The stage is set for the NBA Development League Finals presented by BBVA, where the Los Angeles D-Fenders will take on the Austin Toros. Both teams are entering the Finals coming off blow-out wins this past weekend. The Toros will appear in the Finals for the first time since 2008, taking on the D-Fenders, who will make their first finals appearance in franchise history.
The Toros extended their series against the Canton Charge, closing it out in Game 3 on Sunday with a 90-68 win. The D-Fenders on the other hand are still undefeated in the playoffs after sweeping the Bakersfield Jam 109-90 on Saturday.
In the win over the Jam, D-Fenders guards Elijah Millsap, Orien Greene and Mardy Collins put up big numbers. Millsap finished with 23 points, five rebounds and four steals. Greene ended with 16 points, nine assists and three steals, while Collins came off the bench posting up 23 points, nine assists and another three steals.
“[Collins] played awesome last couple games, he’s been playing well giving us a spark off the bench,” said Millsap.
After trailing by 10 to start the second quarter, Collins went on to score 14 of his 23 points. Collins efforts sparked the D-Fenders defense who went on to limit the Jam to 35.7 percent shooting, and forced eight turnovers to give the D-Fenders a 52-50 lead to end the first half. Their momentum went on to carry them for the rest of the game. Following the end of the second quarter, the D-Fenders never trailed and led by 26 points at one point; they went on to clinch a 109-90 victory ensuring their Finals appearance.
Prior to knowing they would face off against the Toros, some D-Fenders players preferred to play them to save the long travel, but there were other motives behind their preference.
“Austin because they been on our tails all year long,” said Millsap, “They’re the second best team in the league and we want to play the best.”
The D-Fenders finished the season with the best record in D-League history, standing at 38-12, while the Toros fell short of that record, finishing with the second best record at 33-17. In a three-game series the D-Fenders will retain home court advantage, but will play Game 1 in Austin before returning home for Game 2 and ultimately Game 3 if necessary.
Looking at the two teams coming in, the D-Fenders have not lost a game in the post-season. They closed out both their series against the Iowa Energy and Bakersfield Jam, winning it two games to none. They have strong players in Millsap, forward Malcolm Thomas and Zach Andrews to name a few. Their defense is also what has kept them undefeated in the post-season, in their last game versus the Jam, the D-Fenders limited them to 40.5 percent shooting and forced 18 turnovers, but even with that success they can always improve.
“We really want to focus on converting off the turnovers and really getting out in transition,” said Millsap, “[We want to] finish the plays where we do get steals and not turn the ball over.”
“We have to come out mentally ready from the start…we can always clean up the little things, especially rebounding,” says Collins.
The D-Fenders have an advantage having Thomas back from Houston as well as All-Stars Millsap and forward Brandon Costner on the roster. But one thing the D-Fenders have to be careful with is to not fall behind early, and spend the rest of the game trying to catch up. In both games versus the Jams the D-Fenders found themselves trailing between 23 to 10 points, although they were able to pull out wins it has shown the good and bad of their team.
“I think we’ve been getting off to a slow start and we’ve been having to fight our way back in the second quarter and third quarter just to get back in the game, so we need to tighten up on defense and start off the game with more energy,” says Millsap, “[On a positive note] it just shows what we are made of. We really haven’t been put in that position all year so its good sometimes to be tested.”
The D-Fenders are now 4-0 going into the Finals to face the Toros, who defeated the Charge in Game 3 by getting off to a quick lead and never looking back. The Finals won’t be an easy one and just might come down to the wire in a game three, especially since the Toros have been undefeated at home this post-season. Just like the D-Fenders, the Toros are stacked with talent with players such as forward Justin Dentmon and guard Eric Dawson. Dentmon was named the 2012 D-League MVP, while Dawson was named the 2012 D-League Impact Player of the Year.
This should be a fun matchup, as the number one seed takes on the number two seed in a championship showdown. In order to pull out the victory the D-Fenders will have to enter each game with a “Win or Go Home” mindset.
NBA D-League Finals Schedule: Pacific Time
Game 1 – Tuesday, April 24 – Los Angeles @ Austin, 5:30 p.m.
Game 2 – Thursday, April 26 – Austin @ Los Angeles, 7 p.m.
*Game 3 – Saturday, April 28 – Austin @ Los Angeles, 6:30 p.m.