The Fort Wayne Mad Ants are back in the D-League Finals for a second consecutive year.
Fort Wayne, the defending D-League champions, reached the Finals with a convincing 103-85 victory over the Canton Charge (Cleveland Cavaliers) in Game Two of the best-of-three series. The Mad Ants won Game one 106-91.
“It’s a pretty special feeling that none of us thought was possible (a few weeks ago) or that we’d get there,” Mad Ants coach Conner Henry said. “We went through the ups and downs of the season, fighting through that and then having the guys finally getting to know each other and trusting each other.”
Fort Wayne outscored Canton 37-14 in the third quarter to break open a one-point game at halftime. The Mad Ants shot 58 percent from the field in the quarter and forced the Charge into seven turnovers. Jordan Crawford, who was 4-of-6 from the field, scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the stanza.
Crawford finished the game shooting 11-of-23 from the floor, including 4-of-10 from beyond the arc. He also added five rebounds, four assists and three steals.Rookie C.J. Fair added 23 points, on 9-of-18 shooting, and a game-high 11 rebounds. Ramon Harris (13 points), Trey McKinney-Jones (12), Xavier Thames (12), and Matt Bouldin (11) also reached double figures for the Mad Ants, who have won 10 straight playoff games according to the Fort Wayne News Sentinel.
Trailing 40-33 following a running layup by Cleveland Cavalier 2014 second round draft pick Joe Harris, Fort Wayne went on a 7-0 run and knotted things up on a Crawford jumper with 3:12 to go in the first half. Crawford then knocked down a three-pointer to put the Mad Ants up 47-44 with 31 seconds remaining.
The third quarter was all Fort Wayne as Ramon Harris opened up the stanza to push the Mad Ants lead to 50-46. Fair then converted a three-point play to give Fort Wayne a 56-49 edge and the Mad Ants extended their lead to double digits (61-49) on a McKinney-Jones alley-oop from Crawford. Fort Wayne led 83-60 after the period.
Canton cut the Fort Wayne deficit to 12 with 7:42 left after two free throws by Kevin Olekaibe. But Fair answered with eight straight points to put the Mad Ants up 97-78 with 4:45 remaining in the game.
Joe Harris led the Charge with 26 points, on 10-of-13 shooting, while James Singleton added 17 points and 10 rebounds. Alex Kirk contributed 13 points for Canton, which went 31-19 in the regular season.
Fort Wayne, the only independent team in the 18 team D-League, squeeked into the playoffs with a 28-22 record — two games ahead of Iowa for the final playoff spot. The Mad Ants won six-of-eight games after signing Crawford while the Engergy, who are affiliated with the Memphis Grizzlies, went 4-4 down the stretch. Fort Wayne and Iowa had identical records after the Energy won the teams final meeting of the season on March 20.
Fort Wayne now awaits the winner of the Santa Cruz-Austin series. Austin (San Antonio) tied their series with Santa Cruz (Golden State) with a 100-91 win on Sunday night. Game Three of the Western Conference Finals takes place tonight.
Justin A. Cohn of the Journal-Gazette reported that if the Mad Ants are able to win the championship, they will join the now-defunct Asheville Altitude (2004 and 2005) as the the only D-League teams to win back-to-back titles.
[photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images]