After a thrilling game one, which saw Darius Morris score a season-high 29 points in a 146-135 victory for the Houston Rockets' D-League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Iowa Energy met in Des Moines last night for a possible elimination game. With a win, the Vipers, who went on an ice cold run entering the post-season, would move on to the second-round and dismantle the third overall seed. With a loss, the series would be knotted up at 1-1 with the final game coming on Monday in the Wells Fargo Arena.
The Vipers kicked the first quarter off with a barrage of long-range jumpers, knocking down eight threes en route to a 40-32 lead. Morris maintained his hot hand from the first game and continued to give the Energy fits by relentlessly attacking the paint and finding shooters on the wings when the defense collapsed. After 12 minutes of play, the former Laker had totals of 15 points and eight assists, setting him up for a historic night. He continued that blazing pace for the second and third quarter, and heading into the final frame, the Vipers had a 111-104 lead behind Morris' 42 points and 16 assists.
With only 12 more minutes remaining on the clock, the Vipers' tickets to the second round seemed to be all but punched. However, they hit a rut in the fourth quarter, shooting 33 percent from the field, and the Energy took advantage by forcing overtime. In the closing three minutes, Morris couldn't get the Vipers back on track and missed all four of his attempts from the floor. The only point the Vipers scored was off of a free throw from Dario Hunt - they were 0-for-8 from the field as a team. The Energy's Patrick Christopher played hero after his jump-shot in the closing seconds of regulation rimmed out, scoring four points in the overtime period, which decided the game.
The Energy came out victorious, 145-142. Patrick Christopher led the team with 34 points, but received a lot of help from Larry Owens, Curtis Stinson, Moses Ehambe and Austin Freeman, who all combined to score 89 points.
As for Morris, he finished the game with a gaudy stat-line of 51 points, 18 assists two rebounds and one steal in 45:56 minutes of play. His 18 assists set a D-League Playoff record and his 51 points are the second most in the league's post-season history, missing Darius Rice's record by just one point. Through the Vipers' first two playoff games, he is now averaging 40 points, 14.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds on 63.6 percent shooting from the field and 71.4 percent shooting from three.
Knotted up at 1-1, the final game of the best-of-three series will be played on Monday night in the Energy's arena. While the Vipers have since silenced any concerns about how their style of play would function in the playoffs after a disappointing end to the regular season, last night's loss was hard to swallow. Not only did Morris have an outstanding night, but they received a great contribution from Dario Hunt, who chipped in with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Troy Daniels also had a big scoring night despite some lacklustre shooting, finishing with 30 points and six made threes. Not only that, heading into the final quarter, they were shooting 54.9 percent from the field and 48.5 percent from three. They just collapsed in the fourth, which proved to be a death sentence against a resilient team like the Energy, who kept chipping away at the lead before pulling off the unlikely comeback.
Morris has been unstoppable in the Vipers' first two playoff games, but expecting him to continue to carry the team as he has is begging for disappointment. Even with a 51 points and 18 assist outburst last night, it was clear that the Vipers need more if they hope to advance. They'll need greater contributions from the rest of the team, such as the Houston Rockets' assignee Robert Covington, who struggled with 14 points on 3-for-12 shooting. They've snapped out of their end of season slump, but that won't be enough to secure them a date with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the second-round.