In the NBA D-League playoffs, the higher seeds get to choose their opponents from the lower seeds.
For the 2011 playoffs, the first seeded Iowa Energy chose to face the seventh seeded Utah Flash in their best of 3 series.
In game 1, the Energy manhandled the injury-depleted Utah Flash on their home floor.
In game 2, last second heroics gave Utah a 1 point win in Iowa.
Prior to game 3, the elimination game, Marqus Blakely, the Energy’s 6 foot 5 inch power forward was called up to the Houston Rockets and offered a non guaranteed 3 year contract. Iowa’s loss of Blakely offset the loss of the Utah Flash’s injured Brandon Costner.
Game 3 was a strange one, and it happened in two parts.
In part 1, the Utah Flash came out the aggressors, attacking the rim offensively and getting fouled in the process.
Meanwhile, the Iowa Energy settled for jump shots, hucking up 8 3s in the 1st quarter. Shockingly, Iowa’s coaching staff made no real adjustments and the Energy bricked 8 more 3s in the 2nd quarter.
By halftime, the Iowa Energy were on track for ending the game with 32 3-point shot attempts, nevertheless despite their team’s insistence on settling for outside shots the Iowa Energy fans and coaching staff had the audacity to whine like a Southwest Airlines 737 with a torn fuselage about not getting enough foul calls.
Not only do I disagree with their view of the officiating, but anyone knowledgeable about the game of basketball should know that teams that passively settle for jump shots generally shouldn’t expect to get to the free throw line.
Then came the turning point.
With 7:55 left in the 3rd quarter and the Utah Flash up 10 points, the refs appeared to start to buckle to under the incessant abuse being heaped on them by the Iowa fans and coaching staff when they called a highly questionable double technical foul.
After a made basket by Orien Greene, as the players were running back to the other end of the court, Iowa Energy’s Moses Ehambe ran up behind the Utah Flash’s Orien Greene and shoved Greene with a dirty blow.
Mysteriously, the refs called a double technical for the incident, a call which clearly flustered Greene.
At this point Ehambe was 1 of 5 from the floor and his ejection would be no loss for the Energy.
Greene, on the other hand, was 5 of 8, and was starting to take control of the game.
Given who was involved and when the incident happened, it is plausible this this deliberate and desperate act by the Iowa Energy was a tactic to bait Greene into retaliating and perhaps getting thrown out of the game. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Iowa was one of the two teams who was reportedly trying to get the d-league bar Greene from playing in the playoffs altogether.
Instead, Greene responded by raising both his hands in the air, and then dropping them in utter exasperation at the ludicrous call.
The blow was caught on camera, as was Ehambe’s menacing face as he clearly ran at Greene to deliberately deliver his cheap shot.
Again, this incident was the turning point of the game.
Although the provocation did not result in Greene being ejected from the game, the call definitely appeared to have taken him out of his game. Before the technical foul call Greene was 5 of 8 from the floor. After, Green was just 1 of 5 and had 3 turnovers.
Orien Greene and teammate Brian Hamilton are the Flash’s two best dribble attackers of the rim, yet NONE of Orien Greene’s shot attempts for the rest of the game were layups. That’s right: after this incident, all 5 of Greene’s shot attempts were jump shots.
However, don’t place this loss at Orien’s feet.
For some reason, the entire Utah Flash team turned from the formula that was got them their 10 point lead (and a probable upset over the D-League’s best team in the regular season).
In fact, the two teams practically swapped game plans at this point.
Curiously, from this point on until the end of the game, except for 2 layup attempts, every shot the Flash took was a jump shot! The Utah Flash had 10 layup attempts in the first half, and only had 2 layup attempts the second half!
And whereas the Flash averaged only 4 3-point attempts per quarter over the course of the first 3 quarters, they attempted 13 3-pointers in the 4th quarter!
There is a common saying in basketball: live by the 3, die by the 3. The thing is, the Flash were not living by the 3, so why did the opt to die by it in Q4?
This is attributable in part to who coach Kevin Young had on the floor. Coach Young opted to give the heaviest minutes to 3 guards: Kevin Kruger (35 minutes), Andre Ingram (32 minutes) and Orien Greene (37 minutes), and the trio shot a combined 19 3-pointers. Add in guard Ryan Thompson‘s 0 of 3 from the arc, and Flash guards shot 22 3s, making only 5 (22.7%).
With one bad call, suddenly it was the Flash who were hucking up low percentage outside shots and not getting foul calls, and the Energy who were scoring inside and going to the line, led by forward Michael Haynes (37 points, 11 rebounds, 10 of 10 from the free throw line).
Even though the Flash got their lead with defense, by holding the Energy to just 21 1st quarter points, the Flash abandoned what was working and tried to shoot themselves back into the game.
In fact, looking at the game quarter by quarter, the game line reads as follows: whichever team shot the most jumpers and 3-pointers lost the quarter.
The Flash’s lack of attack was reflected in foul tallies as well.
Before the Q3 incident, the Flash had 6 fouls, and the Energy had 9.
After the incident, the Flash had 18 fouls and the Energy 11.
Inexplicably, Utah’s interior defensive ace, Tony Gaffney only played 26:19 minutes, despite the huge affect he has on defense: guarding the paint, altering shots, and stealing the ball 4 times.
And on offense, Gaffney was 5 out of 6 from the floor including a 3 pointer at clutch time.
I do NOT understand at all why the Utah Flash wasn’t leveraging that advantage more this game.
Tony Gaffney changes shots and is a huge deterrent for both post scorers and dribble penetrators, and Gaffney was probably the main reason for Iowa’s early infatuation with the jump shot.
For example, look closely at the first time Gaffney was taken out of the game. There was 2:14 left in Q1, and the Flash led 21 to 14 (+7). With Gaffney out, the Energy immediately started attacking from the paint; their next 3 shots were: Haynes layup attempt, Robinson layup made, Haynes alley oop dunk.
Soon, with 8:47 left in Q2, the Energy had closed the gap: 33 to 31 (+2).
And that pattern happened all game long. When Gaffney was in, the Energy would shoot jumpers and fall behind. When Gaffney was out, the Energy would attack the rim, get higher percentage shots and free throws, and roar back in to the game.
Ultimately, with the Flash up by 5 points with 6:18 left in Q3, they took Gaffney out of the game and that is when the Flash surrendered the lead for good, never to get it back again.
63% of the Iowa Energy’s points came from two people: Michael Haynes (37 points, 11 rebounds) and Curtis Stinson (34 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists).
What do they have in common?
Both players score in the paint. And both players were 10 of 10 from the free throw line. Both players had a field day because of the Flash’s lack of interior defense.
Haynes, a 6’7″, 220 lb forward is a slasher and post scorer. Stinson is an attacking point guard whose dribble penetration gets him points in the paint and assists.
More notably however…
Michael Haynes played 44:05 minutes.
Curtis Stinson played 43:21 minutes.
And how many minutes did the Utah Flash play their best paint defender, Tony Gaffney? 26:19 minutes.
It wasn’t because Tony had foul trouble; he ended the game with just 2 fouls. It is because instead of opting for defense and playing Gaffney, the Flash opted to try to outscore the league leading Energy by bombing away from outside.
I guess you never know how well someone is going to shoot until they’ve shot, and that perimeter oriented game plan did work in game 2 where the final score was 119 to 118 (and the win came on a 3 pointer)…
But the odds are stacked against a team putting up 13 3-pointers in the 4th quarter, especially when they were not shooting a good percentage from the arc the previous 3 quarters.
Add to that the fact that Iowa’s start power forward, Marqus Blakely, was called up to the Houston Rockets, and you really have to wonder why the Flash ended the game shooting from the arc and not the paint.
The axiom is: defense wins championships. Defense, not 3 pointers, yet the Utah Flash personnel on the floor was tilted to the perimeter, and their 3 guards certainly were not driving to the rim.
To me, this is the only reason the Iowa Energy are still in the playoffs. The Flash had the man power to upset the dleague’s best team, they just didn’t put it on the floor.
In closing, Iowa may have walked away as winners, but their fans and clueless coaching staff walked away as whiners. Their relentlessly abusive language and behavior made a complete mockery of the NBA’s point of emphasis for this season: respect for the game.
By the way, I’m a fan of Curtis Stinson. In fact, I groaned when the Flash let go of him a few years ago. Tonight his incessant attacks on the rim were the key to the game and the Utah Flash had no answer for him. Likewise, Michael Haynes was a monster. These guys are class acts and frankly, they deserve better from their fans and coaches.
At any rate, hats off to coach Kevin Young and all the Utah Flash players for their remarkable composure this game (and they needed it, the officiating was downright weird). And thanks again to the Flash for their admirable work ethic all season long.
Although I do think the seventh seeded Flash could have toppled the league leading Iowa Energy, I also think this Flash team over achieved this season all season long. They played injured, undersized and over matched, but with so much heart, hustle and grit that they all won me over completely.
Likewise, I’m so impressed with the Utah Flash support staff. I’ve been a season ticket holder since year one, and Drew, Micah, Eric, Chris, Flash Fox and all the crew are the best yet — and that is saying something because previous years’ crews were fantastic as well.
Thanks for the great year, Flash. I wish more of Utah County knew how great it is to attend Flash games and get to know this team. It is a serious bargain and a blast! Cheers!