After Season of Frustration, Collins Erupts In Grand Finale

After injuries picked apart Mardy Collins' year with the D-Fenders, he saved the best for last.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- There’s a lot on Mardy Collins’ plate right now. And that’s about to change.

“When I get home, my fiancée, she’s gonna put us on a great diet,” he said.

Collins, who scored a game-high 31 points in his L.A. D-Fenders team’s loss to the Austin Toros in Game 3 of the NBA D-League Finals, has some work to do this offseason to complete his NBA comeback. He’s got to work on his defense. And his foul shooting. He could get a little quicker, too. And to do that, he said, he’s gotta shed those 20 pounds.

“When you get hurt you gotta cut back on what you’re eating, and sometimes that’s hard for me,” he said with a laugh.

Collins’ season – his first season in the NBA D-League, after four seasons in the NBA – never really got going in 2011-12. A sprained MCL knocked him out for a few weeks, then, after he came back, a tweaked hamstring was there to greet him. So, a season that was supposed to get him back into the Show for the first time since playing with the Clippers in 2010, just ended up better acquainting him with the D-Fenders’ training room.

But over the past three weeks, as the D-Fenders closed up a record-breaking regular season and marched into the Finals, he’s exploded. And on Saturday night, with D-Fenders star Elijah Millsap hampered by a sprained ankle from the second quarter on, Collins became the singular offensive force keeping L.A. in the game.

“He went off, man,” said forward Otis George. “I’m proud of the guy. I think he’s gonna go real far. … There were times when he just took the momentum and we just followed him. He’s a good leader.

“He played great – just like he’s been playing all Playoffs,” Millsap said.

After putting up 10 points a game during the regular season, that total shot up to 17.4 per game in the postseason. His field goal percentage swelled from 46 percent during the season to 56 percent during the Playoffs.

For most of the night Saturday, Collins did whatever he wanted on the offensive end. He used a strong (and long) first step to beat the smaller Toros guards from the perimeter, then used his body to finish on the inside. If the Toros front line of Eric Dawson and Julian Wright collapsed, he’d just pull up and hit a mid-range jumper.

Or, in the case of one particular sequence in the third quarter, he’d take the ball on the wing, look off the entire defense like a quarterback, create a lane for himself and throw down a dunk so hard that the shot clock shook well into the Toros’ next possession.

“Even before [Elijah] got hurt, I had my mindset keep attacking, keep attacking,” he said. “When I got to the paint I tried to find guys open for shots. That was my mentality from the time I checked in.”

It wasn’t until the Toros started deploying guard Squeaky Johnson, who stays with ballhandlers like an accent, to guard Collins that the D-Fender guard started slowing down.

“I’m more tired than anything,” he said. “They wore me down in that second half. Johnson picking me up full-court kinda wore me down. I’m so tired.”

But until then, Collins had spent the whole night proving – on both sides of the court – that he belongs back in the NBA. He came into this year looking to show himself capable of running and defending the point, but with his size (6-foot-6) and quickness, he could play anywhere from 1 to 3 in the NBA, said D-Fenders coach Eric Musselman.

“Mardy Collins is a utility baseball player who can play four positions at this level, and 3 positions at the NBA level,” he said.

Now, it’s just a matter of getting – and staying – healthy, Collins said. He’ll take a few weeks off before he starts training again. Head back to South Jersey. See the kids. Get intimate with the food pyramid.

“I’m gonna work my butt off,” he said.

But, if the D-Fenders were going to lose (“With the great season we had, you’d like to close it out better”), Saturday was about as good a send-off into the summer as he could have asked for.

“I wish I could do that consistently throughout the year, but it was a good thing I could finish like that so I can go into summer with a positive attitude.”