Last Friday, the Legends (12-12) began their two-game tenure at the 2017 NBA D-League Showcase. Squaring off against the Santa Cruz Warriors (14-12), affiliate of the Golden State team by the same name, Texas fell 113-97.
Only one player in the game from either side had more than 20 points. Legends guard/forward C.J. Williams exploded for a season-high 32 points. The sharpshooter made an incredibly efficient 11-of-16 shots and knocked down an equally admirable 5-of-9 from behind the three-point line.
“First of all, my mindset coming up here was to put my best foot forward,” says Williams. “The D-League Showcase is kind of the big thing in the D-League. It’s one of the main reasons why you play in it. To play well there is definitely a goal you set at the beginning of the season, as long as you’re here. I just wanted to come in and show my ability, my all-around game, play well and help my team win.”
Williams also made all five of his free throw attempts. “Unfortunately we didn’t win. I believe I played solid. I definitely believe I can be a little more consistent still. I still have a lot to work on and I just have to continue to do that.”
A defense-oriented first half left the score at 48-47 at the half. Trailing by one, the Legends lost the game in the third quarter, outscored 30 to 19 in the period.
Kyle Collinsworth told me before Showcase that “we do what we do for opportunities like this.” On Friday, he blocked three shots and had eight rebounds, continuing to do dynamic things from the guard position.
Off Saturday, the Legends (12-12) played the Los Angeles D-Fenders (20-6) in a Sunday matinee that officially brought the five-day Showcase to a close.
Trailing 72-59 at the half, Texas brought out their defensive charm in the third and held the high powered D-Fenders to just 17 points in the penultimate quarter.
After the dominant 12 minutes, the Legends took the lead, 90-89, with 11:32 remaining in the contest. Unfortunately, L.A. rebounded and never again relinquished the lead. A Manny Harris and-1 cut it to 106-104 with just under five minutes left.
On that play, D-Fenders guard Josh Magette was called for an offensive foul. In a rule exclusive to the D-League, the D-Fenders were actually able to challenge the play. After a review spanning several minutes (one step at a time), the call was upheld. Still, an interesting wrinkle that the NBA is experimenting with using the D-League platform.
With 3:53 to go, Texas guard Tony Wroten hit a corner three-pointer to make it a one point game. Unfortunately in the compact zoning that is the corner of a basketball court, he had a foot out of bounds and the critical shot was waved off. Travis Wear hit a three of his own seconds later and the D-Fenders went up seven.
Even in defeat, C.J. Williams had another extremely strong showing with 22 points. Again he shot the ball well, making 8-of-14 shot attempts and half of his eight three pointers. Again he played so well but again coming out without a win sits on the front of his mind.
“I’m a little upset because we lost both games. Two games I really believe we could have won. We were in the game towards the end and the other team made a run, which happens a lot in basketball. So you can’t be too upset about it. Hopefully this next game against Toronto we can turn it around.”
Harris came into the Showcase as one of the top players to watch. He calls the event a “great chance to be seen.” On Sunday, he showed his call-up potential when he scored 41 points.
In 43 big minutes, Harris also had six rebounds, six assists, three steals and a blocked shot. He made 15-of-26 attempts (4-of-7 from three) and knocked down seven-of-eight free throw attempts.
Collinsworth aka “The Big Intangible” filled the stat sheet once again with two steals, two blocks and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes. Newcomer DeJuan Blair came off the bench to score 15 points paired with six boards.
The team’s routine had to change a little as they entered what was essentially a tournament format. “The first game wasn’t so different. We got there about the same and were able to get right on the court,” says Williams.
“The second game we weren’t able to get right on the court because there was another game playing. So it’s a little different setup. They put us in the practice gym but it’s not the same as being in the same gym you’re playing in. You don’t get adjusted to the seating and the depth perception, stuff like that.”
“It can be a little different. But at the same time you have to do your job, you have to be professional about it and put your best foot forward. There is a difference when it comes to preparation time before the game on game day. But other than that, it’s basketball. You have to always remember that no matter what, it’s basketball. You have to trust your work and what you’ve been taught your whole life.”
Tony Wroten scored 21, but needed 20 shots to do it and had a regrettable final 12.6 seconds. Foul, technical foul, delay of game penalty, fouls out, technical foul and then ejection all happened in the blink of an eye for Wroten.
Williams gives an exhausted sigh at the mention of the upcoming slate of home games. “Oh man, I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to being at home for a while. We’ve played a lot of road games, our schedule is pretty tough because of that. At any level it’s hard to win on the road but especially in the D-League with the early flights and everything about it. In general, being on the road is a little difficult.”
“To be able to be at home and have a home stretch is big. It’s important. It allows us to get acclimated to our home gym a little more in a game-like setting. We need that to make this push towards the playoffs.”