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14ers Live in the Moment, Take 2009 NBA D-League Crown

Colorado's Joe Dabbert totaled 21 points on 10-of-10 shooting in Game Two to go along with seven rebounds and five blocked shots.
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images/NBAE

By Mark Bodenrader, D-League.com

Broomfield, CO, April 24, 2009 - The Colorado 14ers were outrebounded by the Utah Flash, 47-40. They went to the line just 17 times, compared to 40 attempts for Utah. Dominique Coleman made only 3-of-15 shots and missed all five of his three-point shots, Sonny Weems came up empty on all six of his attempts from beyond the arc, Eddie Gill totaled just five points and four assists, and Billy Thomas, the Game One hero, had just two points at the break as Colorado faced a seven-point deficit.

Yet, despite all this, Colorado still managed to win Game Two of the 2009 NBA D-League Finals on their home court with relative ease. The 14ers broke open what was a fierce battle in the second half and won by 19 points with nary a threat from the Flash in the fourth quarter, and thus captured their first NBA D-League championship in convincing fashion.

That’s because Colorado center Joe Dabbert turned in arguably the best game he played all season, despite fouling out. Dabbert didn’t miss a shot all night (10-for-10 from the field, 1-for-1 from the line) and finished with 21 points in 24 minutes of action. He also collected seven rebounds and a season-high five blocks.

“No, I didn’t (know that),” said Dabbert when asked if he realized all of his shots Friday night found the net. “Wow.”

And Weems, despite his struggles from three, still managed to fill it up inside the arc and distribute to his teammates, totaling game-highs of 25 points and seven assists in 28 minutes off the bench. He also did his part on the defensive end, stifling fellow NBA assignees J.R. Giddens (Celtics) and Morris Almond (Jazz) after they had gotten off to hot starts.

“We stuck with it,” said Weems. “We dug down and we played good defense, and that’s what it’s all about: defense first.”

And the always steady Josh Davis came through with another solid performance, compiling 21 points and seven rebounds.

And John Lucas came off the pine to pour in 17 points, 13 of which came during the huge fourth quarter in which they outscored Utah 35-18.

In total, six 14ers scored in double figures with three reaching the 20-point plateau. The team totaled 29 assists, turned the ball over just 11 times and came up with 16 steals.

As gritty as the Flash played Friday night and throughout the series, they found out the hard way that if you fail to put the 14ers away, they’ll find ways to beat you eventually.

“It’s been like that all year,” said Colorado coach Bob MacKinnon. “It’s because we have veteran players and guys that understand that winning is important and that winning gets you to that next level. We preached that all year, and they have done that all year.”

Indeed, Game Two ended up being a microcosm of the 14ers’ 2008-09 season, which is only fitting. All year, Colorado had been regarded as the deepest team in the league, capable of beating its opponents in a multitude of ways: in the perimeter game and in the paint, on the break and in half-court sets, and on the defensive end.

“That’s what we are,” said Davis. “Everybody on this team is an All-Star player. Everybody here can start for anybody and it’s the reason why we win games. There’s no letdown.”

And that was reflected in the fact that Colorado finished the regular season with the league’s best record at 34-16. To give you a sense of just how balanced this team was, of those who played at least 20 games for Colorado, eight averaged double digits in scoring, seven averaged at least four rebounds a game and five racked up at least three assists per contest.

“I think one of the keys tonight is that we are just deeper than them,” said Davis. “They had to play their starters all the way through and we were able to bring our bench in.”

While the numbers and the results may point toward continuity, things were hardly consistent for Colorado in terms of personnel during their championship season.

James Mays, the team’s top draft pick back in November, suffered a season-ending injury in January. Three players (Weems, Sean Williams, Cheikh Samb) were sent to Broomfield by their respective NBA squads, with Weems, assigned by the Nuggets, taking part in three separate stints with the 14ers. Gill, the team’s starting point guard, received a call-up to the Milwaukee Bucks mid-way through the year. And other players came and went as the season progressed.

Somehow MacKinnon, in his first year with the team after taking over for Joe Wolf, made it all work seamlessly and Colorado never experienced a lull. And somehow, MacKinnon didn’t capture Coach of the Year honors. But while such an honor is subjective and up for debate, accolades like best regular season record, best home record and 2009 NBA D-League champions are not.

“Our motto was, ‘Live in the moment,’” said MacKinnon. “This league changes by the day, so you’ve got to live in the moment and that’s what our guys did.”

Simply put, the 14ers had players step up when they needed them to all season long, and that didn’t change Friday night.