OREM — The final outcome of the Utah Flash's first NBA Development League playoff game turned out as expected. Their path to that ultimate outcome, though, included some unlikely turns.
The Flash overcame a single-point halftime deficit, and blew the game open during a two-and-a-half minute stretch in the third quarter to advance in the single-game elimination format against the 8th-seeded Bakersfield Jam, 94-81, Wednesday night at the McKay Events Center.
"We came out excited, but it was nervous excited," Flash head coach Brad Jones said.
The nervous excitement allowed Bakersfield to hang around the entire first half, and eventually take its first lead at 33-31 with four minutes to go before halftime.
In addition, there was only nine total fouls — four on the Jam — called during the first two quarters. But Jones wasn't pointing a finger at the referees.
"They didn't have to call fouls, because last time I checked not too many fouls are called on jump shots," he said. "We really settled on the jump shot in the first half."
Trailing 41-40 coming out of the halftime locker room, the Flash immediately went on a mini 7-2 run that gave them a small lead.
But the string of events midway through the fourth quarter proved to be the turning point of the contest. With the Flash leading 76-70, Utah's Kevin Kruger stole an inbounds pass coming out of a time-out and scored. Teammate Ronald DuPree came up with a steal and lay-in of his own on the next possession, and that was followed by a technical foul on Jam coach Scott Roth.
After the made free throw, a flagrant foul was called on Bakersfield's Trey Johnson when he horse-collared Utah's Gavin Grant. On the next play, J.R. Giddens received the ball while all alone under the basket for another easy bucket.
Just like that, the Flash led 84-70 with just four minutes to go.
"That gave us some separation," Jones said. "We came out in the third quarter with a different energy level, and it paid off.."
Kruger, who shared game-high honors with Bakersfield's Johnson with 23 points, agreed that the quick stretch was the key to the game..
"I think that broke their back a little bit," Kruger said. "That deflated them."
Kruger said he felt good about his 8-of-14 shooting performance.
"It's just feeling good leaving my hands," he said. And of getting the team's first playoff victory: "It's huge, because the cities of Orem and Provo have been so good to us."
Utah now moves on to the second round of the playoffs, as they will host the Iowa-Dakota winner, who play tonight. The second round matchup will be Monday at 7 p.m.