In a high energy fast paced game the "Red Team" coached by Iowa Energy's Nick Nurse and led by Co-MVP's Courtney Sims and Blake Ahearn prevailed with a final score of 113 - 103.
The game started off a bit sloppy on both ends with a lot of turnovers leading to fast break points. After the game, Sims thought his team was just trying to get used to each other, but Nurse described it as tentative and thought his team wasn't running back early.
The teams went into the half time break with Coach Snyder's Blue squad holding an 51 - 43 lead. His team was led mostly by Will Conroy and James White, who used turnovers and rebounds to push the pace and score quickly. White hit a couple of three pointers and Conroy displayed his ability to absorb contact and finish at the rim.
Some players are very unique but people more familiar with the NBA can easily compare Conroy to a Jameer Nelson type of strong point guard who can shoot the ball as well as drive and finish with strength.
James White is an easy comparison to Denver's JR Smith but with less of an ability to create his own shot. It is pretty clear why despite his talents why he won't be in the NBA until his shot selection and level of team play improves.
In the second half it looked like Nurse had his team playing with a little more patience and control. He described his philosophy as wanting to either score early in the shot clock or late and while his team did push a bit off misses, their half court sets where clearly well executed.
Hitting shots helps as well, as the Red Team shot about 43% in the first half but finished game just under 53%, but only having 3 turnovers in the second half was the difference in my mind.
With time to get set, the Red Team's interior defense anchored by Lance Allred, Brent Petway, Sims and Richard Hendrix kept the Blue Team in check early in the second half. This allowed the game to break open when Blake Ahearn, fresh off repeating as the d-league 3 point champion, hit three from long range on three straight possessions. The game was never close again.
Helping Nurse was his strategy to use two distinct units playing in shifts together. The units were made up of players from no more then two teams. His starting line had Sims and Othyus Jeffers from the Energy and Hendrix, Maurice Baker and Ahearn from the Wizards while the 2nd line included Allred, Petway and Luke Jackson from Idaho along with Derrick Byars and Trey Johnson from Bakerfield.
Austin Toro's coach Quin Snyder didn't have this option as his team only had two players from the same team. His rotations therefore were more traditional but still managed to balance his minutes almost perfectly with all the players getting between 18 and 20 minutes.
After the game Courtney Sims and Blake Ahearn were awarded co-MVP honors. Sims finished with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks and Ahearn with 13 points, 13 assists and only 2 turnovers against the active back court of Conroy and Walker Russell. Those numbers came in only 20 minutes of play.
Asked if winning the MVP in Phoenix had any special meaning since he was just called up by the Suns, Sims said, "It's great. When they called me up I wanted to make sure I was able to play in this game and enjoy this with my team mates and some of my ex-team mates from college."Sims is looking forward to have another opportunity here in Phoenix.
It probably didn't hurt either that Suns General Manager Steve Kerr and Senior VP of Basketball Operations David Griffin were in attendance.
Steve Kerr was impressed with Courtney's active defense and outside shooting.
"He's a really good player. Somebody we feel strongly about and we are looking forward to seeing him again over the next couple of weeks.
He's active and a really good shooter for a big man with good touch. He covers the pick and roll well out on the perimeter.
The D-League has been really good for him. He's made dramatic improvement over the last couple of years."
As someone who covers the Suns, I am looking forward to Sims getting another chance and hope he can earn some minutes. His game should fit nicely in Phoenix where big man perimeter pick and roll defense has been a problem for some time and his outside shooting, rebounding and shot blocking could always be used.
His coach was most impressed with his 4 shot blocks (in 20 minutes) in this game, saying that sometimes while playing for the Energy he hangs back not wanting to get into foul trouble. In this game, as would be the case with the Suns, that's not a concern and Nurse was impressed to see him make the adjustment and go get those balls.
Assuming the Suns roster looks the same, and that is a big assumption given all the trade rumors surrounding this team, Sims would hopefully get a look perhaps taking some minutes from Lou Amundson as a back up at the 4 or 5.
Lou, another D-League product, has played great for the Suns and used his high energy and rebounding to make an impact but Sims is a much more complete player with a more skilled game.
I didn't have a great view of the action from my baseline location, but other guys that stood out in my mind were Bakersfield's Derrick Byars and Idaho's Luke Jackson. Both are about 6'7" and showed good scoring touch inside and out.
The Mad Ant's Walker Russell, sharing time with Conroy at the point, displayed a solid game wtih 14 points and 8 assists. Suns fans will recall that Russell was part of a six man workout that resulted in Dee Brown being signed for a time earlier in the season. Russell is a slighter built point guard with slippery quickness and a good touch at the rim.