For the second time in a week, the Texas Legends (12-10) played the same team on back-to-back nights. Last Friday and Saturday, the team dropped a pair to the Sioux City Falls Skyforce on the road. This time, the Legends would be at home to face off against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers (16-10), D-League affiliate of the Houston Rockets.
Coming home meant playing in front of the always electric home crowd, packed on both nights to nobody’s surprise. 5,475 fans filled the stands on Friday night.
“I think home court is good for the guys in the sense that there is familiarity,” says Assistant Coach George Galanopoulos. “It’s our home court where we practice, players get to stay in the comforts of their own apartments, and they can get into their usual routine. There are more controllable variables than on the road. And the fans/atmosphere during the game help a lot.”
Flanked by a mechanical bull that proved to be a main attraction at Dr Pepper Arena, game one of the two game set unfortunately didn’t treat the good guys kindly. The high-powered Vipers offense was getting what they wanted far too often.
Progressing wire-to-wire, the Legends got as close as 95-91 in the fourth but an 8-0 run by the Vipers put them ahead 103-91 and put the game out of reach, winning 139-121.
Though the team came up short, it would be less than 24 hours until they got another shot at the same exact opponent, something C.J. Williams was looking forward to.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Williams had 19 points. “It’s also better for us mentally because we really don’t have to get down on ourselves about this game. We just have to play. We love to play the game. We’re gonna come back tomorrow, give effort and hopefully come out with a win.”
The sharpshooting guard/forward made 4-of-9 three pointers, right on course with his strong shooting this season, but holds himself to a high standard. “I think I can definitely get better. I can be a little bit more efficient. I’ve shot very well in the past and I want to continue to do that.”
With his shot clicking, Williams really wants to bring his aggressive defensive abilities to notice. “I’m more focused on my defensive game. Showing everybody, the scouts and just people in general that I can play defense and I can guard every position.”
LIVE SATURDAY NIGHT HELPS LEGENDS PREVAIL OVER VIPERS
Saturday night started on a better note for Texas and they led 32-30 after the first period. A very foggy night outside the arena transferred indoors for Legends star Pierre Jackson. But not even a bulky cloud looming over the metroplex can contain the talents of Jackson.
After just two points in the first half, the past and future (see below) Maverick exploded for 14 points in the third quarter. He got even hotter in the fourth with 18 to finish the night at 34. 18 in the fourth.
Mavericks second round draft pick A.J. Hammons stayed out of foul trouble and showed what happens when he’s on the court and why the organization is so high on the big man. Hammons had a seven point first quarter and finished the night with a 21-point, 12-rebound double-double.
Williams made his first four three-pointers of the night en route to 18 points.
Led by Jackson’s second half heroics, the Legends reclaimed the lead at last with just over six minutes to go in regulation, 97-96. It was the team’s first lead since 32-30 at the end of the first quarter.
Rio jumped back ahead before a game-tying three pointer from, guess who, Pierre Jackson. Tied at 103 with 2:56 left, the Vipers used another run to go up five.
Trailing 108-103 with two minutes remaining in a game both teams desperately wanted, Texas outscored the opposition 10-to-2 to capture an epic 113-110 victory before 5,912 screaming fans.
Exiting the court in high spirits, Galanopoulos called me back to his quote from the night before. “Now that’s home court advantage!”
Former Legends and current Mavericks players Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell took in the game courtside alongside more Mavs personnel. Mavs Assistant Melvin Hunt and former Mavs Assistant and current Los Angeles Clippers scout Monte Mathis also watched the close contest.
The slow first half befuddled Jackson. “I can’t even call it, man. Since I’ve been down here second half’s been a better part of the game for me. The team needed me to make shots and I was able to do that for us.”
“RGV is a great team,” continues Jackson, who’s 34 points led all 19 players. “They play a real uptempo game. It’s hard to not play into their style. But tonight we got the right stops that we needed at the right time, the right fouls we were able to draw and make the free throws.”
During the game, Legends Owner and Mavericks General Manager announced on the team’s broadcast that Jackson would be returning to the big league club on a 10-day contract, likely to be finalized Sunday.
“I just gotta stay positive and confident, absorb everything that I’m getting up there.” Jackson played in four games with the Mavs from December 27th to January 5th, scoring 12 points and dishing out seven assists.
“Play defense when I’m in the game, make the shots. Just gotta make the shots and take advantage of the situation. I’m thankful to be in this spot.”
The Legends will head up North to Mississauga in Ontario, Canada for the 2017 NBA D-League Showcase. For Texas’ part, they will play two games on Saturday, January 21st and Sunday, January 22nd vs. the Santa Cruz Warriors and Los Angeles D-Fenders.
The first game against the Golden State affiliate can be seen on Facebook Live at 9 AM CT. The Lakers’ D-League squad will face the Legends the following day at 2 PM CT. This game will be aired nationally on NBA TV.