By Brian Kotloff, NBADLeague.com
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Vander Blue doubled over nearly the bench, exhausted from playing the full 48 minutes to lift the Los Angeles D-Fenders to a Finals win. And he said he was ready to do the same tomorrow, too.
“It’s for the gold ball, man,” Blue said.
Thanks to a gutty effort from an injury-depleted rosters, the D-Fenders won Game 2 over the Sioux Falls Skyforce, 109-102, to force a winner-take-all Game 3 Wednesday night at the Sanford Pentagon (8 PM ET, ESPNU).
The night was set up to be a coronation for the hometown team. The Miami Heat’s affiliate had swept through the playoffs (5-0) prior to Tuesday night after posting an NBADL all-time best 40-10 record during the regular season.
But in front of a buzzing Sanford Pentagon crowd, the visitors from out West took command in the waning minutes. Back-to-back three-pointers from forward Ryan Gomes and point guard Josh Magette stretched the lead from three to nine with 28 seconds to play.
“There was just no quit,” said D-Fenders head coach Casey Owens. “I’ve seen it evolve from training camp, through the ups and downs — when we were 9-12, three games below .500. I saw it during a 14-game home winning streak, I saw when we stumbled into the playoffs, and I’m seeing it every single day in film, practice, shootaround. It’s a special thing.”
Blue, the relentless guard out of Marquette, spearheaded the effort with 29 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Magette also took no rest in the game.
“It was an elimination game. I played the full 48 minutes just as hard as I could, man,” said Blue, who led the league in minutes played and free throw attempts during the regular season. “There’s no tomorrow; that was my whole mindset. LeBron, Game 6 in Boston — I’ve been watching that game all day. And I didn’t want to let my team down.”
L.A. will have to bring the same effort less than 24 hours later despite losing guard Kenneth Smith to a hand injury on an already shortened bench. The Skyforce bench — which includes three former NBA players — has outscored the D-Fenders bench 55-8 during the first two games of this series.
Rookie forward Greg Whittington sparked Sioux Falls with a team-high 17 points off the bench, adding seven rebounds and two blocks.
Both teams will have a shot at their first NBA D-League title on Wednesday. “It feels OK,” Blue said. “Tomorrow will be great. Tonight, can’t even celebrate. Ain’t no celebration. We’ll be back at it tomorrow.”