Skyforce run at the G-League championship ends with loss to Rio Grande Valley
Sioux Falls was ahead of the Vipers by 10 late in the game but couldn't hold the lead.
SIOUX FALLS — Moments after their 110-105 loss to Rio Grande Valley in the NBA G-League Western Conference final, Skyforce players emerged from their locker room in silence, stone-faced and in some cases, teary-eyed.
They may not have been playing for the Larry O'Brien trophy, but nobody told the Skyforce that a G-League championship isn't a big deal. You could read it on their faces — one by one — as they walked off the court while the Vipers celebrated in a post-game ceremony — this was important to the Skyforce. They were bought in. They wanted to bring Sioux Falls a championship. And, having won eight games in a row entering Sunday night's tilt, they believed they were going to do just that.
It was not to be.
The Vipers dominated the fourth quarter, going from down 10 points to up nine, and then holding off a late desperation comeback attempt by the hosts. The Vipers will face the Delaware Blue Coats in the three-game championship series starting Tuesday.
As for the Skyforce, they'll go home, knowing they got Sioux Falls back to the playoffs for the first time since 2016 but ultimately came up short of their ultimate goal, one that felt attainable as much because of how badly they wanted it as how well they'd been playing.
"It hurts," said center Orlando Robinson, a two-way player from the Miami Heat who had 28 points, 16 rebounds and six assists on the night. "I really wanted to win it all. I'm disappointed that we fell short. We competed, we gave our all. I'm proud of what we did."
Justin Champagnie had 23 points and nine boards for the Skyforce, while Jamaree Bouyea had 20 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.
Making the loss hurt even more was that for most of the night, the Force seemed well on their way to the finals. After a rough-and-tumble first quarter, Sioux Falls led by a bucket at halftime, had that lead up to five by the end of three, then opened the fourth with five quick points to take an 82-72 lead, their biggest of the game.
Then they fell apart. They stopped making shots. They lost their ability to get going in transition. The Vipers got hot and the Force began to press. Behind Houston Rocket TyTy Washington and former Timberwolf Jarrett Culver, the visitors took over and took the crowd out of the game.
"We were up," Robinson said. "We let 'em build too much momentum. They were playing a little harder than us, getting to 50/50 balls and we didn't finish possessions. That momentum in a close game like that can definitely impact the game and it did in their favor."
Coach Kasib Powell was clearly crushed by the loss. A former Skyforce player and assistant, getting Sioux Falls back into contention was personal for him, and he never stopped crediting his players for buying in to playing together and celebrating each other in a way that's frankly unique to minor league basketball. That made the loss hurt that much more.
"We had high expectations to try to win it all," Powell said. "So not winning it all is a disappointment. But overall we had a great season. There's a lot to be happy about. We're a tight-knit group and we wanted to finish it out in front of our home crowd. We didn't get a chance to do it."