Skyforce Advance with Sweep of Westchester
Pure playoff basketball was on display Friday night as the Sioux Falls Skyforce eliminated the Westchester Knicks 112-105 at the Sanford Pentagon.
When a season is on the line, every option is pursued and both teams were able to grasp what was at stake. One team fought for survival and the other wanted to vanquish a dangerous team.
Tension gradually percolated through the first half with neither team emerging as the dominant entity. Westchester (0-2) built a lead of 20-11 before the Skyforce (2-0) assembled a 15-2 burst to take their first lead late in the first period.
A tight second quarter gave way to a little more flexible third stanza as the Knicks established themselves out of the intermission to lead 67-56. Jimmer Fredette hit three long bombs and Thanasis Antetokounmpo connected from both long and short to build the spread.
By the end of three and into the fourth Sioux Falls took control to lead 97-79. That 12-minute stretch though impressive, was not enough to drive the Knicks into submission. Desperation drove Westchester to rip off a dozen straight and possibly salvage their season.
Four points separated the combatants with three minutes to go before a crucial Skyforce bucket after a time out gave the hosts some breathing room. The moment was not lost on guard Rodney McGruder who finished with a game-high 33 points.
“Jabril (Trawick) made a great pass to Jarnell (Stokes) for the and-one and that was a big play. We kept our composure because this is a game of runs and we fought through it.”
McGruder also drew a key assignment late in trying to contain Fredette and he emphasized the difficulty of the task. “He’s crafty. He has game. He played in the NBA so he’s a pro.”
“I was proud of our guys for their competitiveness in that series. (Tonight) it could have gotten away from us when we weren’t making shots. Our defense really did it’s job keeping them at bay and keeping it close. We knew they were going to pack the paint after scoring 70 against them (on Tuesday). So we had to hit (outside) shots to win.”
As evidence over the 50-game regular season the Skyforce averaged 21 attempts from deep. On Friday night Sioux Falls took 32 shots from downtown. McGruder (5-10) and Greg Whittington (3-3) were the most productive snipers as the attention now turns to the Canton Charge who will hook up with the Skyforce in the post season for the third straight year.
Westchester finished their season honorably with Fredette leading the way with 26 points and Ra’shad James had 17. Travis Trice supplied 13 points and 8 assists plus Antetokounmpo came through with 12 points.
A double-double for Stokes (21 points, 10 rebounds) along with 21 points, 5 rebounds and 5 steals from Briante Weber proved crucial for the Skyforce. It is the second time in the last three years that Sioux Falls has advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. The schedule of games and times is to be announced.