The 2015 ABA Championship Finals tipped off Tuesday at Hirsch Memorial Coliseum with a pair of exciting contests producing wins for the host and defending champion Shreveport-Bossier Mavericks and the third-seeded Miami Midnites.
In Game One, the Midnites jumped out to a 10-point lead after one period, then held on down the stretch to beat the second-seeded Jacksonville Giants 109-103. In Game Two, the fourth-seeded Chicago Steam played as good as any opposing squad has against the top-seeded Mavs, but “The
Silent Assassin” Josh Pace erupted for 13 points in the fourth quarter as Shreveport-Bossier prevailed 100-89.
The Giants and Steam will meet in Game Three Wednesday at 6 p.m. in an elimination game, then the Mavericks will take on Miami at approximately 8 p.m. in Game Four, with the winner advancing to the Championship Series Saturday. The winner of Game Three will clash with the loser of Game Four Thursday at 7 p.m. The winner of that contest advances to the Championship Series and the loser is eliminated.
“This was a similar game to the opener (of the Finals) with Arizona last season, and we won by a similar score (97-89 in 2014),” said Mavericks head coach Steve Tucker, who stretched his ABA-record career victory total to 204. “We found a way to win, as we have time and again. We’ve now got to find a way to win three more.”
The Steam achieved a few moral victories in Tuesday’s game, though Shreveport-Bossier ultimately came away with the win. For the first time all season, the Mavericks faced a deficit at the end of any quarter when they went to the second period trailing 27-24. Chicago went on to hold the latest lead of any Mavs opponent when they went up 75-74 with just over eight minutes to play. The Steam also held the largest lead against the Mavericks this year – seven points on a couple of occasions in the first quarter.
“Chicago is a great team, very veteran and savvy,” said Tucker. “Their bigs were real good and caused Jon (Rogers) and BD (Brandon Davis) problems. Every time we felt like we might be able to take control, they’d come down and hit a big three. But then Pace was Pace down the stretch, and PJ (Couisnard) and Tony Hooper played great in the fourth quarter. We haven’t played a real game in a month, and it showed through most of the game. Our rust showed. We finally found our rhythm and got in a good flow midway through the fourth quarter and found a way.”
Pace had been contained through three quarters, scoring just eight points, but in crunch time, “The Silent Assassin” lived up to his nickname. With the help of Couisnard and Hooper, who was playing his first game since rejoining the team following a stint in China, Pace put the Mavs up with 8:20 to play on a short bucket. Couisnard then picked Larry Dumas’ pocket seconds later on the ensuing possession and drove the length of the court for a dunk. After the Steam tied the score, Pace made a long transition pass to Hooper whose lay-up was goaltended and the Mavericks had a lead they would not relinquish.
The Steam would still not go quietly, hitting big shot after big shot to keep it close. Couisnard started the run that finally put Chicago away with a huge three-pointer with three minutes to play. Hooper followed with another triple seconds later to stretch the lead to 94-85. Pace then iced it with a steal, drive and dunk with 1:45 left.
“It just took me a while to get into my rhythm,” said Pace, who finished with a game-high 21 points, seven rebounds, four assists and four steals. “We haven’t played in a while, and I think that was easy to see early on. Hopefully this was good for us, and tomorrow it will be easier to find our rhythm earlier.”
Joining Pace in double figures for the Mavericks were Hooper (20 points), Couisnard (19), Anthony Jackson (14), and Brandon Davis, who had the game’s only double-double with 10 points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
MIAMI 109, JACKSONVILLE 103: In the Finals opener, Miami held Jacksonville without a point for the first 4 ½ minutes of the game while six Midnites players placed in double figures in the win.
“Like I was telling you when we spoke yesterday,
we have a healthy respect for each other,” said Miami head coach Damon Wilcox. “It was a great game from start to finish, and I’m proud of my guys for pulling out a big, big win for us.”
Ray Taylor and Amir Celestin led the Midnites with 18 points each, with Celestin also snagging a team-high seven rebounds and Taylor dishing out seven assists.
Jacksonville’s Maurice Mickens scored a game-high 24 points and teammate Elijah Smith fired in 22 points to go with a game-high nine rebounds in the loss.
“I’m proud we played so well against a great team, but even if we’d lost, I’m excited to be a part of this great experience of coaching in the ABA Finals with the best of the best in Shreveport, Louisiana,” said Wilcox with a luminous grin.
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