I'm pushing this back to the top to remind everyone about our now-legendary Open Source Live Blog. See you in 30 minutes. -- Jon
Sorry for no post this morning, but a.) let's just say my morning didn't go as planned, and b.) Scott's interesting post on Hamed Haddadi deserved to stay up top. But now it's Marge's time to shine.
Yes, it's finally here. The end of the season, the culmination of everything these players have put into, anywhere from three to 50 games. Only two teams left, so let's talk about ‘em. I wrote the whole thing, meaning it's too long. This will also serve as the Game 1 Open Source Live Blog thread, so I'll see you here at 9 pm eastern, 8 pm central.
How Colorado got here:
By being the best team in the league, of course. More precisely, the 14ers were basically unstoppable in March, going 11-2, while the Austin Toros, who had previously held the division's (and league's ) top spot kept losing. Colorado never lost more than two games in a row, and had one seven game winning streak and two five game winning streaks. They like to run and shoot, and it's not unusual to see three or four guards on the floor.
How Utah got here:
By closing out the season strong, even stronger than Colorado. The Flash are 11-3 stretching back to March 18. Perhaps moreso than any other team, Utah relies on its NBA assignees, as Morris Almond, Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos of the Utah Jazz and JR Giddens and Bill Walker of the Boston Celtics have all spent significant time in Orem. The Flash rely on solid defense to keep their opponents in check along with efficient scoring - five of the top 15 players in the league in eFG this season played for Utah.
How they've done in the playoffs:
Both teams have done well, obviously, or they wouldn't be here. Colorado breezed past the Erie BayHawks in the first round (full recap here) despite not shooting terribly well, with the exception of your hero and mine, Josh Davis, who finished with 33 points on 15 shots, made 12 of his 13 free throws, and chipped in eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks. They faced a tougher second-round opponent in the Austin Toros (full recap here), but the 14ers were lights out in this game, shooting 54.5 percent from behind the arc and 50 percent overall. Davis actually had a poor game, partially due to being poked or scratched in the eye during the game, but Sonny Weems can score, score, score, finishing with 27 points on 21 shots.
Utah, on the other hand, had a rougher go in the first round, being one point down to Bakersfield at halftime, but Ronald Dupree went off in the third quarter, scoring 11 points on 5-6 shooting and the Flash's depth took over from there (full recap here). In the second-round, they met a stone-cold (in the bad way) Dakota team that turned the ball over too much early on and couldn't come back (full recap here). (Also, if Scott were writing this he probably would've put in a clip of Stone Cold Steve Austin back there, but as I said I'm more about the early-90s WWF, so here's The Mountie.)
Given all their talent, this may sound weird, but I think a key player for Colorado will be Billy Thomas. If Thomas is on the floor he's going to shoot, and he can give you either 60 percent shooting or 12 percent. Given that Utah's a very efficient offensive team, and that Colorado lost their two regular season meetings with the Flash in part due to awful three-point shooting, the 14ers will need Thomas's shot to fall.
For the Flash, they'll need Giddens to deliver on both ends of the court. He can score, as evidenced by his 25 points on 17 shots against Dakota, and he's also a decent rebounder for his size, which will be especially important here, as Colorado is one of the best rebounding teams in the league. What I like about Giddens is that against Bakersfield, when he shot only 3-9, he still went to the line and made five of his six free throws, and grabbed eight rebounds to boot. He's also likely have to guard Thomas, John Lucas III, Trey Gilder and Weems at various times, so he'll be a key piece of Utah's defensive effort.
D-League lineups are forever tenuous, but below you'll find a breakdown of who we can expect to see out there. Yes, I wrote even more. This is the Finals, after all. I told you it was supercalifragilisticexpeali-wacky.
Starters: Eddie Gill-Dominique Coleman-Billy Thomas-Josh Davis-Joe Dabbert
Without hearing differently, I'm assuming Davis's eye is okay for him to play. If he's out, Sonny Weems likely gets the start. There are a lot of solid veterans in this lineup, and they have solid-to-great defenders at three positions, maybe four. Davis and Dominique Coleman are the best rebounders of the bunch, and this unit can score from outside with Davis, Gill and occasionally Thomas, and inside with Davis and Joe Dabbert. Any scoring they get from Coleman is pretty much gravy, but he also had 15 regular season games with 20 points or more.
Key bench players: Sonny Weems, Trey Gilder, John Lucas III, Kentrell Gransberry
Colorado saves its most explosive offensive players for the bench, where they can come into the game and push the tempo even more. Weems and Gilder are both great athletes, and Lucas is a solid point guard who knows the offense, but can occasionally shoot the three when he's playing the off-guard spot alongside Gill. I named Kentrell Gransberry because it's likely that Dabbert (or very possibly several other players) will get into foul trouble, and the 14ers third center (since Davis is really the backup) will see the floor. Expect Gransberry to get into foul trouble as well.
Starters: Kevin Kruger-JR Giddens-Mo Almond-Ronald Dupree-Brian Jackson
Again, I'm assuming Mo Almond will be starting, despite some late-season back trouble I'm not as sure who would start in his absence, but it's likely one of Carlos Wheeler, Gavin Grant or Andre Ingram. This is a solid starting lineup in its own right, featuring NBA assignees Giddens and Almond. I talked about Giddens a little bit above, and Almond is another guy who can fill it up. He was third in the league in points per game, though he only played in 14 games, and he's third in the league in true shooting percentage (which combines field goals and foul shots). The TS% league leader? Starting point guard Kevin Kruger, who also boasts a solid-if-unspectacular 2.17 assist/turnover ratio. Ronald Dupree is a slasher who can get to the rim and score in bunches. Brian Jackson is solid and efficient but won't wow you, and has a shot that is best described as "high-arcing."
Key bench players: Andre Ingram, Carlos Wheeler, Gavin Grant, James Lang
Utah's bench is full of role players who do their jobs reasonably well. Ingram is the shooter (he made 47 percent of his threes during the regular season), Wheeler is the athleticism guy and best rebounder of the bunch, and Grant does a good job of getting to the free throw line. They'll all likely be called on to either match Colorado's bench scoring or keep it in check. Now that Jackson is starting, James Lang might see some more playing time as his backup, though I suppose the Flash could match Colorado's smaller lineups and put Wheeler at the pivot. James Lang has a Freeway beard though (not as long as Freeway's, but it has the neck component). A shiny new donkey for whoever brings me a photo of James Lang's beard.
So you have it. The D-League Finals all broken down and ready to be built back up. I managed to limit myself to two Simpsons references, so that's a point of personal pride. In all seriousness, though, this should be a good matchup between two teams playing different styles, both with a lot of talent and good depth. And remember, keep watching the skis.