The NBA Developmental League Playoffs tipped off last night for the Los Angeles D-Fenders as they hosted the Reno BigHorns in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. Unlike the best-of-seven playoff format that is seen the NBA, the D-League operates in a best-of-three contest with the top-four seeds (including the division winners) from each conference advancing to the postseason. In the D-League playoff system, the lower seed plays at home for Game 1 as the higher seed plays Game 2 and Game 3 (if necessary) at home to finish off the series.
This D-Fenders team is led by D-League All-Stars and former NBA players Vander Blue and Justin Harper. Blue, who was a Los Angeles Laker call-up last season, had been one of the league’s top scoring threats throughout the season, ranking second overall with 26.3 points per game. Harper, on the other hand, was called up by the Detroit Pistons in late February and signed two 10-day contracts before the team deferred on picking up contract up for the rest of the season. Although Los Angeles (No. 4 seed) has a tough matchup against the No. 1 seeded Reno BigHorns led by the dynamic backcourt of Erik Green and David Stockton, the D-Fenders have one of the more well-rounded teams with a combination of former call-ups and potential NBA talent.
First Quarter: The Reno BigHorns won the tip and scored on their first possession on a layup by Erick Green. The D-Fenders countered back by scoring their first points of the night on a Ryan Gomes’ putback. Gomes would go on to score the first eight points for the D-Fenders before former NBA call-up Vander Blue got on the board with a vicious slam off a nice cut to the basket. In a prototypical D-League fashion, both teams exchanged baskets at a very high pace as the game was tied at 12 after the first six minutes of action. Blue broke the tie on an and-1 opportunity to move him up five points and gave the D-Fenders a 15-12 lead. After Green cut the lead down to one, Josh Magette hit a three for Los Angeles but it was immediately topped by Duje Dukan’s trey. Gomes, who was active since the get-go, was doing a lot of his damage inside drawing a lot of fouls and converting from the free throw. He knocked his eight straight free throw of the game to increase the D-Fenders lead to five. Justin Hawkins was ejected from the game after receiving a flagrant two foul on a jab to Green’s face. At the end of the first quarter, Los Angeles led the BigHorns, 26-25. Gomes led the way with 10 points and six rebounds, while Blue added seven points of his own.
Second Quarter: Justin Harper missed a three-pointer, but Shumpert slammed it back on a putback to start the scoring in the second. Vander Blue, who struggled in the first quarter shooting 3-of-11 from the field, got the ball rolling knocking down his first three shots of the quarter (including a vicious slam) and added two free throws to move him up to 15 points. David Stockton, who is the son of NBA legend John Stockton, also got hot in the quarter scoring eight early points for the BigHorns. Both players continued going back and forth at each other and with 6:40 remaining in the half, the D-Fenders led 51-42. Blue continued the hot streak adding a layup and a three-pointer off a steal to move him up to 23 points at the half, increasing the D-Fenders lead to 15. Both teams continued trading baskets for the last five minutes of the quarter as Reno couldn’t cut the lead under nine points. The D-Fenders led 73-58 at the half behind a 25-point half by Vander Blue, including 18 in the second quarter.
Third Quarter: The D-Fenders started the second half scoring on their first two possessions to give them their biggest lead of the night, thus far (19). Green knocked down a three for Reno’s first points of the half, but Ingram quickly matched his three with one of his own to keep him perfect from the field (6-for-6). Vander Blue continued his tear hitting a pair of free throws, followed by another three-point basket that put him up to 31 points and gave the D-Fenders a commanding 21-point lead with 6:56 remaining in the quarter. Ryan Gomes, who was very active in the first quarter, snatched his tenth rebound of the game mid-quarter to give him a double-double on the night go along with his 18 points, thus far. The D-Fenders lead would extend to 23 points on a cutting dunk by D.J Shumpert off Gomes’ fourth assist. Reno cut the lead to 16 but Gomes hit a jumper with seven seconds left to bring it back to 18. At the end of the third quarter, the D-Fenders led 104-86. Blue finished the quarter with 36 points and nine rebounds, while Gomes added 20 points and 12 rebounds of his own.
Fourth Quarter: Although they started the quarter down 18 points, the BigHorns hit their first two threes of the quarter to bring the lead down to 12. Blue made a layup to stop Reno’s brief 6-0 run that drew him closer to a 40-pont performance. However, the BigHorns wouldn’t go away as they’d go on another run led by Green (up to 30 points) to cut the lead down to 10 with a little over eight minutes to play. Blue would go over the 40-point mark knocking down his fifth three of the night to give the D-Fenders a much needed basket to push the lead back to 13. After Reggie Hearn hit a three for Reno, Blue tallied his tenth rebound to put him over the double-double mark alongside his 41 points. With the BigHorns down 13 with under five minutes to play, Green scored a sweet reverse layup to try to ignite one last run for Reno. He then hit a late jumper with 1:21 remaining to cut the lead down to single-digits. On the next play, however, Ryan Gomes would hit a tough turnaround jumper late in the shot clock that proved to be the game’s dagger. The D-Fenders won Game 1, 127-116, behind a behind a 43-point, 10 rebound performance from Vander Blue. Ryan Gomes added 26 points and 16 rebounds, while Josh Magette finished in triple-double alert with a stat line of 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
Final: D-Fenders 127 BigHorns 116.