And then there were three.
Day two of the ABA Championship Finals saw the top two teams in the league win in convincing fashion, with the defending champion Shreveport-Bossier Mavericks punching their ticket to this weekend’s championship series.
In Game Four of the Finals early Wednesday at Hirsch Memorial Coliseum, the Jacksonville Giants (28-5) bolted out of the halftime locker room and went on a 23-1 third-quarter run to eliminate the scrappy Chicago Steam (19-3) 99-81.
Later, the Mavericks (30-0) returned to the form that has seen them roll to a pro basketball record 90 consecutive wins, dominating the Miami Midnites (18-5) from the opening tip to notch a 124-85 victory.
Jacksonville and Miami will meet tomorrow at 7 p.m. at Hirsch in Game Five of the Championship Finals. The loser will be eliminated and the winner will advance to face Shreveport-Bossier in the best two-of-three Championship Series, which begins Saturday at 7 p.m.
Shreveport-Bossier built a 64-38 lead by halftime and it appeared they would cruise past the physical Midnites, but Miami made a run in the third quarter. The Midnites cut the lead to 18 points, but the Mavs put them away in the fourth, as they outscored Miami 35-14 in the closing period.
“At every level of pro basketball, teams make runs,” said coach Steve Tucker, the all-time ABA coaching wins leaders with 205. “Miami can play. They’re physical, and we know that. We got real good play from everybody tonight to beat a good team in Miami.”
Currye Todd was a key component to the Mavs victory, despite playing just 16 minutes after not playing Tuesday night. The sharp-shooting guard, who is shooting for his sixth-straight ABA championship with three different teams, caught fire in the fourth, hit four-of-six 3-pointers and finished with 17 points, one of six Mavericks in double figures.
“I expected Currye Todd to respond the way he did tonight because he is a true Maverick,” said Tucker.
Todd was happy to get the playing time, and even happier he made the most of it.
“I wanted to be in there, no doubt,” said Todd, who was five-of-seven from the field. “Coach T knows what he’s doing, and when I got my shot, I wanted to get in there and contribute. I know my job, and tonight I think I did it to the best of my ability.”
Once again, “The Silent Assassin” Josh Pace led the way with 18 points, 6 rebounds, four assists and ferocious defense. The story of this game, as has been the case so many times this season, was the depth of the Mavericks.
The Mavs guards were clicking on all cylinders all game, with five backcourt players scoring in double figures. In addition to Todd, P.J. Couisnard tied Pace for the team lead with 18 points, Tony Hooper fired in 17, Anthony Jackson pumped in 11 and led the team with 10 rebounds, and Mike Crain poured in 10 points with eight boards.
“Our guards were exceptional,” said Tucker. “Jack feeds off Hooper. Their like brothers, going back to their time as teammates with Jacksonville. They give us so much energy.”
Two of the Mavericks’ big men off the bench played big minutes as well. Kenneth Cooper and Alex “The Ticket” Sanders combined for 14 points and 10 rebounds while hounding the Miami big men defensively in crucial stretches of the contest.
George Gray led Miami with 16 points and snared six rebounds, while teammate Will Frisby scored 13 points with a team-high nine boards.
JACKSONVILLE 99, CHICAGO 81: The Steam started strong for the second night in a row, leading the Giants 46-44 at halftime.
Jacksonville head coach Kevin Waters then made key adjustments at half, turning up the pressure as the Giants went on the run that seized control of the game.
“We were not happy with the way things were going in the first half, not playing our best basketball, and we made some changes,” said Waters, who is second only to Tucker in career ABA wins. “We realize that it’s win or go home at this point, and we weren’t going out without giving our best shot. We turned up the press, and some guys picked up their games, and we got the job done.”
Ty Thomas led five Giants in double figures with 18 points. Joining him were Jermaine “Slim” Bell (16 points), Elijah Smith (15), Jerrod Tucker (11, team-high eight rebounds), and Sherrod Harris (10).
Larry Dumas played valiantly in defeat once again, scoring 26 points with a game-high 10 rebounds. Andre Muse had 19 points and eight rebounds, and Keith Dean added 13 points.
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