SANTA CRUZ, CALIF. — After two straight championship disappointments, the Santa Cruz Warriors are back home with a chance to make the third time a charm.
They won Game 1 in Fort Wayne behind an epic rally from a 31-11 first-quarter deficit, when the Mad Ants drilled 12 of their first 18 shot attempts before the Warriors slowly chipped away.
Here are three factors that could decide Game 2 (7 PM ET, ESPNU):
Return of the Mac.
Santa Cruz received a huge reinforcement from across the bay on Saturday with the assignment of power forward James Michael McAdoo. The Golden State Call-Up has turned the tides with his athleticism on both ends of the floor during his 33 NBA D-League games, posting averages of 19.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks.
The Warriors size advantage will now be even more pronounced with McAdoo joining his Golden State teammate, 7-footer Ognjen Kuzmic, down low. But the Mad Ants’ small-ball, spread-the-floor style makes them a difficult matchup, as “center” C.J. Fair has the perimeter skills of a small forward and stretch-4 Ramon Harris (30 points, 8/13 from three in Game 1) forces one of those big men to guard on the perimeter.
The Mad Ants generate much of their offense behind the one-on-one freestylings of NBA vet Jordan Crawford, who’s a threat to pull up from anywhere beyond half court. That makes Crawford a classic wild card player who can easily bounce back from an 8-for-25 showing and go 15-for-25 in Game 2.
“We haven’t seen much of that style, with guys that are ball dominant and come off ball screens and look to score,” Warriors head coach Casey Hill said after Game 1. “We’ve been playing teams with guys that come off ball screens and look to move [the ball] and force rotations on the weak side. It just took us a little time to adjust.”
Game 2 and potentially Game 3 could be decided on which guard asserts himself the most; Santa Cruz’s Elliot Williams took over Game 1 with 31 points and 8 assists, while role players on both sides — Matt Boulding and Trey McKinney Jones (Fort Wayne) and Aaron Craft and Mychel Thompson (Santa Cruz) — filled in brilliantly.
It’s been a magical year for Bay Area basketball, and the minor-league Warriors once again have the chance to follow in their parent club’s footsteps by closing out another playoff series win.
The Santa Cruz crowd can turn Kaiser Permanente Arena into a mini-Oracle, but there’s no doubt Crawford and the Mad Ants would love to silence them as they did in last year’s Finals.
Either team could gain an edge by feeding off the energy that will surely be in the building on Sunday evening.