FORT WAYNE – In the D-League, all playoff series are best-of-three and all mistakes are amplified, a fact the Mad Ants know well heading into the playoff finals, which begin Thursday night in Santa Cruz, Calif.
There’s no room for error in best-of-three, Mad Ants forward Sadiel Rojas said. Honestly, and I’ve said this to my family, in a best-of-three I don’t think you can really figure out the best team all the time.
But the Mad Ants, who won the regular-season championship, want to leave no doubt about who’s the best. So far the past six weeks, coach Conner Henry has had his team treat every three games as their own little series.
He’s been preparing us for this, Rojas said. And we’ve won every series since then. We’ve won two out of three, or all three, every single time.
The Mad Ants were 34-16 in the regular season, including victories in 17 of their last 20 games. They haven’t lost back-to-back games since Jan. 25 and 31, when they lost at Maine and Canton. They’ve lost three in a row only once this season, in early December.
In the playoffs, they had two-game sweeps of Reno and Sioux Falls, which they ousted with a 126-118 victory at Memorial Coliseum on Saturday – Fort Wayne’s 16th straight victory at home.
With a three-game series, there isn’t really any room for mistakes, Fort Wayne guard Trey McKinney-Jones said. The first game is very important. But we’ve been playing pretty good on the road, and we know what we have to do in Santa Cruz. Rebounding, as coach said, is going to be the difference maker. And as long as we don’t give them any second-chance points and share the ball on offense, play our game, I think we’ll come back with a victory.
Games 2 and 3, if it’s necessary, will be at the Coliseum on Saturday and Monday.
In the playoffs, the Mad Ants have been led by Tony Mitchell’s 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, while Matt Bouldin has averaged 17.5 points and 7 assists.
Santa Cruz, which swept Los Angeles and took down Rio Grande Valley in three, has been paced by 25.2 points per game from former Fort Wayne player Cameron Jones. Seth Curry is averaging 25 points per game.
The Warriors are averaging 54.2 rebounds per game, 9.4 more than the Mad Ants.
Including the playoffs, the Warriors are 15-12 at Kaiser Permanente Arena, where they’ve won four in a row. The Mad Ants have a 17-10 road record and have won four in a row.
In the only regular-season meeting, a Jan. 6 game in Reno, Nev., the Mad Ants won 101-97.
We’ve been preparing mentally for (a best-of-three series), said Rojas, whose team was swept by Santa Cruz in the first round last year. We know you don’t want to start out in a hole. Even though we’ve got the home-court advantage, we’ve got to go play on the road the first game, and we don’t want to start in a hole.