The title game of the Atlanta Basketball Classic was a microcosm of two teams with specific strengths. In the end, one used relied on its strength and prevailed while the other could have benefited from more of an inside push.
Raymond Felton led the way. Though the official scorekeeper snuck off before we could catch a glimpse of the book, Felton had somewhere between 30 and 40 points in leading Beach Ball Select to the championship.
Last weekend at USA Basketball Camp, Felton didn't show the same kind of dominance that he did at the Tournament of Champions. For whatever reason, he didn't leave the same imprint on that event as he did at the TOC when he tallied 45 points in a showcase game against the Raleigh Heat.
However, in the title tussle in Atlanta, he was brilliant. All tournament long his modus operandi was to stick it in cruise control until his team needed him. Well, clearly in the title game his team needed him from the start and he delivered the goods. At the half he had 14 points but in the second half he made his mark.
As the third quarter developed, the Raymond Felton who starred in Chapel Hill in late May rose to the occasion. Felton commented on why he seems to take charge in late-game situations when Beach Ball needs him most.
"I guess it I have a little more spunk and fire in the last couple minutes of the third and fourth quarters," Felton said. For the most part, Felton conserves himself in during the early stages of games. Sure, he gets his points and does some nice things, but he's a better player when it's on the line.
For instance, his jumpshot down the stretch seems to fall more frequently. He's not a great 3-point shooter, particularly in the first half of games. But, he makes jumpers when it gets tight and that's a remarkable quality. He rallies with his deep stroke and seizes the opportunity to take control of the game when he needs to.
One play in particular put an end to the Celtics hopes of winning the tournament championship. Felton was surrounded by three defenders and drove the lane. Everyone followed him in the paint and he had to put the ball behind his back just to keep his dribble alive. It wasn't a good situation to be in and he looked like he had bought himself a problem. Looks can be deceiving.
Felton, surrounded by a crowd of defenders, zipped a no-look pass to Major Wingate who gathered it and stuck it in to give Beach Ball an insurmountable 74-58 lead. It was the play that took all of the hope away from the Celtics and it was pretty.
Wingate, a rising junior, held his own in the post early in the game against Amare Stoudemire and Sani Ibrahim. You can't shut these guys down, but Wingate slowed them enough, especially in the first half when he stood his ground early. While the Celtics did a better job of putting the ball in the hands of their big men, one has to wonder why they aren't force fed the ball in the post. It was the first weekend for the two playing alongside each other and that takes some getting used to for all parties involved. Stoudemire and Ibrahim seemed to like each other very much and looked comfortable in the Olajuwon-Sampson setting.
Beach Ball received a big boost from swingman Terrell Everett who contributed with perimeter jumpers and athletic finishes.
NOTE: We'll have more from this event, including a few player lists and shot charts later this week.