The Lakers affiliate D-Fenders (19-5) team took on the Cleveland Cavaliers team, the Canton Charge (13-10) on Saturday night at the Toyota Sports Center in front of a packed crowd.
Both teams played with NBA rookies; Lakers Ivica Zubac for the D-Fenders and Kay Felder for the Cavs. Felder finished the game scoring 27 points, making seven rebounds and five assists, Zubac scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, another double-double.
Coming into the game, Josh Magette ranked seventh in the league in assists, Vander Blue ranked fourth in the league in points per game, and David Nwaba third in the league in field goal percentage (65.2).
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After Ivica played in Saturday night’s game, he became the tenth player in NBA history to play in both an NBA and an NBA D-League game. The D-Fenders were 11-2 as a team when winning by five or less points in the last five minutes of regulation, they can now boast being 12-2 after beating the Charge by four points in overtime, 122-118.
Vander scored the first five points and made a shooting arrow motion towards the scouts. David Foster made his first basket in a long time, it was a five-foot floater in front of the basket.
Zub sat on the bench after getting called for a couple of fouls early in the first quarter but got to go back in the second. The D-Fenders were sucking wind on their three-pointers, they only made three out of 18 in the first half. Travis Wear made one of the two but had missed five.
The D-Fenders went into the locker room down 17 points, 64-47. Would this be another close game? The D-Fenders had won their last three games by two or less points, would they come back again? Another win would give them a six-game winning streak prior to Showcase weekend on the east coast.
Zubac came out on fire, scored on three consecutive possessions, he and Blue were tied at 16 points each, Ivica needed one more rebound for a double-double. By the way, he ranks seventh in the D-League in rebounding and this was his tenth reassignment.
While the D-Fenders were making progress reducing the deficit to 13 in the third quarter, they were still missing their three’s; they missed four more. The third quarter ended with a made three-pointer by Travis Wear making it a six-point game much to the delight of the fans.
“We start believing in each other and never giving up. It was an ESPN Classic game. We never give up until the clock strikes zero.” Vander Blue
“We always encourage our guys to shoot when the get open looks, the percentages always come out in the end,” coach Karl said explaining why his players kept shooting three’s despite their miserable first half completion percentage.
As their luck would have it, the referee’s reviewed the shot and waved it off. But Wear wouldn’t give up, he came back and immediately scored another three to bring the score back to 84-78.
After that, three’s would be key for the D-Fenders to defeat the Charge.
Wear eventually tied up the game at 90 with two free throws at the nine-minute mark. Somehow the D-fenders Assistant Coach Isaiah Fox earned himself a technical foul, followed by Charge forward Roosevelt Jones Technical. It became yet another very chippy game.
There is a rule only in the D-League that a coach can challenge a call and if they are correct they get another and another in overtime. The league is trying it out and so is Coach Coby Karl who challenged a foul and he got his way, the call was changed to no basket.
Blue was on fire, making a three to bring his total up to 34 points with three minutes left in the game and as usual, the team was down by a point, making this another extremely close game. If they won, it would be their fourth win after coming back from a significant deficit.
With one minute left, the score was tied at 111. After a couple of foul shots, the Charge was up three 114 to 111, then Josh Magette hit, yes he did, he hit a three to tie it up with 20.7 seconds left.
Vander was clutch, in the end, making a difficult three-pointer and getting fouled in the process making it a four-point play beating the very upset Canton Charge 122-118 in the final seconds of overtime. Vander scored 26 points in the second half and ended up with 40 points on the night. Vander told his team, “We won this for Cave.” Adam Cave’s memorial was held earlier that day.
“It was a fun one for us,” said Blue, “We had a long day today, our energy was kind of down, everything was kind of off. We had shootaround, we had the memorial service. But once we got our energy going, we got a few stops, everything started working for us, we start believing in each other and never giving up. It was an ESPN Classic game.”
As far as David Nwaba, Vander gave credit to him and his awesome defense, “He fits us well..The sky’s the limit for him.”
How did they come back from a 20-point deficit and win? “They started doing what they always do; they made extra passes, attacked with a little more aggression a little more smarts, and then defensively they stepped up and made some shots and drew the rebounds,” explained coach Karl.
But why have they been winning by such a close margin, “I’m not sure what they are doing, I just figure we might as well just ease into it a little bit and we’ll just start the game down 20 just to make it easier on us because then it will give us more time to come back,” quipped Karl. Queue laughter from the media.
Here are highlights from the D-Fenders overtime and an interview with D-Fenders Assistant Coach Isaiah Fox (former teammate at Arizona to Luke Walton and Channing Frye).