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Renaldo Major and the Dakota Wizards Brought the Defense Last Night in the D-League

Dakota Wizards 106, Austin Toros 96 (Box Score)

As color commentator Miles Simon said in the fourth quarter of the VERSUS broadcast, the Dakota Wizards (his former team) wanted it more.

They got it.

With a solid - and by solid, I mean spectacular - defensive effort in the second half, the Wizards forced a deciding game three to be held Sunday afternoon with a 106-96 road victory over the Austin Toros.

In my preview, I said the three keys for the Wizards were as follows: defense is the backbone, everyone needs to contribute and they need to use their size to their advantage.   While they instead decided to match-up with the Toros for much of the game instead of exploiting the mismatches, they played excellent defense in the second half and had six of their nine players score in double figures.

For the Toros, I said they needed to play hard early, set the pace and exploit the mismatches.  They were behind 40-29 at the end of the first quarter, weren't able to create mismatches after Dakota decided to play small ball as well and didn't set the pace.

Monstars and Nonstars after the jump!

First, the Monstars:

  • Renaldo Major scored a team high 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting while adding six boards in just 27 minutes of action.  In the first quarter alone, he scored 14 points and really set the pace for the Wizards.  Still, his defense is what I thought was key.  He was named the 2007 D-League Defensive Player of the Year and, as far as wing defenders go, he's definitely among the top two this season again.  There were quite a few hustle plays and momentum shifting things he did as well. And please, don't ask - I can't explain why he didn't play the fourth quarter, but Wizards coach Rory White occasionally forgets who is on his bench when the guys on the floor are playing well.
  • Curtis Jerrells is a player I wasn't really high on early in the season, but the rookie has been getting consistently better as the season pushes on.  Last night, he once again showed why the San Antonio Spurs thought he was valuable enough to pay NBA money while playing in the D-League by scoring 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting and adding five assists, four steals and just one turnover.  His defense can certainly still improve and his long range jumper still has a ways to go, but he's getting smarter every game and has a great scoring instinct.
  • Marcus Dove and Curtis Withers are going to have to share my third star, just as they shared the big man duties for the fourth quarter of this game.  It's often said that the undersized big man is what wins in the minors and these two definitely tried to prove that to be true.  The 6-foot-9 Dove finished with 15 points while the thicker 6-foot-8 Withers brought 12 points, nine boards and two blocks off the bench for the Wizards.  They're most important in this series because of their versatility - they're able to score in the post, but aren't mismatched when having to defend on the perimeter.

Since I technically gave out four Monstars, we'll go with just two Nonstars to keep it even:

  • Dakota's starting big man, Corsley Edwards, has struggled this series even though I had him penciled in as one of the keys.  With his size, he should be able to dominate in the low post while protecting the paint on the defensive end, but he hasn't really been able to establish himself on either end in the first two games of this series.  He played less than 17 minutes even though he started this one, but in that time he managed to turn the ball over five times and commit three fouls.  In a way, I kind of wonder if he'd be better off if Dwayne Jones was still with Austin - but I don't think so.
  • Michael Joiner is Austin's player that I really thought would contribute more than he has, as he poses another match-up problem.  Although he wasn't a force for the Toros during the season, I assumed his veteran presence and ability to shoot from the perimeter would help in this series.  It hasn't yet, as he shot 0-for-4 from beyond the arc and finished with just six points 34+ minutes of action.  Since he's not a very good defender and hasn't really been able to contribute on offense, I wonder if Austin coach Quin Snyder wouldn't be better off just inserting David McClure back into the starting lineup and let him scrap.

Last, but not least, I'll give my not quite Monstars OR Nonstars awards (there are a lot of interesting guys to talk about in this series):

  • Marcus Williams made his return to the Toros in this game.  He had 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists, but also turned the ball over eight times and committed five personal fouls.  The trio of him, Jerrells and Alonzo Gee (quiet 15 points and nine rebounds in this game) had yet to play a game together before this loss.  I assume as they all get acclimated Williams turnovers will get back to a more manageable number, but it seemed to me that he tried a little too hard to take over this game.
  • Lester Hudson, on assignment from the Memphis Grizzlies, played solid defense and hit some big shots.  He also made a couple of rookie mistakes and pulled up for some bad shots, but you have to take the good with the bad and I think everyone has come to understand that with Hudson.  He finished this game hitting just six of his 15 field goal attempts, but scored 18 points while adding eight boards, four assists, two steals and a block.