EL SEGUNDO – The Los Angeles D-Fenders kept their title hopes alive on Saturday, knocking off the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, 126-124, to force a pivotal Game 3 in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Despite leading by as much as 17 points on the day, Los Angeles needed some late-game heroics to get the win as both teams fought for control in the closing moments. After three ties in the final three minutes, D-Fenders forward Justin Harper knocked down a 26-foot three-pointer to give L.A. a 119-116 edge. The home team would not relinquish the lead.
Los Angeles (34-16, 1-1) was led by Vander Blue’s 26 points, six rebounds and three assists. Forward Justin Harper followed closely behind, totaling 24 points, three rebounds and a career-high five steals on the day. Meanwhile, Lakers assignee David Nwaba notched 22 points, nine rebounds and three assists. Six D-Fenders scored in double figures.
Rio Grande Valley (32-18, 1-1) enjoyed a game-high 35 points from Houston assignment guard Isaiah Taylor, who also contributed seven rebounds and 10 assists. Fellow Rockets assignee Kyle Wiltjer had 23 points and 10 rebounds, while guard and former D-Fender Darius Morris had 21 points and eight assists.
The contest included three ties, but Rio Grande Valley never led on Saturday evening. The D-Fenders got out to an early start and carried that momentum through the early portions of the contest. Overall, L.A. shot 56.5 percent from the field and connected on 14-of-24 (.583) attempts from three-point range.
The D-Fenders started the game on a 9-0 run and used the early energy to maintain a lead throughout the first half. After forcing eight first-half turnovers and scoring 30 points in the paint in the first two frames, L.A. led 64-58 at halftime.
L.A. took a 96-82 lead into the fourth period, but RGV put together their best attempt at a comeback in the final 12 minutes of action. Led by a monstrous 22 points from Taylor in the fourth, the Vipers narrowed the lead behind a 77.3 percent shooting mark in the fourth, outscoring the D-Fenders 42-30 in the final quarter, but L.A. still came away with the win.
The D-Fenders will host the winner-take-all Game 3 against the Rio Grande Valley at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, April 10, at the Toyota Sports Center.