On Thursday night, the semi-finals of the 2013-14 NBA D-League postseason kicked off with matchups between the Sioux Falls Skyforce and Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well as the Santa Cruz Warriors and Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Fresh off winning the league's "Coach of the Year" award earlier in the day, Fort Wayne head coach Conner Henry was poised to be tasked with ensuring his team put forth a more than well-balanced scoring attack in an attempt to overwhelm the Skyforce's otherwise swarming defense.
The Mad Ants' offensive arsenal has many weapons that can hit an opposing team by surprise left and right. Such versatility may be the only thing that can potentially throw Sioux Falls' impressive efforts on that end of the floor off.
But luckily for the Skyforce, they managed to not only keep up with the Mad Ants, but even take things a bit further by obtaining an edge by the end of the first half. Securing themselves a one point lead, Sioux Falls managed to slow down a good number of their opponent's top notch scorers early on. As fate would have it, defensive-stoppoer Sadiel Rojas was the man who led his team in scoring throughout the contest.
As Rojas aimed to pace his team on offense and keep Fort Wayne within striking distance to eventually pounce, they did just that with the game on the line and time running out. Sioux Falls even extended their lead heading into the game's final quarter, but it was a jumper from the high-flying Tony Mitchell that instead helped the Mad Ants pull ahead and earn them a come from behind victory when push came to shove.
Mitchell's 19 points qualified him as one of eight Mad Ants in double-figures, whereas the Skyforce were led by NBA vet Henry Walker's 24 points.
In Santa Cruz, a rematch of the 2013 D-League Finals began between the Warriors and Vipers. Despite securing just the fifth seed after floundering towards the end of the regular season, RGV stood tall as the top dog in the minor league and garnered much recognition throughout for Coach Nevada Smith's otherwise unorthodox offense. Needless to say, the defending champion Vipers represent a difficult matchup for any team.
But in game one, Santa Cruz set out to defeat RGV at their own game. Following just a few minutes of the first quarter, that was clear above all else. They were running and gunning like never before, seemingly causing even the fast-paced Vipers to need a breather early on.
After pulling ahead and securing a sizable lead that soon ballooned to over twenty points, the home team took a step back, slowed things down, and proceeded to put the nail in the coffin on RGV, instead, at their own pace. The Warriors were led by Ognjen Kuzmic, the Golden State assignee who logged 23 points and 18 rebounds.
Some interesting things to note: Santa Cruz out-rebounded the Vipers (59-41), dished out more assists (31-21), grabbed more steals (14-8), and swatted away more blocks as well (9-2).
Rockets' assignee Robert Covington was one of the many Vipers who struggled offensively throughout the contest. He finished with just 9 points on 4 of 15 shooting from the field.
Both matchups will resume as the four teams hit their respective hardwoods for game two of each series on Saturday.