NBA D-League Finals: Iowa vs. Rio Grande Valley

by Matthew Brennan

GAME THREE RECAP

- The Iowa Energy used their home-court advantage and defeated the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 119-111 in Game Three to win their first NBA D-League Championship. The Energy take the series 2-1 after falling to Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday in Game Two.

- The first two games were decided by big swings in the second quarter, but Friday's was decided in the fourth by a dominant final 12 minutes from the Energy. Iowa outscored the Vipers 38-23 in the fourth to take home the title after entering the final stanza down seven points.

- NBA D-League MVP Curtis Stinson was hampered by injury for much of the game, and sat out most of the second half. In his stead, fellow starter Stefhon Hannah and reserve Shy Ely both stepped up to lead the team to a win. Hannah atoned for his Game Two misadventure with a game-high 31 points and eight rebounds. Ely came off the bench to score 17 along with seven rebounds. Iowa also saw a boost off the bench from Stanley Robinson, who had his best game of the playoffs with ten points and eleven rebounds.

- Iowa's Michael Haynes finished a strong playoff run with 21 points and eight rebounds. Haynes reached double-figure scoring in all eight playoff games after hitting that mark in roughly half of Iowa's regular season games.

- Jerel McNeal had another outstanding game in a great season with 29 points of 10-18 shooting, 11 rebounds, and six assists. Matt Janning was also solid with 18 points and ten rebounds to finish his rookie season.

- Iowa totally turned the tables after getting dominated on the boards in Game Two. The Energy outrebounded the Vipers by a 49-43 margin. They also made their living at the line, converting 34-43 compared to only a 16-25 mark for the Vipers.

- With Iowa's win, the streak of a team winning the NBA D-League title at home now extends six years back to the 2004-05 season. The higher-seed has also won every Finals since the NBA D-League went to a best-of-three format in the 2007-08 season.

KEYS TO GAME THREE

The 2010-11 NBA D-League championship will be on the line Friday when the Iowa Energy host the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in Game Three. The game will air on VERSUS presented by TurboTax at 1 a.m. ET Saturday morning.

Winning The Third Quarter

In the first two games of the Finals, close games in the first half have been blown open by dominant third quarters. In Game One it was the Energy outscoring Rio Grande Valley 29-9, but the Vipers returned the favor with a 41-24 third quarter in Game Two. A strong start to the second half for either team will be key if the past week is any indication.

Bench Support

Richard Roby and Terrel Harris, the two primary reserves for the Vipers, came up big in Game Two with 28 and 16 points respectively. Roby, now averaging 21.3 points over his last three games after a slow start to the playoffs, will be expected to have another big game on Friday if the Vipers are going to win. Iowa will be looking for reserve firepower from either Kenny Taylor or Shy Ely, who had a playoff-high 15 points on Wednesday.

Crashing The Boards

- The Vipers dominated the rebounding battle in Game Two, grabbing 63 boards compared to only 39 from the Energy. The Energy will need a better performance on Friday from their starting front line of Scott VanderMeer, Moses Ehambe, and Michael Haynes, who combined for only 12 rebounds. Vipers forward Mouhammad Faye matched that total himself in Game Two, with Patrick Sullivan also adding ten of his own.

Accepting A Trophy On The Road?

- No team has won a deciding NBA D-League Finals game or Championship game on the road since the Asheville Altitude defeated Columbus in 2005. The Vipers already made history when they became the first lower-seeded team to win on the road since the Finals went to a best-of-three format in 2008. They'll snap the first streak if they can get another win and celebrate the title on Iowa's home floor Friday night. Iowa will be looking to avoid getting eliminated on their home floor for the second straight year after falling to Tulsa in last season's second round.

GAME TWO RECAP

- In a stunning turnaround from their defeat on Sunday, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers dominated the Iowa Energy with a 141-122 victory in Des Moines on Wednesday night. The win sets up a decisive Game Three in Iowa on Friday night at 8 p.m. ET with a VERSUS air time of 1 a.m. ET.

- Just like on Sunday, the winning team blew the game wide-open with a big third-quarter. This time it was the Vipers, who outscored the Energy 41-24 in the third stanza to take a convincing lead into the final twelve minutes. Iowa had a lead with as little as 7:09 left in the third, but their NBA D-League record crowd went silent as the Vipers finished the third with a 36-13 run.

- The Vipers were led by a huge game from All-Star Jerel McNeal. McNeal scored 37 points and added nine rebounds and eight assists in a bit of redemption after being held to 20 on Sunday. McNeal got into the lane all night, making 13 trips to the line and converting them all. Rio Grande Valley, who had all five starters in double-figures, also got a big boost off the bench with 28 points from Richard Roby and 16 from Terrel Harris.

- Curtis Stinson had another triple-double for Iowa, but he may tried to put too much on his shoulders with a 10-28 night from the field. He finished with 24 points, ten rebounds, and 12 assists. Moses Ehambe was the bright spot for the Energy as he continued his his shooting from Game One. Ehambe scored 33 points and is now 10-21 from three-point range in the Finals. The disappointment for Iowa on a rough night was starting guard Stefhon Hannah. Hannah was held to just four points on 2-9 shooting after scoring 20 in Sunday's win.

- Rio Grande Valley's Patrick Sullivan did not practice on Tuesday, but he answered the bell on game night with 14 points and ten rebounds. Marcus Cousin, on assignment from the Rockets, contined to sit out the playoffs after being injured in the first game of the Reno series.

CJ WATSON ON THE FINALS

Former Rio Grande Valley Viper and current Chicago Bull C.J. Watson talks about the NBA D-League Finals. Watson earned a GATORADE Call-Up from the Vipers in their first NBA D-League season back in 2007-08.

KEYS TO GAME TWO

The Iowa Energy won Game One in convincing fashion on Monday, and can wrap up the 2010-11 NBA D-League title with another victory in Wednesday's Game Two. Here are some keys factors that either Iowa will need to continue from Game One or Rio Grande Valley will need to reverse from their performance on Sunday.

Vipers Need To Heat Up From Three-Point Range

The Rio Grande Valley Vipers rely on the three-point shot more than any team in the NBA D-League, leading all teams this season in both makes and attempts. The Vipers attempted nearly 200 more three-pointers than the next closes team, and 26 percent of their total points came off of three-pointers. Unfortunately in Game One, things went wrong with a miserable 9-39 shooting night from beyond the arc. The Vipers will obviously need a better shooting performance in Game Two fron beyond the arc if they are going to stay alive in the series. Key players that will be looking for a better night than in Game One are Mouhammad Faye (2-9), Terrel Harris (0-6), and Jerel McNeal (1-6).

VanderMeer's Defensive Dominance

Iowa seven-footer Scott VanderMeer did not have his biggest rebounding or scoring game of the playoffs on Sunday, but the second-year center made a huge impact on the defensive end in Iowa's victory. VanderMeer turned back seven shots for a new season-high, coming up one block short of this season's league-high eight set by current NBA players Chris Johnson and Cole Aldrich. VanderMeer's intimidation in the paint combiend with cold outside shooting brought the Vipers' offense to a standstill in the second half. Iowa wil be looking for VanderMeer to do more of the same in Game Two when they look to lock up the title.

Slowing Down The Iowa Guards

Iowa starting guards Curtis Stinson and Stefhon Hannah ran wild in Game One, with Stinson racking up another triple-double and Hannah coming up one rebound short. The onus will be on Vipers guards like Jon Scheyer and Jerel McNeal to slow down the Iowa duo from both getting to the basket and setting up other Iowa players for easy three-point shots.

Ehambe Comes Alive

Iowa guard Moses Ehambe had been having a slow playoffs after posting excellent three-point shooting numbers late in the regular season. Fortunately for Iowa, Ehambe has been heating up over the last two rounds and exploded in Game One with a 26-point night on 6-13 shooting. If Ehambe can get going again in front of the home crowd in Iowa then the Energy will be very hard to beat. The penetration of guards Hannah and Stinson can get Ehambe a lot of open looks, so he should have plenty of chances to knock down some more threes in Game Two.

GAME ONE RECAP

- A wild Game One on Sunday night ended in a 123-106 Iowa Energy victory. The Energy trailed by as many as 14 points in the second quarter before managing to cut the lead to four by halftime. Iowa then stunned the crowd in Rio Grande Valley with a 29-9 third quarter to ensure a victory. The win sets up Iowa up to have two chances to win the title on their home floor, starting with Game Two on Wednesday night in Des Moines.

- As usual, the leader for Iowa on Sunday was NBA D-League MVP Curtis Stinson. Stinson racked up another triple-double, finishing with 29 points, ten rebounds, and ten assists in the win. Other big perfornances from Iowa included starting guard Stefhon Hannah with 20 points, ten assists, and nine rebounds, and Moses Ehambe, who came alive with 26 points. Ehambe, who had struggled from the field during the playoffs, regained his touch with six three-pointers in the win.

- Iowa's Scott VanderMeer had 12 points and eight rebounds, but he a huge impact on defense with seven blocked shots. The Vipers had a hard time getting any easy baskets due to VanderMeer's presence, and it was a deadly combination when combined with their outside shooting woes.

- Mouhammad Faye led the Vipers with 22 points, but struggled with 7-18 shooting, including 2-9 from three-point range. Jerel McNeal had his worst game of his excellent playoffs, scoring a playoff-low 20 points on 8-21 shooting. He also had an off night from three-point range, hitting just 1-6 from the field. Terrel Harris did not follow up on his big game against Reno, scoring six points on 3-10 shooting and missing all six of his attempts from three-point range.

- The one hallmark of Sunday's game was three-pointers. The teams combined to attempt 74 shots from beyond the arc, with the Vipers suffering through a miserable 9-39 performance. Iowa was 13-35 from long-range, led by six from Ehambe and four by Hannah.

CURTIS STINSON AT SHOOTAROUND

NBA D-League Most Valuable Player Curtis Stinson of the Iowa Energy spoke at shootaround today on his thoughts regarding reaching the NBA D-Leauge Finals.

What are your thoughts on the Vipers and what Iowa needs to do to defeat them?

"They're the defending champions, right now they are the best team until they get beat. They're well coached, they have great players, Jerel McNeal is a great player and I have a lot of respect for him. We have to play hard and do what we do best and slow them as down as much as we can. Since we're playing for a championship everybody is excited. It's going to be a hard fought game, we respect them and I hope they respect us. I think this is where you see everyone's courage and talent level come out."

Some reserve players have stepped up recently to play bigger roles in Iowa's success. Talk about how players like Michael Haynes, Stefhon Hannah, and Scott VanderMeer are making an impact.

"We always knew that these guys could play. There's a system of things we do, and these guys kept working hard. Michael Haynes, you saw what he could do when he got the playing time, I always knew he had it in him. Stefhon came in and played well for us, and Scott has been unbelievable. That's a guy that's been here from day one, and he just keeps getting better and better. The young guys I have a lot of respect for, and I love playing with them. The hard work is paying off for them and their game speaks for itself. Good things are in store for us if everyone keeps playing at the level we've been playing at."

What does it mean to reach the Finals are coming up short the past two years?

"It means a lot to me, because I think we had a good shot last year but we came up a little short. It's going to be a new experience for me, but it's what you play for no matter what league your in. It's not the NBA but it's the next best thing. It's always a good thing to get the chance to play against the defending champions too."

SIX PLAYERS TO WATCH IN THE FINALS

Jon Scheyer, Rio Grande Valley - Scheyer is looking to win his second title in two seasons after leading Duke to an NCAA Crown in 2010. His pro career got off to a rough start with a serious eye injury suffered in July at the NBA Summer League, but the 6-5 guard recovered and has played his way into the Vipers' starting lineup after joining the team in February. His playoffs have been up and down so far, with two 20-point games but also two outings where he was held to six points or less. The Vipers will be looking for more consistency on offense in the Finals from Scheyer, who will also be tested on defense with league-MVP Curtis Stinson and lightning-quick Stefhon Hannah in the Iowa starting backcourt.

Stanley Robinson, Iowa - The 59th pick in the 2010 NBA Draft has had a turbulent rookie season. Robinson was waived in training camp by the Orlando Magic, then went to play for the Vipers in the NBA D-League before being sidelined by a staph infection. Robinson joined the Energy in January and has been a key reserve, although his minutes have dropped in the playoffs. The 6-9 Robinson gives Iowa one of several athletic players with size that can come off the bench, a useful asset against a deep Vipers team.

Terrel Harris, Rio Grande Valley - The 6-5 Harris played sparingly for the Vipers late last season, but he's emerged as one of the team's most valuable reserves in 2010-11. Harris has gotten even better in the postseason, averaging 14.5 points and 7.0 rebounds off the bench and finishing the Reno series with a 27-point outing. The Vipers will need another big series from Harris against Iowa, especially if their starting guards are faltering offensively.

Scott VanderMeer, Iowa - VanderMeer has been stuck behind All-Star Courtney Sims for much of his two-year Iowa career, but Sims' departure for overseas late this season finally gave the 7-0 VanderMeer a chance to showcase his talents. VanderMeer has answered the call with a big postseason, averaging 13.8 points and 10.6 rebounds. VanderMeer will be the biggest man on the floor during the Finals, so he will get every opportunity to continue his excellent showing in the playoffs and provide more rebounding and high-percentage shots.

Arinze Onauku - The former Syracuse star joined the Vipers late in the season, still recovering from a quad injury that ended his excellent college career prematurely. His playing time so far has been inconsistent, but the 6-9, 275 pound Onauku could be leaned on in the finals to counter an Iowa team that has a seven-footer roaming the paint in VanderMeer.

James Jackson, Iowa - Only in the NBA D-League would a player potentially make his season debut in Game One of the Finals. Jackson, a 6-9 forward, joins the Energy to take the roster spot of GATORADE Call-Up Marqus Blakely. The veteran spent all of last year in the NBA D-League with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, Bakersfield Jam, and Dakota Wizards, averaging 9.4 points and 5.7 rebounds while managing to play a full season of 50 games. Waived by Dakota prior to this season in training camp, Jackson briefly played this year for Halifax of the PBL. He will give Nick Nurse a sizable option at the forward spot to add depth in case of injury or foul trouble.