Though the 2010 D-League Finals became the only series of this year’s playoff tournament not to go the full three games, that certainly didn’t mean the finish to the league’s ninth season was devoid of drama. It took Craig Winder’s tie-breaking three-pointer at the final gun to put a wrap on the 2009-10 D-League season, giving the host Rio Grande Valley Vipers a 94-91 win, a 2-0 series sweep over the Tulsa 66ers and the championship.
In lieu once again of a way to view this game on the VERSUS tape delay (not only do I not have it on cable, but the restaurants that do have VERSUS out here maintain hours that were apparently not scheduled with “allowing minor league hoops bloggers to catch crucial playoff games” as a primary priority), some quick thoughts on your 2010 D-League champion Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and we’re out of here for the morning.
Rationally, I understand that often in sports, as Felicia Pearson says in the penultimate episode of “The Wire,” “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” In small sample-size playoff tournaments, regardless of what went on all year, if a team can get hot for a burst at the right time, it can walk away with the big hardware, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But even with that in mind, it feels especially rewarding to see this Rio Grande Valley team win the championship because of just how dominant this organization has been in virtually every realm from day one last fall to Winder’s shot to win last night.
The Vipers went 34-16 in the regular season and held one of the league’s top two records throughout the season, finishing three games back of top seed Iowa. They posted the second-best point differential in the league, plus-4.78 points per game, and they got there as a team. I noted on a couple of occasions this year that RGV was the D-League’s most watchable team because they shared the ball so well. The Vipers didn’t spend a lot of time pounding the ball atop the circles waiting for teammates to clear out for isolation sets. The ball always seemed to be hopping off the hands of the guys in the red and white, finding a big sealing his man on the low block or a wing player spotting up for a good look at a jump shot at just the right times.
They led the league in offensive efficiency to show for it and also assisted on more than 59.5 percent of their made field goals, second only to Reno in that department. Of Vipers who played at least 10 games with the team, eight averaged double-figure scoring while with the team, and two more scored more than 9.5 points per game. Jermaine Taylor was only with the team for eight games while on assignment from the Rockets, but he averaged nearly 20 points per game over that stretch.
Everybody got involved on this club, and it’s a good thing they did because one never knew who would be available on a certain night. Which is because the team saw five players called up to the NBA over the course of the season, some on multiple occasions. Will Conroy joined the team around the turn of the calendar and immediately setting about reforming any lingering perceptions of him as a selfish player, doing everything asked of him in RGV and averaging a 16-6-10 while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. He spent time with the Rockets this year. Antonio Anderson stepped right in to make a major contribution at both ends as a rookie, guarding the opponent’s best wing player while also getting his points and showing off his deft passing touch and great court vision, particularly as a 6-6 shooting guard who may moonlight as a back-up point guard in the NBA. He earned a call-up with Oklahoma City. Garrett Temple finished the season in San Antonio, and Kenny Hasbrouck received a call-up from Miami after 10 appearances with the Vipers.
And those are just the four call-ups whose names aren’t Mike Harris. Harris spent the year destroying D-League competition to the tune of better than 27 points and 10 rebounds per game and took home the regular season MVP award. Due to his multiple call-ups he played in just 34 regular season games in the D-League, but he returned on assignment from the Rockets late in the first round to do to the playoff competition…exactly what he done all season to everyone else: better than 27 points and 10 rebounds per game, again on efficient shooting, again along with being a solid defensive presence. Nice to see even a small-sample reminder that the best players…are the best players.
Running the league’s top offense, helping several players get shots at the next level and continuing to win while those players were up at said next level all contributed to Chris Finch’s selection as Coach of the Year as well.
Great record, great point differential, five call-ups, coach of the year, most valuable player: That’s a season right there. We have plenty to do in terms of wrapping up this season and perhaps a look at the Vipers’ season in even greater depth sometime down the road, but for now, here’s to a team taking home a championship that it has been earning since last autumn.