Utah Flash 85, LA D-Fenders 84
Dontell Jefferson may have made a fadeaway with two seconds left in the game, but this one was really won at the free-throw line. The Flash went 21-22 from the charity stripe, which is excellent, particularly at the D-League level when so many guys shoot 60-70 percent. Like, say, the D-Fenders, who made just two-thirds of their free throws. They also had just 15 of them. There was a certain magician working this game, but overall there wasn't a huge foul disparity; Utah just did a better job of getting to the line, and converted when they got there. You could even expand that out and say that this was an efficiency vs. inefficiency question. The Flash shot the ball pretty poorly overall (39.2 percent, and they needed a late surge just to get up there), but they made 43 percent of their threes. You combine that with the free throws and the Flash were efficient enough to pull out the win. The D-Fenders, on the other hand, shot pretty well overall, a little over 47 percent, but shot 2-12 on their threes. Smart basketball writers (I'm talking about others, not myself) don't just harp on this efficiency stuff because it sounds good or provides a way to say that, I don't know, Larry Hughes is bad. This stuff works, and the Flash showed last night why hitting your free throws and making threes can make up for some poor play elsewhere.
And believe me, there was some pretty poor play. Without Luke Nevill or Gavin Grant (for as-yet-unknown-to-me reasons, I'm assuming injury?), the Flash were out-rebounded 36-43 and had seven of their shots blocked (which reminds me, can we get a "BA" column in the boxscore, D-League?). There were also a fair amount of turnovers, with Orien Greene coughing it up six times, Andre Ingram five and Carlos Wheeler four, although the team caused more than they gave up. Jefferson played well overall, with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists; Bennet Davis contributed 17 points and seven rebounds; and Greene picked up eight steals. All that aside, they reallllly needed those free throws.
As for the D-Fenders, they're going to have some ugly, ugly shooting nights simply based on who's on the roster. Dar Tucker (3-14, missed all of his threes), I'm looking in your direction. Deron Washington isn't quite as bad in the shot selection department but he's still not a great shooter, and despite the eight rebounds he missed eight of his 12 shots last night and turned it over six times. Diamon Simpson played pretty well on the offensive end, with 17 points on 10 shots, although I'm assuming he took some of Michael Fey's minutes at center, which isn't the best idea. Fey was 5-7 for 10 points in 11 minutes, and barring some kind of injury,the fact that he played so little with power forwards manning the middle on the other side makes little sense. Bennet Davis and Carlos Wheeler shows in the Finals last year that they can't cover tall, talented centers as well as they do fours, so Fey should've gotten more time. Longar Longar did play pretty well off the bench, with seven rebounds and three blocks in about 20 minutes, but he doesn't have the offensive touch that Fey does. LA finally started putting things together in the second half, but this won't be the last such game they have.
Hit the jump for the Austin-Tulsa wrap-up.
Austin Toros 89, Tulsa 66ers 72
This game really illustrates the development vs. winning conundrum. Certainly for a team like the 66ers, directly affiliated with an NBA team as they are, getting players comfortable with the Thunder's system and/or bringing their individual skills to maybe eventually help out the parent team is vital. But you also have to wonder how much real work guys get in the fourth quarter of a blowout. Tulsa welcomed DeVon Hardin into the lineup, giving them yet another terrible-offensively-but-pretty-good-to-very-good rebounder to go with Byron Mullens, Latavious Williams and Keith Clark. Hardin finished with seven rebounds but only 2-8 shooting, while Mullens had a better night offensively than he's used to, 11 points on six shots, but his five rebounds are low for him and I wonder if having to play alongside Hardin didn't contribute to that. And neither one of them could adequately box out Dwayne Jones, but I'll get to that. Mustafa Shakur finished with 19 points, six rebounds and four assists for th 66ers, but he also had seven turnovers and four fouls in under 33 minutes. Five of those turnovers came off of bad passes and two were offensive fouls, so I'm going to chalk this up to him trying to do too much.
For the Toros, Alonzo Gee is very good. Very good. Yes, I just repeated myself. 25 points on 10-17 shooting along with four rebounds, and one of the best things about his game is that he knows what he can and can't do. He doesn't take a bunch of long twos or outside shots that he's not going to make (ahem, Dar Tucker). Gee is an explosive player, and it's clear why the Spurs like him. They have an eye for talent, that team; they should take advantage of it somehow. I said that some non-Gee Toros would have to come through in this game, and boy did they ever. Curtis Jerrells finally had an overwhelmingly positive games, with eight assists and only one turnover to go with 5-8 shooting. Justin Bowen also played very well with 18 points and six rebounds. Dwayne Jones had eight points and 13 rebounds, but then he should have. He's a veteran by this point with several years spent working on his footwork and positioning (though the footwork on his offensive game is still pretty bad), so he should be able to take advantage of still-raw players like Hardin and Mullens.
These two teams meet again tonight, but I'll talk about that later.