The Los Angeles D-Fenders were able to cut what was once a 19-point deficit to as little as one, but ultimately their comeback was too little, too late, as the Rio Grande Valley Vipers held on for a 140-127 victory.
The D-Fenders led by one following the conclusion of the first quarter, but the Vipers used some hot shooting (hitting 41 percent of their 3-pointers in the first half compared to just 24 percent for Los Angeles) to take a 79-61 lead into halftime.
"They were hungrier than us,” D-Fenders Head Coach Coby Karl said during his halftime interview with Kaitlin Ray on Spectrum Sportsnet.
That trend that reversed itself to start the second half, with the D-Fenders ripping off a 14-6 run to begin the third quarter. Josh Magette (30 points and 14 assists) and David Nwaba (26 points, 10 rebounds and two steals in 32 minutes on assignment from the Los Angeles Lakers) led a transition attack fueled by renewed defensive effort from Los Angeles that allowed the D-Fenders to cut the Vipers’ lead to 11 entering the fourth quarter.
The biggest issue for the D-Fenders entering the fourth quarter was their series-long issues on the boards, something they addressed by dusting off midseason acquisition DeJuan Blair for his first playing time of the series in the fourth quarter.
Blair responded with his best game since coming to Los Angeles, producing six points and five rebounds in six minutes in the final frame as the D-Fenders cut the Vipers’ lead to as little as one in when Vander Blue (29 points on 19 shots) scooped home a layup with just under four minutes left to play.
Former Lakers playoff starter Darius Morris (28 points and eight assists) had other ideas, however, knocking down a three on the other end to extend the Vipers’ lead to four. A few minutes later, Chris Johnson (27 points) hit his seventh 3-pointer of the night to leave the D-Fenders trailing by seven.
The deficit proved insurmountable for Los Angeles, especially in the wake of a questionable delay of game call against the D-Fenders with less than a minute left that killed any chance at a rally.
The loss ended the D-Fenders’ final season (more on their name change below) on a sour note, despite another strong regular season which saw Los Angeles finish with the second-best record in the history of their franchise, and in a tie for the best record in the Western Conference.
As Nwaba’s emergence shows, though, the Lakers’ D-League affiliate remains worth paying attention to as a valuable part of the organization moving forward.
Lakers support Nwaba’s D-Fenders’ postseason stint:
Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton and his family, D’Angelo Russell, Thomas Robinson, Tyler Ennis, Assistant Coach Jesse Mermuys, and multiple other Lakers staffers showed up at the D-Fenders’ second playoff game against the Vipers Saturday to watch Nwaba and the rest of the team’s win over the Vipers to extend their playoff series.
There are a few Lakers in the building watching the D-Fenders. See if you can spot them pic.twitter.com/htcWuuY43D— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) April 9, 2017
Further than just Nwaba, however, Karl said the whole roster was grateful for the public backing of their parent team.
"I think it's special for our guys and it's big for our organization. Our guys understand that they're part of this organization,” Karl said. “It was cool to see Luke and his family.”
More tangible help came in the form of Walton resting Nwaba the prior night in the Lakers’ games Friday and Sunday (before the D-Fenders played Saturday and Monday) as part of an effort to keep him fresh during his insane schedule.
"I didn't talk to him, but when I saw (that he didn’t play Friday) I can't say I wasn't elated," Karl laughed Saturday. "The funny thing is that I think Dave is a unique individual in that I think he could've done the same thing if he played four games in four nights. He's pretty special with his mentality."
South Bay Lakers reveal new logo:
In an effort to more closely align their brand with that of the parent team, the D-Fenders will change their name to the South Bay Lakers during the 2017-18 season.
Before game two of their series against the Vipers, the D-Fenders revealed their new, Lakers-inspired logos:
The primary logo kept things simple, yet different, smoothly incorporating an already excellent and classic looking Lakers’ logo with a South Bay twist, adding the ocean below the lettering.
The secondary logo goes even further, incorporating a pier and palm tree over the minimalist ocean view.
The new lettering wordmarks for the team similarly differentiate the lettering, without messing too much with the already iconic Lakers’ style:
The South Bay Lakers’ jerseys will be revealed prior to the start of next season at an as-yet undetermined date.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats per stats.nbadleague.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen.