Looking for their first championship since joining the NBA D-League, the Sioux Falls Skyforce were stopped in their tracks in Game 2 of the NBA D-League Finals against the Los Angeles D-Fenders. It was a rare loss for Sioux Falls, who had won their first five games of the postseason and had also managed to set the all-time wins record in the regular season.
There were a variety of factors that went into the upset victory for the D-Fenders, such as shooting 40% from beyond the arc and forcing 17 turnovers, but the true key to their win was shutting down D-League MVP Jarnell Stokes. Stokes, who posted 22 points on 13 shots during Game 1, was held to just 10 points in Game 2, his second-lowest output of the entire season.
In looking at Game 1, it was clear that feeding Stokes was much more of a priority than it was in Game 2. They ran quite a few post-ups for him and they were also actively getting him the ball off of pick and rolls, something that wasn't seen all that often in Game 2.
Along with their game plan working specifically towards getting him touches, Stokes was also able to gain much better positioning in Game 1 than he eventually would in Game 2. He had no problem establishing himself deep in the post, which for a player of his size is deadly.
Given that it was their first matchup against Stokes on the season, the D-Fenders were able to get a feel for him in Game 1 and made adjustments to their plan in Game 2. They made a concerted effort to make him work to even get the ball and Justin Harper did a phenomenal job of getting his body between Stokes and the ball handler on the perimeter.
In addition to Harper's work of getting in front of Stokes, Ryan Gomes was able to matchup well with Stokes' size. While Harper is a bit more lanky at 6'10, 225 pounds, Gomes is the perfect foe for Stokes, as he stands 6'7 and a bulky 245 pounds. Without the ability to force his way down low, Stokes was actually pushed out of the paint relatively often and struggled to gain positioning.
While the play of both Harper and Gomes played a big role in Stokes' quiet night, standout perimeter defender Josh Magette and his backcourt partner Vander Blue were also able to chip in. They helped create pressure when the Skyforce were able to get it into the post and they stripped the ball away from the unsuspecting Stokes more than once throughout the game.
In all, Stokes turned the ball over three times in Game 2, which ranked as one of his highest marks of the year. With the defense making him work, it appeared that Stokes began to take a bit more of a facilitative role as the game went on and wasn't nearly as aggressive in attacking the basket.
With a season-low four shot attempts, Stokes seemed to get rid of the ball quickly whenever it came in to him. This led to a season-high four assists in Game 2, but that's not what the Skyforce are going to need out of him as Game 3 rolls around tonight.
He's going to have to use his strength advantage against Harper to his benefit, while also working aggressively against Gomes to ensure that he's able to get low in the post like he was able to in Game 1. If he has another passive effort like in Game 2 however, it could be the D-Fenders that leave Sioux Falls as D-League Champions.