The Austin Toros arrived in Los Angeles with their playoffs backs to the wall on Thursday, trailing the host D-Fenders 1-0 in the best-of-three Championship series between the top two NBA D-League teams.
The Toros played like their playoff lives depended on it, getting out to an early 17-point lead midway through the second quarter on their way to a convincing, 113-94 win over L.A.
Julian Wright led the Toros with 26 points and 11 rebounds with a monster effort underneath the basket, scoring most of his points in the paint. The Toros' offense was clicking early. In the first half, guards, Justin Dentmon and Brad Wanamaker both got off to fast starts. Wanamaker equaled his game average of 6 points in the first quarter finishing the night with a nice line: 15 points, 5 rebounds and 4 steals.
Dentmon demonstrated why he earned the league's Most Valuable Player award, scoring 26 while Terrance Woodbury and Flip Murray added 17 and 16 points, respectively. The victory forces a deciding Game 3 in at the Toyota Sports Center this evening.
The Toros spoiled the D-Fenders perfect playoff record, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers affiliate by getting to the free throw line 49 times, which was a reversal from Game 1 in Austin when L.A. attempted 50 free throws in the game.
While Austin played solid offensively and got significant offensive contributions from all their starters, L.A. played surpringly poor for a team poised to win the Championship.
“I felt we didn’t get back soon enough to get back on defense…[and] when your mind is worried about the calls the refs are going to make for the other team, that’s when you get out of your mental,” said forward Zach Andrews, “But there really isn’t an excuse for me, we just got outplayed.”
D-Fenders coach Eric Mussleman was a bit more emphatic about his team's poor performance. “The most discouraging thing is them taking 49 free throws,” said head coach Eric Musselman. “You can’t turn the ball over in a championship game 24 times and then shoot 57 percent from the foul line. We’ve been a terrible foul shooting team all year long, and it showed again tonight…We lacked energy, we lacked enthusiasm and Austin took it to us.”
Malcom Thomas, who burned the Toros in Game 1 with 25 rebounds and 21 points. had another double-double with 18 points to go with 14 boards but it was not nearly enough to get his team the victory. D-Fender guards, Orien Greene and Elijah Milsap finished with 17 and 14 points respectively.
The Toros relocated to the Cedar Park Center last season after playing in the Austin Convention Center when they became Austin's first professional basketball team in 2005. After the Columbus Riverdragons first moved the club to Austin and renamed them the Toros, the San Antonio Spurs acquired the team, and Austin became the second franchise to be owned by an NBA team after the Los Angeles Lakers bought the L.A. D-Fenders.
The L.A. D-Fenders came back to the D-League in a big way this season after being inactive last year while the club finalized a permanent new location at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo. L.A. played their home games at the Staples Center, the Lakers' home court since their inception in 2006 before settling on their current home.
Game Three of the series, which will determine the 2012 NBA D-League champion, is set for Saturday, April 28th at 6:30 p.m. in El Segundo. Fans can watch Game 3 of the Finals tonight on NBA D-League Futurecast.