by Matthew Brennan, NBA D-League.com
The Iowa Energy entered Friday's Game Three of the NBA D-League Finals with the chance to win a title for the first time in team history. However, many key performers who contributed to Iowa's league-best 37-13 record were no longer with the team by the time the playoffs began. Then in the first half of Friday's game, NBA D-League MVP Curtis Stinson went down with a hip pointer that limited his playing time in the second half. While some teams might not have been able to overcome such adversity, the Energy saw some of their other players grab the opportunity to step up and deliver a win. The result was a 119-111 victory and the 2010-11 NBA D-League title.
"A lot of hard work went into this," said Stinson after the game. "People don't understand what we go through, the bumps and bruises, we go through so much. Everybody can say what they see, but they don't know what goes on behind the doors. I'm so happy for this team, I'm so happy for coach Nurse and hope he gets to the NBA. I respect my teammates to the fullest and they deserve everything. I'm happy for them. I want to thank everybody that came through here over the past three and helped me as a player, this belongs to them too."
Stinson recorded a triple-double in the first two games of the series, but with his injury holding him to just 18 minutes of action, others on the Energy roster stepped up. None was bigger than fellow starting guard Stefhon Hannah, who led all players with 31 points. It was a night of redemption for Hannah, who struggled in Wednesday's Game Two after a 20-point outing in the first game of the series.
"We made some stops, and played together," said Hannah. "It feels great, there's not any feeling like this in the world. Our fans have been great the whole season, we have fans that came every game. My teammates believed in me and gave the confidence to go out there and play the way I need to play. Tonight was my night, it was our night, I stepped up because Curtis was out and it gave the opportunity."
Reserve guard Shy Ely also came up big for Iowa with 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Ely and Hannah both saved their best playoff scoring games for Game Three.
"It's a combination of so many emotions, with Curt being down and the game being so back-and-forth," said Ely about the win. "We just said to ourselves to take it one posession at a time and we will be able to get the lead back and keep it. That's a great team we just played, they have a lot of shooters, they have good players. We just needed to muscle down and get stops to win a championship and that's what we did."
Like Hannah, fellow guard Ely first made the Iowa roster through an open tryout. Ely spent parts of the past two seasons on the Iowa roster but often found playing time hard to come by behind players such as Stinson and GATORADE Call-Ups Othyus Jeffers and Marqus Blakely. The chance to make a big contribution to Friday's win was all the more sweet after the ups and downs of making an NBA D-League roster and trying to earn playing time.
"My journey with the Energy has been unique, I came through the open tryout and made the roster out of training camp last year," said Ely. "The veteran guys we had last year like Curtis and Jeff Trepagnier, they took me under their wing and I have to give them a lot of credit for being in this position."
Forward Moses Ehambe is a relative newcomer to the team compared to Stinson, Ely, and Hannah, but he also made big contributions during the playoff run. Ehambe finished a great postseason with 15 points in Friday's win. The victory was all the more sweeter as Ehambe was part of last year's Tulsa team that fell to the Vipers in the Finals.
"We worked so hard, I came later in the season, but we became a unit, said Ehambe. "It's a little payback from Tulsa, Rio Grande Valley is a great team. These guys are amazing, I've never been on a team that was so in tune with each other. I'm glad I got traded here and got the chance to win a championship."
With all of the player movement in Iowa this season, much of the credit will go to head coach Nick Nurse. Nurse finished up a banner season that inclued Coach of the Year honors and a league-best record with the one item missing from his NBA D-League resume, a championship.
“Obviously, it feels great,” said Nurse after the game. “We’ve gotten a lot of accolades, from division titles to MVPs to lots of Call-Ups. This one sits atop the perch of all of them."