By the time both teams have taken the floor to warm up for the second game of the 2006 tournament, the sun is beating down like a UFC competitor with a grudge. A line of sweat is visible where the players have stood for the moment of silence honouring tourney founder Joe “Pops” Cruz, Sr., and I’m uncomfortably warm just watching the action.
Still, since I’m sitting on a beach in mid-June and watching a tournament called “Hoops in the Sun”, I guess I can’t exactly complain. To their credit, the players take the weather in stride, and running and gunning seems to be the name of this game in the early going. Team Certified open the scoring with a pair of fastbreak buckets, and Powerful Inc. are attempting to do likewise, resulting in a sequence which sees four consecutive fastbreaks, the shot clock never making it past eighteen seconds.
While these tactics eventually pay off for Powerful Inc., they are unable to contain Gary “Instant Offence” Bryant at the other end, who is putting up points quicker than I can record them. With a little over five minutes left in the first, he grabs an offensive board and muscles it back in for his tenth point of the game, making the Powerful Inc. defence look lost in the process.
Both teams keep the ball moving up and down the floor quickly as long as they can, but even these athletes eventually succumb to the temperature, slowing things down at the end of the first and working the rock inside for isolation post plays on nearly every offence. Turning the ball over to one another frequently and scoring less often for the next few minutes, neither side manages to pull away from the other, and the first ends with Team Certified up by five, 24-19.
The second period sees more of the same, although now Team Certified’s inside-out approach is proving less fruitful. Gary Bryant’s fearless attacks on the hoop continue to pay off, however, with five of his team’s six buckets in the second quarter coming from his drives and dishes. Still, the sun seems to be beating both teams at this point, with a total of only twenty-six points being scored between the end of the first and the halftime buzzer, at which point Team Certified hold the lead at 38-31.
The players pace the court anxiously at the half, and the crowd is just as keen for the third quarter to begin. When it does, both the ballers and the fans seem to have caught a second wind, and Powerful Inc. in particular are playing with renewed vigour, getting down and dirty in the key and taking everything directly to the rim.
Sensing their opponents’ fatigue, they come out of a Team Certified timeout with a fresh approach, bringing their big men out to no man’s land and repeatedly finding cutters in the lane for a string of easy deuces. Team Certified respond by working the ball even deeper into the post, but they find themselves coming up empty the majority of the time, going into the fourth down 47-50 despite their previous seven-point lead.
One minute into the final stanza, I make a note which tells you everything about how the game changed in the fourth: “The summer just started.” Ignited by a rowdy crowd, both teams catch fire, with usual suspect Gary Bryant doing the honours for Powerful Inc., this time with back-to-back jumpers around a big-boy post move by Team Certified’s Rob Hines, a monster of a man with boulders for shoulders and a fearsome pair of elbows. Undaunted, Powerful Inc. stick with their strategy of working the ball inside the arc for short jumpers, going on an impressive run which is capped by a lefty put-back by former Arizona State Sun Devil Andrew Eckerd to make it 61-53, a fifteen-point swing since the end of the second.
However, Team Certified find it in them to keep fighting, and the continued efforts of Rob Hines inside see them bring it back to 61-61. Moments later, Young hits an NBA-range three to give them their first lead in fifteen minutes, but Aaron “The Problem” Williams drives right down Main Street at the other end for a continuation and-one, knotting the score at sixty-four. In their next offence, Williams makes a quick move to the dotted line before dishing off to Gary Bryant, who drops in a twisting layup to make it 66-64 in their favour.
Making his presence known for the first time in the game, Lloyd Clinton of Team Certified pulls the trigger on a contested three which finds the bottom of the net, putting his team up by a point with less than a minute to go. Following a gorgeous and-one by McDermott of and a technical free throw by Aaron Williams at the other end, Powerful Inc. are up 70-67 going into a timeout with 33.8 seconds left on the clock.
TC’s Trent converts a spinning lefty layup to draw his team within one, but The Problem breaks loose seconds later and is fouled on the fastbreak, splitting a pair of free throws and forcing Team Certified to use their final timeout. The play they’ve drawn up gives Rob Hines the ball on the right block, but he’s unable to do much with it, throwing up an off-balance hook which bricks off of the backboard and is gathered by P.I., who throw a lead pass to a streaking Dex Gray, who is fouled while gathering the pass.
Although he clanks both and makes things worse by running in early on the second, Team Certified are left with only 2.6 seconds to advance the ball nearly the length of the floor, and the best they can manage is a running three from thirty feet which glances off the lower-right corner of the glass. The game ends with Team Certified, last season’s champs, leaving the park as losers.
Final Score: Powerful Inc. 70 – 69 Team Certified
My Play of the Game: Lloyd Clinton’s clutch three with a ninety seconds left and a hand in his face.
My Player of the Game: Gary Bryant, for his sustained scoring and quick hands on defence.