After five unbelievable games, the Robellion have taken a 3-2 lead and come into Game 6 with a chance to send the Globe TRONers packing and collect the first seven game series win in Swoops history. The trophy has been wheeled in by the security A.I., the yellow tape has been coded in to block out the fans from storming the court, and if the TRONers could see it I'm sure they wouldn't be pleased.
Normally in these situations you have some sense of which team carries the momentum, but in this series it's really hard to get a feel for it. Through these five games the total score is Robellion 436, Globe TRONers 420. That's an average margin of victory of just a shade over 3 points--a single possession.
The Robellion are in the driver's seat with a chance to wrap it all up tonight and in that sense means they've been the better team and should be favored. That being said, the Globe TRONer's Doge McDermott has certainly been the player of the series, and had a few of his teammates played just a tiny bit things could have played out much differently up to this point.
If you had to bet which team would win this game, would you go with the resilient Robellion who have collectively found a way to hold on and/or get back into games? Or would you go with Doge and the TRONers, who are well overdue for a clean team win?
I have my own predictions in mind, but betting on matches isn't implemented yet, so that will stay as a hypothetical for all of us to ponder. All we can do now is get into the game and see what happens!
Usually when you get to a game (or at least when I do) you expect the arena to be a bit chilly so you come in wearing a jacket, a sweater, a hoodie, or even a cardigan if you're one of the fancier fans among us. As people flow in, food is acquired, the chatting and cheering ramp up, and the temperature rises so the jacket comes off. Suffice it to say in this series not only has that layer not come off for a good long while, but fans might be advised to layer up and bring a scarf.
The icy winds of the first quarters have been the most predictable weather event in years; completely bypassing the environmental erraticism brought on by global warming in a way that suggests that the Swoops team to gain entry to the UN's Climate Change Conference and propose a world-saving solution wherein these two teams play 9 minutes of basketball in overheated areas of the world.
But in a series where we have learned to expect the unexpected, and not count anything out, even the most predictable of things can change.
On the first possession of this game, Kobe Wan Kenobi dumped a pass into Jabar the Hutt who hit a beautiful clear skies hook from 9ft out. The Robellion were on the board just 16 seconds into the game and I swear, just for a moment, the sun broke through and shone down upon the court. Impossible of course, but, that's sure how it felt to see an early make.
Hakeem and Doge would get a couple good looks from three that they would miss, Jabar would pick up a couple of free throws, and soon thereafter Chris Webbrowser would hammer home a dunk to put the TRONers on the board and we were on our way to a pleasant 72 degree first quarter for all but one player.
A husky doesn't want to hang out in the desert, you can't walk a chihuahua in the snow, and Doge didn't seem to enjoy being out in this weather.
By the half way point of the quarter the Robellion found themselves with a 14-7 lead and McDermott was 0-5 from the floor and an unfathomable 0-4 from three. A plesant game for everyone else had turned into a sweltering dog day for Doge.
The Globe TRONers were able to tread water in the meantime though, through the rarely heard from two-man game of Rajon Trondo and Chris Webbrowser. Trondo had been fairly quiet this series but with the threat of being sent home looming, had turned up his playmaking to compensate for hobbled Doge. He would continue to get in reliable pick-and-roll actions with Webbrowser for easy points, feeding him on his rolls for a few lay-ups, and pulling out the switches when they'd come in order to get Webbrowser posted up on Sith Curry who had little choice but to foul the big man.
Off of a Trondo miss and Droidmon Green offensive rebound, a savvy cut would net Doge his first bucket of the night and the TRONers would hope to build off that quickly--because in the meantime, the Robellion forces had stormed the beaches and taken a commanding 10 point lead with two minutes left in the quarter. Every Robellion player had scored at least three points and they looked to be in perfect syncronicity on both sides of the ball. By far their best first quarter of the series.
Two trips to the line from Doge sandwiched a pair of fresh Webbrowser free throws, and the quarter was topped off by perfect cut by Sith Curry to find a wide open three pointer, and that gave the Robellion would a 26-19 lead to go.
Heading into the second, Hakeem Olajutron was able to put in a nice 7ft bank shot and get himself rolling after a rough 1st quarter where his series-long struggles at the line continued; missing 3 out of 4 of the gimmies and wearing that disappointment prominently.
On the other end Olajutron would remain impactful, tracking a driving Kobe Wan Kenobi and sending his jumper into oblivion. Unfortunately for the TRONers, Skywalker would reach into the abyss and pluck the ball out of it, finding Jabar the Hutt for an easy lay-up.
A turnover by Webbrowser on the next play turned into a potential fastbreak by Luka Skywalker, but Hakeem was right there and able to reach a hand down and pop Luka's dribble out from under him and take a run at the hoop. Sith Curry would come in and purposefully wrap up Olajutron to send him to the line, a wise strategy from the Robellion, as Hakeem would miss both free throws putting him at 1-6 from the line on the night and put the grey cloud back over his head.
Jabar's dunk on the other end would be matched by a Doge dunk, a missed Skywalker jumper would result in a 3-on-2 break for the TRONers that got Droidmon Green an open corner three and after making it the lead was cut to four with 7 minutes to go.
Kenobi would work his magic and find a trip to the line, Hakeem would quickly fire off a three before he could be fouled which he made, and slowly but surely, point by point, the Globe TRONers were closing the gap which now was just three.
Both teams tightened up considerably after that play with the Robellion focusing on not giving up any more points in transition and wanting to force the TRONers to make shots in the half-court offense, and the TRONers sensing they had a chance to strike back and erase the prior 10 point Robellion lead if they cut down on ill-timed gambles.
Sith Curry was tagged by a defensively renewed Rajon Trondo who was affording him no space and forced a badly missed three after trapping Curry in the corner.
Chuckbacca snagged a pair of free throws at the line after a big offensive rebound, but Doge McDermott came down on the other end and confidently fired up a nothing-but-net 27 footer off a Webbrowser hand-off.
Chuckbacca, who lived by the motto, "One made shot is all you need to take a heat check the next time down", fired off a 19 foot jumper that would have given the logo of Jerry West a concussion and that all-glass miss would spark a trying-to-be-positive Olajutron to sprint down the court for an easy transition dunk. Tie game!
Down on the other end, Trondo was continuing his worm-like defense on Curry, tracking and forcing him to drive baseline into the help defense of Doge McDermott who swatted Curry's lay-up back to the court.
Chuckbacca would gather another one of his patented offensive rebounds, but was left with no option to go up with it and found a relocating Curry on the perimeter.
Trondo continued to stick with him the entire time and a great closeout resulted in another Curry miss, which Trondo was able to grab, fire an outlet pass off to Droidmon Green for another transition lay-up, and just like that the TRONers had come back to take a 2 point lead with 6 minutes to go, 36-34.
We've got ourselves a game!
The excitement of the TRONers was felt the most by Doge, who after their newfoundlead went two paws down on the other end, slapped the court, and forced Kenobi to pick up his dribble and lob a dangerous pass into Chuckbacca.
Chuckbacca, still believing that any shot he puts up is going to go in, launched himself backwards and put up a bizarre bank-lay-in attempt, and in a state of complete confusion Webbrowser didn't move out of the way and was called for a foul as Chuckbacca barreled into him.
That foul may have done more harm to Webbrowser than Chuckbacca, as big man air-balled a three pointer the next possession, then carelessly fouled Sith Curry on a three pointer on the subsequent defensive possession. The Globe TRONers would do their best to stay away from involving Webbrowser in actions for the rest of the quarter until he could clear his cache.
In the meantime, we would get the full Droidmon Green experience as the eccentric forward would get a huge dunk, force a missed shot by Skywalker, make a 6ft floater, then undercut Kobe Wan Kenobi on a three pointer and put him on the line where he'd casually drain each one and tie the game up with four minutes to go in the half, 40-40.
Droidmon would go get another two points for the TRONers, then send Skywalker to the line on a shooting foul again.
Trondo sank a nice 11ft banker, Jabar rocked the rim on a reverse dunk back down the floor, Webbrowser was refreshed and got a nice dunk of his own, and it was all systems go for both offenses.
The Robellion regrouped and looked to eat some shot clock up with under a minute to go and get a good possession. In many cases a team who gave up a 10 point lead may be a bit rattled, but the Robellion's resilience has been a hallmark of their team and this series. They'd work to find a mismatch for Jabar who got Doge on him and resulted in a trip to the line for the Robellion's center.
Back on defense, Sith Curry would give Trondo a taste of his own medicine and stay glued to the Globe guard, forcing an offensive foul from him before coming back down the other end and draining a three to put the Robellion back up two.
None too happy with that sequence of events, Trondo lured Curry into overplaying him and blew past the too-close defender to put Chuckbacca in a tough-to-contest situation that ended up with Trondo being fouled and making two at the charity stripe.
That would end the quarter and give us a halftime score of 48-48. It had been by far the most compelling first half of the series so far and the Swoops team waited with baited breath to see what the second half had in store.
The third quarter would start with Kobe Wan Kenobi missing a well contested 11 footer and you could tell from just that possession that the Globe TRONers had talked about defense during the break. Everyone looked engaged, focused, and locked in. None moreso than Doge McDermott who would hit a 27 foot bomb from the slot the very next play and seemed to be carrying the energy of someone who was looking to make up for a relatively quiet first half.
While the TRONers defense looked as connected as it had been all series, it was perhaps to the detriment of their rebounding. Olajutron forced an off-kilter sky hook from Jabar who was able to sneak in for his own rebound. With nowhere to go, Jabar kicked it out to Luka for the jumper, but that was well contested by Webbrowser who caught the comebacker rebound and started his own fast break. Webbrowser strided down the court for a lay-in but was forced out of bounds in the air by Skywalker, which was called a shooting foul to the dismay of the Robellion. Webbrowser would get a "ball don't lie" on the first, but sink the second.
Olajutron, despite his scoring troubles, looked like an automated anti-air system around the rim as he hurried Jabar into blowing a lay-up once again and the Robellion had still not scored yet here in the third! That play would get the TRONers up the court quick and a hot potato possession would end in a Doge McDermott three to extend the TRONers lead to seven with 7 minutes to go, 55-48.
Kobe Wan Kenobi would be forced into another tough three the next possession down, but that locked-in defense was still allowing too many offensive rebounds and Chuckbacca was able to sail over Olajutron for another board and Hakeem would be called for a foul on the contested ball. On the possession reset, Chuckbacca would get the ball and rampage to the hoop, drawing a foul on a somewhat terrified Webbrowser who this time tried to get away but couldn't alt-tab quick enough and was caught with his hand in the cookies folder.
Chuckbacca would miss the free throw, but here come the Robellion again, and Jabar crashed the glass, grabbed the ball, and dished it to Kenobi on the cut for an easy and-1 lay-up where he was fouled in the traffic.
A missed floater from Trondo was grabbed by the increasingly in-the-zone Kenobi, who as Trondo picked him up down the floor, was able to force the switch and leave Trondo stranded on Jabar Island. Rajon's best defensive effort would not be enough and Jabar would head to the line and tie the game back up at 55-a-piece.
Doge would come down and try to grab the game by the collar and regain control, but his 6ft push shot toilet bowled inside the rim and shot out to Chuckbacca.
Chuckbacca ran the floor for a 2-on-1 break with Jabar, took the lay-up for himself and missed it over the outstretched Webbrowser, but Jabar was there to clean up the offensive glass once again and pop it back to Chuckbacca for two and the foul. Chuckbacca nailed the free throw and just like that, the Robellion had regained the lead with five to go.
I will spare the reader the details of the next two minutes of action, which included 5 misses, 3 offensive rebounds, and two turnovers, until at the 2:52 remaining mark of the third Kenobi intentionally fouled Hakeem on a dunk attempt who, amazingly, was able to hit both of them and put his head down to run back on defense. The lull in play was good for the collective heart rate of the Swoops team, but wouldn't last for long.
A Chuckbacca dunk, a pair of traded threes from Doge and Skywalker, a pair of missed threes from Kobe and Trondo, a trip to the line for Kenobi, and a quarter ending and-1 dunk from Olajutron would have this game headed into the fourth with a 67-63 retaken lead for the Robellion.
The TRONers defense which seemed so laser focused at the start of the quarter but faltered at the end, seemed to regroup and renew as after a McDermott turnover Hakeem stole the ball back and floated it up to McDermott on the back and for an and-1 alley-oop.
Still, it was clear that it came at a price as Green was able to force a bad jumper out of Skywalker the very next play but Chuckbacca grabbed his 5th offensive rebound of the night and found Kenobi for the basket.
That end of the quarter bucket from Olajutron and his frustration over the poor Globe TRONers rebounding had awoken something in him, as a missed Droidmon three was suction cupped out of the air by the big man and in one motion scooped into the hands of Doge McDermott who was able to cut the lead back to just one.
Anticipating a PNR action from the Robellion, Hakeem stepped over the screen before it was set and Sith Curry barelled into him for an offensive foul.
After a split pair of free throws from Webbrowser on the next TRONers offensive possession, Olajutron would once again key-in on the Robellion's play and preemptively get in the passing lane of Luka Skywalker who was looking to bounce a pass to Jabar in the lane. Olajutron would pick that off and send the outlet to Rajon Trondo who sprinted down the court for the easy two and just like that the TRONers were back up two!
Kobe Wan Kenobi quickly tied it back up with a nice 8ft banker, but after a McDermott floater, a Chuckbacca miss, another Trondo transition lay-in, and a Green block-turned-fastbreak to lead to another Trondo bucket, the Globe TRONers had successfully turned their defense to offense and stormed to a 6 point lead with 4 minutes to go in the game.
The TRONers defense had become a tornado that was turning over the Robellion like they were an unsecured trailer home.
The Robellion were no strangers to adversity this series though and showed no signs of giving in. Chuckbacca found a pair at the line and even after Droidmon was able to bang home another three, the Robellion were able to match it with one of their own, force a stop, and come back down to feed Jabar for the easy two to get the TRONers lead down to just three with 3 minutes left.
The Robellion knew that if they could weather this and ride it out, once it settled they would be able to mount an attack.
The problem was, what the Robellion thought was the worst of it having passed was just them entering the eye of the storm.
First, the rain started back up as Trondo drilzzled in a little floater.
The Robellion opened the umbrella on a Sith Curry three, but the wind took it and they were left defenseless as the TRONers went down the floor in a gust.
Then, a bursting Droidmon Green flashed to the corner and sent a lightning bolt of a three pointer down, so clean that you could hear the crack of the net from the backspin of the ball!
The Robellion were able to seek shelter with trip to the line from Kenobi, but the TRONers struck twice as a Doge three pointer descended from the heavens to extend the lead to a category 8, all but vaporizing the hopes of a Robellion comeback.
The tempestuous defense of the Globe TRONers would force the Robellion back inside. Despite their best efforts to avoid it's path, the perimeter was locked down, and they found themselves unable to make any moves to avoid the oncoming Hurricane Hakeem as he sent back shot attempts at every turn.
There would simply be no relief for the Robellion, and once the warning siren finally fell silent and the damage was able to be surveyed, the result was a destructive 90-81 win for the Globe TRONers who had gathered their power and forced the greatest two words in all of sports: Game 7.
This didn't end up being the closest finish of the series so far, but jeez did this absolutely feel like the closest match these two teams have played.
Every player contributed in key moments. All the same, every player faltered in some as well. The TRONers played this game like it was do-or-die and even though it technically wasn't for the Robellion, they played with that same level of intensity.
That intensity may have boiled over for both parties as the fouls racked up and resulted it a combined 80 (!!!) free throws being shot. Still, while that may be a bummer to watch in the NBA, with these Swoopsters not being able to foul out it's almost exciting in a game like this. Nobody is giving ground, fouling can be strategic in a different way, and at least in this game, it came as a result of extremely aggressive and attacking defense.
The Robellion defense resulted in the TRONers not being able to get going from deep, making only 8-24 (33%) of their attempts, but they couldn't stop the two most important makes of the night when it mattered most, and still let in 50% of the TRONers shots overall.
On the other hand, the Robellion's offense was greatly impacted by the unparallelled defensive effort from the Globe TRONers. While it's worth mentioning they put them on the line 45 times, they also forced the Robellion into making only 35.7% of their 56 field goals.
On offense both teams were obviously able to get to the line a ton, part of that on their own accord, part of it the type of defense that was being played. The Globe TRONers were able to share the ball a bit better and double up on the Robellion assists on the night, 20-10, which is relatively expected given the amount of shots the Robellion missed.
Because this was such an overall team effort from both the Robellion and the TRONers, it's hard to point to a single Player of the Game.
Is it Doge McDermott for once again being the game high scorer, after putting in 28 on the night? He wasn't inefficient, but only grabbed two boards and three assists, while having nearly half of his teams turnovers.
Is it Hakeem Olajutron, who despite a pedestrian 13/8/2 line and dying at the line again, had two steals, four blocks, and catalyzed the TRONers defensive push?
What about Jabar the Hutt with his 20/10, a perfect 8-8 from the line and a rock solid option each tim the Robellion needed to keep pace?
Or should it be Chuckbacca, who despite some bizarre shot attempts ended up with 19/13/0/1/3 on 50% shooting and kept the Robellion alive with 7 gigantic offensive rebounds?
Perhaps this time there is no Player of the Game, but rather a recognition of how fun this game was, each player's role in the spring, summer, autumn, and winter quarters, and a clean slate heading into the winner take all Game 7 that you will not want to miss.