It all comes down to this. Four teams. Three games. Two semifinals. One champion. The sixth series of SlamBall comes to its glorious conclusion tonight in front of a sell-out crowd at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. The Mob dominated the regular season, winning all 16 games. But, in the playoffs anything can happen. With second-leading scorer Cam Hollins sidelined with an ankle injury, the Mob will be on upset watch in their semifinal clash with the rejuvenated Lava. The Buzzsaw and Slashers, who square off in the first semifinal tilt, know each other well, splitting four previous meetings in the regular season but much more is at stake tonight. The action gets started at 8:00 p.m. PT/11:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcast live on ESPN.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
SOLD OUT: The semifinals and championship games tonight in Las Vegas have been officially declared a sell-out. More than 1,200 fans will pack Cox Pavilion as SlamBall celebrates a champion for its return season. The games will be broadcast live on ESPN at 8:00 p.m. PT/11:00 p.m. ET, with John Schriffen and former NFL Pro Bowlers Marshawn Lynch and Jon Dorenbos on the call.
MOB TOWN: Just four teams remain but one is the clear favorite to hoist the Gordon/Tollin Trophy at the end of the evening. Seven of the Mob’s 16 victories came against the three other teams on the card tonight, winning those games by an average of 24.4 points. In their only encounter with the Lava on August 10, the Mob won by 15 points, which was the smallest scoring differential in their last 10 games. The Mob beat the Buzzsaw by increasingly larger margins in each of their three meetings: 19 points (July 23), 23 points (August 3) and 34 points (August 5). Conversely, the Mob’s margin of victory shrunk with each successive game against the Slashers: 39 points (July 21), 21 points (July 23) and 20 points (August 3). Should the Lava upset the Mob, they went 1-1 against both the Slashers and Buzzsaw this year.
MOB vs OTHER TEAMS IN SEMIFINALS, This Season
Opponent 1st Meeting 2nd Meeting 3rd Meeting
Lava W, 47-32 (8/10)
Buzzsaw W, 50-31 (7/23) << W, 53-30 (8/3) W, 57-23 (8/5)<<
Slashers W, 62-23 (7/21)<< W, 72-51 (7/23) W, 53-36 (8/2)<<
THREE DIMENSIONAL: The Mob are going for a three-peat after claiming championships in China in 2012 (Series 4) and 2016 (Series 5). The Mob are the only SlamBall team to win multiple titles.
SLAMBALL CHAMPIONS, All-Time
2016 – Series 5 – Mob
2012 – Series 4- Mob
2008 – Series 3 – Slashers
2003 – Series 2 – Riders
2002 – Series 1 – Rumble
BY THE BOOK: Circa Sports expects a pair of tightly contested semifinal games tonight, making the Buzzsaw 1.5-point favorites over the Slashers and Mob 5.5-point-favorites against the Lava. This is the first time Circa has made the Mob single-digit favorites. Their previous shortest odds were -12.5 against the Buzzsaw on August 3 (Mob covered). This season the Mob is 4-0 straight up and 3-1 against the spread in games that Circa offered lines. The lone non-cover came against the Lava on August 10, when they were giving 18.5 points and won by 15 (47-32). The Buzzsaw are 3-0 SU and 2-1 ATS as favorites this season, while the Slashers are 1-1 SU and ATS as dogs. Entering the quarterfinals on Tuesday, an underdog had won a game outright in five straight sessions. That ended Tuesday when the Slashers (-5.5 vs. Gryphons) and Lava (-3.5 vs. Wrath) both won and covered. In the 18 total games that Circa has hung lines, favorites are 13-5 SU and 10-8 ATS.
FLIP SIDE: The Buzzsaw won a coin flip on Tuesday, giving them the choice to play the first or second game in the semifinals. They chose the opener. The Buzzsaw advanced to Main Events in seven of their eight sessions this year. In those seven, they had played in the first game five times and the second twice. They were 1-1 in Main Events after playing in the first game and 1-4 coming off the second game. The top-seeded Mob made every Main Event, and, of course, won all eight – four from the first game of the session and four from the second. This season, teams playing the second game of a session won nine Main Events and teams playing in the first won seven.
SEMIFINAL 1: No. 3 SLASHERS vs No. 2 BUZZSAW
FAMILIAR FOES: The Slashers and Buzzsaw are well acquainted, meeting four times in the regular season with each side winning twice. They were all low-scoring affairs that produced 96 or fewer total points. The Slashers won the first meeting (57-39) and the most recent one (57-32), while the Buzzsaw were triumphant in the two in between (50-41 and 54-37). Three of the four games took place in Main Events. The Buzzsaw held first team All-SlamBall handler Tony Crosby II to 13.8 PPG in the four encounters, well below his season average of 17.7 PPG.
FORWARD SLASH: A raucous crowd at Las Vegas’ Cox Pavilion on Tuesday night watched the Slashers cut down the Gryphons, 64-57, to advance to a semifinal matchup against the Buzzsaw. The Gryphons held a slight 16-14 lead after the first quarter, but it was all Slashers for the remainder of the contest. The Slashers did not meet much resistance on their way to the hoop, converting 21 of 24 rim attacks. Tony Crosby II and Alonzo Scott Jr. both scored 19 points while going 7-for-7 when they attacked the basket. Crosby also contributed seven hits, six assists and four loose ball recoveries.
FADE AWAY: In the regular season, the Buzzsaw went 7-1 in their first game of a session but were just 2-5 in Main Events. The Buzzsaw averaged 47.6 points per game in their first contest of a session and just 31.6 in Main Events. The Slashers were 5-3 in their opening games of a session and 2-3 in Main Events. The Slashers got fewer points from Tony Crosby II in Main Events, compared to the games that got the team there. Crosby averaged 20.0 PPG in the team’s first games of a session and 11.8 PPG in Main Events.
OPPOSITES ATTRACT: Offensively, these two teams could not be more different. While the Buzzsaw are decidedly deliberate, the Slashers are more instinctive. In the regular season, the Buzzsaw ranked last in SlamBall in both PPG (42.3) and dunks per game (10.3), and next-to-last in field goal percentage (42.3). The Slashers, on the other hand, ranked second in the league in PPG (53.1), dunks per game (13.8) and field goal percentage (56.2). Both teams had issues holding onto the ball. The Buzzsaw committed a league-most 15.7 turnovers per game, while the Slashers were responsible for 14.0, the third-most.
TY THAT BINDS: Buzzsaw stopper Tyquan Scott, who was named second team All-SlamBall this week, was the primary reason the Buzzsaw finished second in the league in scoring defense. He ranked in the Top 3 in both stops per game (8.3, third) and LBRs per game (8.3, second). Scott recorded double-digit stops in a game six times, the second-fewest in the league to the Mob’s Gage Smith (eight). In the four meetings with the Slashers this season, Scott helped the Buzzsaw limit Tony Crosby II to 13.8 PPG, well below his season average of 17.7.
DEEP FREEZE: Neither team has made much noise from outside the scoring beds. In the regular season, the Buzzsaw were a laughable 2-of-44 from four-point range (league-low 4.5%) and 0-8 on three-point shots. The Slashers were a smidge better, going 4-of-31 from beyond the arc and 2-of-6 on 3s. Amazingly, Nathan Karsjens is the Slashers designated bomber, making all five of their deep shots this season (including playoffs). The former Western Illinois tight end and long snapper attempted the second-most 4s in the league during the regular season (23) and tied for the third-most made (four). He drained one of three tries in the quarterfinal victory over the Gryphons.
SEMIFINAL 2: No. 5 LAVA vs. No. 1 MOB
HOT SHOTS: The second semifinal is an enticing meeting between the two hottest teams in the league. The undefeated Mob won all but one of their last 10 games by at least 20 points, with the exception being the 47-32 victory over the Lava on August 10. After going 0-5, the Lava have won five of their last six games, including playoffs, with the only setback during that stretch coming at the hands of the Mob. The Lava showed early on August 10 that they would not be intimidated by the Mob, jumping out to a 21-18 halftime lead. But a scoring spree by Darius Clark and a runaway second half lifted the Mob to the 15-point win. Clark scored 23 of the Mob’s first 26 points and finished with a game-high 26 points. The Mob outscored the Lava 29-11 in the second half to put the game away. Mob stopper Gage Smith was an impenetrable force under the Lava hoop, swatting away nine shots, recovering 11 loose balls and forcing several shot clock violations. Lava stopper Faysal Shafaat went block-for-block with Smith, rejecting 10 shots.
FIFTH ELEMENT: The Mob will be shorthanded tonight. Cam Hollins, who was named the league’s 5th Man of the Year, will be unavailable because of an ankle sprain suffered last Saturday. Despite coming off the bench in 12 of the Mob’s 16 games, Hollins was second on the team and eighth in the league with 13.4 points per game. He was exceptionally efficient around the hoop, ranking second in the league in field goal accuracy (65.7) and fifth in rim-attack percentage (65.4). On July 30, he outscored the opposition 55 to 54 in the Mob’s two games. Jordan Jones was promoted from the taxi squad to take Hollins’ spot on the active list. In five games this season with the Wrath, Jones scored 12 points, had nine LBRs and made five hits.
HOT LAVA: The Lava were on a serious roll entering the playoffs, winning four of their last five regular season games, then steamrolled the Wrath, 64-40, in the quarterfinals. The Lava surged to a 20-3 lead to open the contest and took a 41-13 advantage into the intermission. The Wrath had no answers for Bryce Moragne and Jihad Shockley, who generated 21 and 20 points, respectively. Moragne was also responsible for six assists, four LBRs and two hits.
BRYCE IS RIGHT: There is a reason the Lava made Bryce Moragne the first overall pick in the SlamBall Draft back in June. He showed why in the team’s first two games of the season, scoring 23 and 26 points in a pair of four-point losses. In the Lava’s third contest on July 27, Moragne re-injured the same ankle that kept him sidelined for much of training camp. It is no coincidence that since his August 6 return, the Lava have won five of six games, including playoffs. Coming off the bench in those six contests, he has steadily regained his awe-inspiring form. In the quarterfinal victory over the Wrath, it looked like he was all the way back, dropping in 21 points, his most since the team’s second game. In the previous encounter with the Mob, Moragne was held to three points in 14 minutes.
MOB RULE: It was no surprise that the Mob dominated the postseason awards, just like they did during the regular season. Gage Smith was named SlamBall Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, and first team All-SlamBall stopper. Cam Hollins was selected 5th Man of the Year, Darius Clark earned first team All-SlamBall accolades and Cameron Horton was the second team All-SlamBall handler. And, of course, Brendan Kirsch was tabbed Coach of the Year. What the Mob accomplished under Kirsch during the return season of SlamBall was beyond comprehension. Not only did the Mob win all 16 regular season games, but they did so in dominating fashion. The squad won every game by at least 13 points, including nine by 30-plus and two by 40 or more. The Mob led the league in PPG (61.6), PPG allowed (33.3), PPG differential (plus-28.3), field goal percentage (58.5), dunks per game (16.5), offensive Face Off percentage (81.8), assists per game (9.5) and stops per game (10.4). The Mob were the only team to score 70 or more points multiple times, doing so on four occasions, including a league-high 88-point explosion in the regular season finale against the Gryphons.
HOOP DREAMS: There should be plenty of fireworks around the basket tonight. The Lava and Mob were the two most efficient teams in rim attacks and slam dunks, and each squad boasts an elite stopper. The Lava led the league in rim-attack percentage (63.8) and slam percentage (74.4), while the Mob ranked second in rim-attack efficiency (62.9) and second in slam accuracy (72.3). These two teams supplied seven of the top eight leaders in rim-attack percentage: the Lava’s Jihad Shockley (first, 69.5), Bryce Moragne (sixth, 65.0) and Josh Shannon (eighth, 64.6), and Mob’s Gage Smith (third, 67.6), Cameron Horton (fourth, 67.6), Cam Hollins (fifth, 65.4) and Darius Clark (seventh, 64.7). Those rim rockers will be challenged under the hoop. The Mob’s Gage Smith was named Defensive Player of the Year, while the Lava’s Faysal “Fessy” Shafaat earned Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts last week. Shafaat led SlamBall with 9.4 stops per game, edging Smith, who finished in second place with 9.1. Smith was the league leader with 9.8 LBRs per contest, while Shafaat ranked fourth with 6.3.
FACE TIME: As mentioned above, the Mob led SlamBall with an offensive Face Off percentage of 81.8. But keep in mind, no team was better on defensive Face Off than the Lava, who allowed a 46.9 conversion rate. This season the Mob’s Gage Smith was 7-for-7 on Offensive Face Offs, while Darius Clark was 11-of-12 and Cam Horton was 9-of-12.
SECOND NATURE: The Mob were rarely tested this season, and whenever they were, a dominant second half put their opposition away. In the second half of games, the Mob outscored their foes 33.5 PPG to 18.3, a whopping plus 15.2-point differential. The Mob’s defense stiffened after the intermission. Just five of their 16 opponents scored 20 more points in the second half during the regular season. On the flip side, the Mob scored at least 30 points in the second half of 10 of their 16 games.
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: No. 3 Slashers/No. 2 Buzzsaw winner vs. No. 5 Lava/No. 1 Mob winner