the year.
  • Craig Winder deserves to be named a Monstar for his game-winning shot alone, but he also was the only Viper to hit more than one three-pointer.  He didn't always have the best shot selection, but he was the only legitimate outside shooting threat RGV had last night, hitting 4-8 from beyond the arc and scoring 16 points in 22 and a half minutes.  Plus, you know, that shot.
Non-stars
  • I mentioned this in the recap of game 1, but this really was a bad matchup for Marcus Lewis.  Even though last night's pace was slower than RGV typically prefers, they still were able to run at times and Lewis had trouble keeping up.  The Vipers also ate him alive on the pick and roll, although I guess some blame should go to Coach Nate Tibbetts for not realizing that switching, and leaving Lewis defending someone like Antonio Anderson, was a terrible idea.  Lewis also wasn't great on offense or on the boards, finishing with just four points and two rebounds (and three fouls) in a little over 19 minutes.
  • Cecil Brown was one of those players I was referring to earlier who had terrible shot selection.  He sat out the first game with an ankle injury, and it's hard not to imagine that it was still bothering him.  Brown shot 0-4 from outside and 3-11 overall, and while he had six assists, his misses hurt the team's offense just as much as his assists helped it.
  • Wink Adams was another shot-jacker, going 2-8 for six points.  He actually was 2-5 from outside, meaning he missed all three of his two-pointers; I'm pretty sure they all were layups as well.  Even the shots he made were often less than ideal or off-balance in some way.  Adams eight assists, but like Brown he was more disruptive than helpful.
  • Once again, Deron Washington finished with some decent numbers (16 points, seven rebounds) that don't tell the whole story.  Washington actually shot 4-13 from the field, and generally looked more like the player he was in Los Angeles to start the season, that is to say not very good.  It may seem curious to say this about a guy who shot more free throws (10) than anyone else in the game, but Washington wasn't getting some of the calls he has during the rest of the playoffs, and he responded by throwing up wild shots from all over the court.  Washington's scoring average has been much higher in the playoffs (16 ppg, 18 in the Finals) than during the regular season (11 ppg), but he shot just 29 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from outside during the Finals.
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