|Three pregame signs pointed to the fact that this wasn’t just some regular season game, this was the PLAYOFFS!!! |
#1: TSWD forward Nazr Khan came to the game with a 12-person personal cheering section of his nephews and cousins from Minnesota. They promptly took over the overhanging bleacher seats and started jeering the Bad Boys’ yips during layup lines. Nice.
#2: Bad Boys captain Robert Schopen, with only two eligible players from his roster available to play and given the green light to bring replacement players, proceeded to bring SEVEN extra players to give his squad a grand swarming total of NINE.
#3. Once again, Julia Richman gym resembled a medieval hot box torture chamber. TSWD management didn’t just bring a few cans of coconut juice, they backed up the truck and unloaded an entire case of it. Nice. And necessary.
Big shot Rob Schopen announced his presence with authority in the opening stanza. He jumpstarted his squad’s upset attempt by nailing his first four three point attempts; after his fourth trey, the normally reserved long-range specialist was so fired up he was heard exhorting his teammates on. Unfortunately for Rob, his 12 points were the only point his team would score in that quarter, and Tri-State would calmly reel the Bad Boys back in with their more balanced attack. While Vegas and Kash are essentially locks for 40+ points per game, perhaps the biggest factor in TSWD’s ascendancy was the strong play of their front line of Ansari and Khan. Double A, showing the results of his P90X Insanity workouts, dropped 15 points with equal parts brute force and slick shooting. Khan, inspired by the raucous partisan crowd, was a force down low with 14 rebounds. At halftime, Tri-State pulled out to a comfortable 40-22 lead (as if anything in that 100-degree gym could be called remotely “comfortable”).
Bad Boys put up some stiff resistance in the 3rd quarter behind the solid play of JL Novosap and Evan Leong, but after a quiet first half, Tri-State’s long-range shooter Chris Kwan caught fire and dropped 4 three of his own, a sort of bookend to Schopen’s opening quarter quartet. After Schopen’s blazing hot start, the Tri-State defense switched from zone to man, and the newly-anointed “Don King of Asian Basketball” saw not his hair but the TSWD defenders stand on their heads, denying him open looks. It meant lights out for Game One as defense, Kwan’s brilliance from beyond the arc, Kash Miah’s constant flow of buckets, and the dominance of War Dog bigs would lead to an almost-30 point victory for the top seed.
The obvious game plan for the Bad Boys against TSWD, in assembling a nine person army, was to grind out the veterans (who played with only 6), make them expend tons of energy in the sweltering Julia Richman bakehouse, cramp them up and run them into the ground in a three-game series. Tri-State, despite fielding a very old roster, favors a high energy transition style that has difficulty gearing it down, and so they seemingly played into Rob Schopen’s trap by whooping it up in game one en route to a 29-point blowout.
The only concession that Schopen’s foil, Tri-State’s GM Andre Liu would make would be to pull Vegas Dave early in the 4th quarter of game one. Having played with Vegas for nearly half a decade, Liu understands what he has in Vegas: a scoring freak of the highest order who hits the floor and plays in 5th gear no matter what the score. But like a thoroughbred, Vegas is also apt to play into and through injuries, exhaustion, anything. Even though he had a subpar game one, Liu knew that a Vegas scoring binge was just around the corner, as long as the player had gas in the tank.
If the Tri-State veterans were tired, it sure didn’t show. Prior to tipoff, it was TSWD that seemed the more focused and fired up squad, as they rallied together at halfcourt, shouting and exhorting each other for 4 more quarters of total effort. The Bad Boys, like a boxer who had already had enough, was slow to answer the bell as all their players sat quietly on the bench for a few extra minutes of rest. And right off the bat, it was the top seed who displayed the better energy, grinding out to a 15-7 lead after the first quarter, before exploding for a season high 33 points in the 2nd quarter to put the game away by halftime (48-18). The 3rd and 4th quarters were really just formalities, with Vegas Dave (21 pts, 4 assts) driving the Bad Boys crazy and asking for offsides calls from the refs as he got behind their defense for transition buckets time and again. Kashem Miah played like a man possessed and turned in one of the best playoff performances of his DL career, with a studly stat line of 33 pts, 7 rebs, 6 assts, and 5 steals. Chris Kwan continued his reliable outside shooting with 15 points, and both Tri-State big men continued to play strong despite losing 5-6 lbs each in water weight.
The Willis Reed-like entrance of newly married Justice Jiang Yu made the game interesting, as Justice would abuse the War Dog post defenders to the tune of 20 points and 9 rebounds in less than 18 minutes of play, but even those eye-popping numbers were too little and too late, as Miah, Vegas and Kwan took turns driving daggers into the heart of the Bad Boys’ defense with deadeye shooting and aggressive drives to the rim. And finally Nazar Khan had had enough, and much to the delight of his raucous cheering section, swatted a Justice Jiang layup attempt clear to halfcourt, leading to yet another Kash money layup as well as coordinated chants of “MVP! MVP!” from the stands.
When the smoke had cleared, game two was an even bigger blowout (41 pts) than game one. A tough exit for the Bad Boys, who gamely played the game despite having only actual two team members suit up. Their replacement players were all solid players, but the cohesion just wasn’t there. Tri-State moves into the finals to face this coming Sunday’s mega-matchup between BK Hustlas and Moneyball.