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Keys to the Game: NBA D-League Finals Game 1 in Fort Wayne

By Brian Kotloff | April 23, 2015

FORT WAYNE, IND. — The 2015 NBA Development League Finals tip off on Thursday night in Fort Wayne, Ind., where the Mad Ants host the Santa Cruz Warriors in Game 1 of a 2014 Finals rematch.

Finals Hub | Top 5 Storylines | Playoff Central

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Here are three things to watch as the action begins at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum at 8 PM ET on ESPNU:

Can Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Craft Slow Down Jordan Crawford?

No team is better equipped to defend the league’s most explosive one-on-one scorer than the Warriors, who finished No. 1 in defensive rating during the regular season.

From the athletic Elliot Williams to the longer Darington Hobson (if healthy), Santa Cruz can give Crawford different looks. But the assignment should ultimately fall on the hard-nosed Craft, who has an opportunity to go head-to-head with a surefire NBA scorer.

Crawford remains the wild card for the Mad Ants, capable of knocking down almost any shot in the gym.

MORE: Dynamic duo of Crawford, Fair carrying Mad Ants

Will C.J. Fair Stay Hot?

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The former Syracuse standout didn’t quite look like himself during the early months of his rookie season. Then the stretch run came, Crawford returned from China and Fair took off.

The 6-8 forward has scored 20+ points in seven straight games dating back to the regular season (see postseason shot chart above) after topping 20 points just twice in the first three months of the season — giving opponents two versatile scorers to gameplan around.

“With Jordan Crawford added to the team, he’s been taking on a lot of the load. So it makes my job easier because it’s not easy for teams to focus in on me too much,” Fair said at shootaround on Thursday morning.

Familiar Foes

With roster turnover the norm in the NBA D-League, just five players remain from the Mad Ants’ two-game sweep of the Warriors a year ago.

But they can’t spend much time feeling each other out in a best-of-three series, and one of the returners, Mad Ants vet Ramon Harris, said that feeling-out process won’t take long: “It’s gonna be crazy, especially with the whole rematch thing — the familiarity. The coaches know each other, the players know each other. There’s going to be some competing going on tonight.”

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