NBA D-League Finals - How They Got There: Fort Wayne Mad Ants
It wasn't until last season -- their sixth as an NBA D-League franchise -- that the Fort Wayne Mad Ants even posted a winning record. A year later, after being swept by Santa Cruz in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, the Mad Ants are division champions and NBA D-League Finals participants for the first time. The lone thread through that rise has been Ron Howard, a.k.a. "Mr. Mad Ant," who's been with the franchise since Day 1, culminating in a special 2013-14 season in which he also became the league's all-time leading scorer.
Here's a look at how Fort Wayne reached the championship round:
|Record By Month|
After a mediocre start, the Mad Ants -- led by first-year head coach Conner Henry, an NBA veteran of four teams -- flipped the switch after the New Year. Boosted by assignees Jamaal Franklin (Grizzlies), Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva (Pistons), they won both of their games at the NBA D-League Showcase in January, including a 101-97 victory over the Warriors.
By season's end, Fort Wayne had turned into another of the league's high-octane scoring machines, winning 13 of their last 15 games and clinching the No. 1 seed in a thriller against the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Fort Wayne's resilient, team effort carried over into the postseason from the get-go. In their first playoff game, the Mad Ants couldn't buy a bucket from outside and trailed by eight with 1:57 left.
But center Tim Ohlbrecht capped a furious late rally with a putback lay-in with 5.8 seconds left to help them steal a 97-96 win on the road in Reno. Fort Wayne erupted for 44 points in the fourth quarter of Game 2, including 17 by 32-year-old big man Will Frisby, to advance.
It was deja vu in Sioux Falls as the Mad Ants had another magical comeback in them in Game 1. This time they trailed by 10 with five minutes to play and star Tony Mitchell mired in a shooting slump. Then T-Mitch erupted for 9 points in the final 2:53, winding down the clock in a tie game and hitting an awkward but effective bank shot against Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins to seal a 113-111 win.
They rode a 77-point first half in Game 2 -- and an electrifying dunk from Mitchell that landed on SportsCenter's Top Plays -- into the title round.
|2013-14 Regular Season Statistics|
|Trey McKinney Jones||15.1||4.6||2.1||46.5%||35.3%|
Showcase (Jan. 5-9): Howard Comes Up Big; Franklin, Mitchell, Siva Assigned
All-Star (Feb. 14-15): Mitchell Repeats As Champion After Electrifying Competition
Becoming Mr. Mad Ant: The unlikely story of how a Chicago native became the face of the Fort Wayne Mad Ants
April 18: Howard Wins 2014 Sportsmanship Award