Matt Bouldin knows tired defense when he sees it, and that's one reason why the Fort Wayne Mad Ants are up 1-0 in their first-round NBA Development League playoffs series.Bouldin used a screen from teammate Ramon Harris, got a step on Maine's Omari Johnson and drove baseline for the game-winning layup with 9.6 seconds left in the Ants' 104-103 overtime win over the Maine Red Claws at Memorial Coliseum.
The best-of-three series goes to Maine for Game 2 on Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, on Sunday.
“I wanted to be aggressive coming off that step up,” Bouldin said. “They were switching everything all night and it didn't look like they closed the opening, so I just went.”The Mad Ants then closed out the win on the defensive end, with Harris smothering a Romero Osby drive and C.J. Fair altering the final Osby shot.
Yet while Bouldin's shot and the final stop stick out, along with 28 points apiece from Fair and Jordan Crawford, the impetus for this Mad Ants win extended far beyond a couple big plays.
Getting that first win over the No.1 seed came as a bit of a surprise – certainly to Maine – after the Mad Ants lost starter Chris Porter one day earlier when his contract was terminated due to violation the league's anti-drug policy.
Porter is as beloved by the front office and coaches as any Mad Ants player in history this side of Ron Howard. So the loss hit hard and Porter's energy was missed.
But in what could be considered a salute to Porter's style of play, it was the sometimes overlooked supporting players who provided the necessary jump start.
The trio of Travis Hyman, Marcus Simmons and Xavier Thames energized the team when it was down 15 points in the third quarter, and Hyman and Simmons were both on the floor late in the fourth quarter and into the overtime period. Their contributions came in points (Simmons with 11), rebounds (Hyman with eight), steals (Thames with three), assists (Thames with four) and blocks (Hyman with three).
“All these guys could be starters,” Bouldin said. “When they get in here, they're just as good. They're really good players. Travis was huge tonight, just that force in the paint. I don't know how many blocks and rebounds he had but it felt like he had 100 of each. X is so capable, he can do almost anything. Sim has always been a huge part of us, ever since that Bakersfield game. All those guys could be playing a lot more minutes.”
Mad Ants coach Conner Henry said the play and attitude of those three players reflected the influence that Porter has provided as a veteran over the last three years.
“All those gritty plays that Trav made and Sim made, that's what we've seen the last three years with CP,” Henry said.
Fort Wayne went with a smaller lineup to open the game, with Harris taking Porter's spot as a starter, but late in the game it was the big presence of Hyman who seemed to knock Maine off its offensive game.
Hyman barely worked up a sweat the last two games of the regular season, playing a combined 12 minutes. This game didn't look to be much different until the third quarter.
Then Hyman put together one of his best stretches of the season. Even one of his mistakes – a banked free throw – turned out good when it dropped in the basket.
“I guess it's just like waiting for your number to be called and you have to always be ready,” Hyman said. “Coach is not a coach who always plays his guys. He's a match-up kind of coach. If they go small, he'll go small. When they go 6-11, 7-foot, I have to be ready for that. He called on me, taking his chances on how I'd play, and I played well.”
Hyman agreed that Porter's influence continues even though he's no longer on the Mad Ants' roster.
“Chris, he showed us a lot as far as playing hard and playing defense and even though I'm a defensive guy, I still learned a lot from him,” Hyman said.
The Mad Ants now head to Maine with a chance to take the series and move on.
“We just have to have the same aggression we had tonight,” Hyman said, “and we should have a great game up there.”
MAD ANTS 104, MAINE 103 (OT)
Maine 28 32 24 16 3 – 103
Fort Wayne 24 31 22 23 4 – 104
Maine: Young 4-13 7-8 17, Osby 9-20 4-5 24, Sampson 2-4 0-0 4, Babb 5-10 3-4 15, Berry 5-10 2-4 15, Johnson 9-17 1-2 21, Stringer 1-2 0-0 3, Calliste 0-3 4-4 4, Brown 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 35-79 21-27 103.
Fort Wayne: McKinney-Jones 3-9 1-2 7, Harris 3-7 1-3 9, Fair 10-21 8-11 28, Crawford 11-28 5-6 28, Bouldin 5-11 0-1 12, Simmons 3-4 4-4 11, Thames 3-9 2-2 8, Hyman 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 38-90 22-31 104.
Three-point goals: M/12-37 (Berry 3-6, Young 2-5, Babb 2-5, Osby 2-7, Johnson 2-9, Stringer 1-2, Calliste 0-3), FW/6-19 (Bouldin 2-3, Harris 2-4, Simmons 1-1, Crawford 1-6, McKinney-Jones 0-2, Fair 0-3). Rebounds: M/54 (Johnson 17, Osby 10), FW/45 (Crawford 11, Hyman 8). Assists: M/14 (Young 3, Babb 3, Berry 3), FW/20 (Crawford 6, Bouldin 4, Thames 4). Steals: M/4, FW/13 (Crawford 6, Thames 3). Blocks: M/4, FW/4 (Hyman 3). Turnovers: M/17, FW/9. Fouls: M/23, FW/22. Attendance: 1,518.