On Saturday night, after a melee in the final minute marred the Celtics’ playoff-opening victory over the Heat, Doc Rivers stepped to the microphone and answered a question about the Celtics’ role in the mini-brouhaha by saying, “Even if we’re right, we’re wrong.”
That would make a fitting epigraph for the demise of the 2009-10 Iowa Energy.
Really, the Energy are done for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is Tulsa’s Deron Washington recovering from a 3-for-12 series opener to score 18.7 points per game on 65.3 percent true shooting in the D-League semis. Credit the 66ers for responding to the recalls of Mustafa Shakur, Byron Mullens and Kyle Weaver as well as opening the series with a loss on their home floor to win two in Des Moines and secure a berth in the finals.
Tulsa certainly held the upper hand to begin with at the 2:10 mark of last night’s fourth quarter, leading Iowa, 108-103.
But at that point, the game delved into the world of the bizarre. Conor Atchley was called for a blocking foul against Washington at that 2:10 mark, drawing outbursts from a livid pair of Energy announcers as well as visible displeasure from the Iowa bench and audible displeasure from the crowd (Ridiculous Upside‘s Jon L has rightly described the post-call atmosphere in the building as being “on the cusp of a fight breaking out”). Whether Atchley got to the spot and set himself appropriately to draw a charge or not is debatable (my only half-decent look at it came live in real time, at which point I had no problem with the call on the floor). Not as debatable is what happened as Washington made his second free throw: Energy point guard Curtis Stinson picked up a technical foul for arguing, then went after an official and received a second technical and an ejection for that. Stinson had to be restrained by team personnel and escorted from the floor.
Even if the Energy were right to have a complaint, Stinson was wrong. That simply cannot happen at that juncture.
Not only did Stinson’s two technical fouls give the 66ers two extra chances to add on to what was then a 110-103 lead with just outside two minutes to play, but his actions also denied his team its best player for the final 130 seconds of its season. All Stinson did in this game was post 32 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds against just one turnover, getting to the foul line 10 times. After his ejection, Cecil Brown hit one of two free throws to extend the lead to eight, and the Energy were left to claw their way back without their point guard. They got all the way to within two with five seconds to play before Tulsa re-extended the lead to two possessions after Iowa fouled to stop the clock. Without that extra point for Tulsa and with Stinson in the lineup for Iowa, there’s no telling how those last two minutes turn out or whether the Energy get at least a chance with the ball with the game within one possession.
Stinson led the league with 14 technical fouls during the regular season, and even the home announcers didn’t sound shocked that his temper came back to haunt the Energy in a big spot. But more than anything, it’s too bad it had to end this way. It would be a shame for one final outburst to overshadow the fact that this man was also the heart and soul of the league’s best regular season team and perhaps the primary reason it lasted through six playoff games despite seeing three principal contributors called up down the stretch.
So the top-seeded Energy call it a season. Meanwhile, the 66ers validate my prediction that they would advance to the finals in three games…for none of the reasons I predicted last week. I wrote that their collection of NBA assignee talent was greater than anything this Iowa team had seen all year. The Energy waltzed into Tulsa and took Game 1 from that team of NBA assignees. Several players then returned to the Oklahoma City Thunder after that game, and the 66ers won the next two on the backs of Deron Washington, Larry Owens and Wink Adams. Shows what I know.
Congratulations to the Tulsa 66ers on reaching the 2010 D-League finals! More on them to come soon.