After nearly five months of regular season and playoffs, the American Basketball Association Finals have finally arrived, and the four combatants are no strangers to each other.
The second-seeded Jacksonville Giants (27-4) will face the third-seeded Miami Midnites (17-4) in Game One of the Finals Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Hirsch Memorial Coliseum, the fifth time the two squads have squared off this season.
The top-ranked and defending champion Shreveport-Bossier Mavericks (28-0) will square off with the fourth-seeded Chicago Steam (19-1) in the late Game Two, slated to tip-off at approximately 8 p.m. This is Chicago’s second straight trip to the Finals in Shreveport, and fourth time overall they have been in the ABA’s Finals.
The teams will face off in a double-elimination format on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with the remaining teams meeting in the best two-of-three Championship Series Saturday, Sunday and Monday (if necessary).
The Midnites, who are playing their inaugural season in the ABA, and the Giants split their season series, though one game was called in the fourth quarter after several brawls broke out between the two teams. Miami picked up wins on February 11 at Miami (104-96) and March 8 at Jacksonville (110-101 in the regular season finale). The Giants prevailed February 2 (102-87) and March 7 (96-86) in the shortened contest.
“You could say we have a healthy rivalry with them,” said Miami head coach Damon Wilcox, who took over the Midnites after a legendary career in the high school ranks in Miami. “My relationship with (Jacksonville head) Coach (Kevin) Waters is very cordial. We speak pregame and shake hands after the game, but when we’re coaching, we’re both going all out for our teams. We’re both very intense competitors. It has made for some exciting games between us this year.”
All four of Jacksonville’s losses this season have come at the hands of Miami and Shreveport-Bossier.
The Giants are led by a host of veteran players that have been down this road before. Center Jermaine “Slim” Bell is a two-time ABA Most Valuable Player and the 2012 Finals MVP, and his play has been buoyed by the recent addition of 7-foot center Bruce Brown to the team. In addition, Jacksonville brought in guard Ty Thomas, a former player for the South Florida Gold that Waters says “will be a force to be reckoned with in the Finals.”
“We have played the toughest schedule out of any ABA team this year,” said Waters. “The Miami Midnites are a real good team and, as we know, so are the defending champs (Shreveport-Bossier). We think we are playoff-tested and ready to go to win the title.”
The Steam storm into Shreveport after winning the North Central Conference of the ABA for the eighth season in a row. Led by former long-time Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Mitchell Anderson, the team has assembled a tough team to compete for this year’s title.
“This is the best team we’ve put together for a run at the championship,” said Steam owner/founder Ron Hicks. “We are generally trying to prepare our players to play beyond the ABA, develop them to get to the next level. This year, we’ve been able to do that better than in years past. We’re excited for the opportunity to play for a championship, but we’re very happy that we’ve also gotten some more guys ready to take that next step.”
The Steam will have all they can handle in their first game, as the host Mavericks have won 88 consecutive games dating to when they were located in Southeast Texas.
The Mavericks are the deepest team in the ABA, featuring nine players that averaged double figures in scoring.
“The Silent Assassin”, Josh Pace, was the first player in ABA history to win the league MVP award and the Finals MVP in the same season when he pulled the feat with the Mavs in 2009-10. Pace led Shreveport-Bossier in scoring with a 17.7 points per game average.
Defensively, the Mavericks are stifling, with “The Twin Towers” of Big Jon Rogers and Brandon Davis controlling the paint while wing players like Jermaine Blackburn, P.J. Couisnard and Pace swarm to create turnovers and fast-break opportunities.
“We’ve had some great defensive teams over my time with the Mavericks,” said Mavs head coach Steve Tucker, the all-time winningest coach in ABA history. “This one may be the best we’ve had in that regard. Every man knows their job and executes it at a high level. We have a system, and our players have bought in to the ‘Mavs Way’.”
Several Mavs players spent time with Jacksonville, including flashy guard Anthony “A-Train” Jackson. Jackson scored 40 points in the deciding game of last season’s championship series against the Mavericks before joining the team last offseason.
“I had some great times with those guys, but the job now is to bring home a championship,” said Jackson. “We have played hard all season to get to this point, and now it’s time to go out and make it mean something.”
For his Midnites, Wilcox concurs.
“As an organization, we are excited to be here in our inaugural season with a chance to play for a championship,” said Wilcox. “We are looking to play our best basketball of the season to represent Miami the best way we can.”
For a complete list of ABA Finals events and game schedule, visit sbmavs.com or abafinals.com.
Tickets for the Finals can be purchased at abafinals.com or the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum box office. Call 318/631-4930 for more ticket information.
— Kirk Copeland, Shreveport-Bossier Mavericks