By Brian Kotloff, NBADLeague.com
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – The Sioux Falls Skyforce, affiliate of the Miami Heat, capped the winningest season in NBA Development League history with their first NBA D-League championship on Wednesday night at the Sanford Pentagon.
Regular-season MVP Jarnell Stokes earned Finals MVP honors as the Skyforce rolled past the Los Angeles D-Fenders (Lakers affiliate), 91-63, in the winner-take-all Game 3.
Sioux Falls finished the regular season with a 40-10 record – the best in the NBA D-League’s 15-year history – before going 6-1 in the playoffs. The ‘Force finished 26-4 at home in the Pentagon.
“One of the biggest things that stuck out about this team is how tough we are with each other,” said Stokes, who averaged 19.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in the series while shooting 77 percent from the floor. “We’re very tough-minded. We’re almost like demons on the court. But I’m starting to realize the more I’m here how much guys really love each other. Like, we really want to see each other do well. And I think that’s what sets us apart from any other team.”
“That group in there, it’s selfless,” said head coach Dan Craig, in his 13th season in the Heat organization. “It’s not about who’s doing well, who’s scoring, who’s playing. And it starts there: really buying into the team.”
The title is the third in Skyforce history; the team began play in the Continental Basketball Association in 1989, winning titles in 1996 and 2005, and joined the NBA D-League in 2006. They became singly affiliated with the Heat in 2013, with Miami running basketball operations and Sioux Falls continuing to manage off-the-court business operations and community initiatives.
Eight of the nine players who appeared in Wednesday night’s clincher had spent time with the Heat during Summer League, training camp, the preseason and/or regular season.
“It’s everybody’s goal, to get to this point. And we’re here,” said guard DeAndre Liggins. “I’ve been around a great group of guys all year. I’m kind of sad that this [is] our last game, but I’m happy at the same time.”
After splitting the first two games of the series — Sioux Falls winning Game 1 in L.A. and L.A. winning Game 2 in Sioux Falls — the Skyforce’s depth and defense put them over the top in Game 3.
They held a seven-point halftime lead before breaking the game open with a 27-13 third quarter. The ‘Force bench outscored the D-Fenders bench 77-20 in the series.
Against the league’s top defense, L.A. shot just 29 percent from the field in the decisive game, including 1-of-20 from deep. Point guard Josh Magette paced the team with 21 points, while backcourt mate Vander Blue scored 15 to finish with a series-leading scoring average of 25.0 points per game.
Stokes lifted Sioux Falls with 25 points on 11-of-13 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds.