HIDALGO – Rio Grande Valley Vipers coach Chris Finch has likened guard Terrel Harris to Craig Winder.
Winder hit the shot seen around the NBA Development League world last year when he banked in a three that secure the championship for the Vipers. On Sunday, Harris hit a shot that could ultimately lead the Vipers to a repeat.
Harris took a kick-out pass from guard Jerel McNeal from the left baseline and knocked in a 3-pointer with 11.4 seconds remaining to give the Vipers a 98-96 overtime victory over Reno in Game 1 of a best of three semifinal series before a boisterous crowd of 5,239 at State Farm Arena.
“The whole game I was missing,” said Harris, who made just 4 of 11 from the field and only 1 of 4 from the arc. “I knew I was going to hit one in the end, and I kept telling myself that I was going to hit one in the end. When the opportunity came, I was going to make sure that it was going to go in.”
The Vipers needed that shot, if for no other reason, they were running out of players. The Vipers bench was already short after Arinze Onuaku didn’t play because of strep throat. Marcus Cousin left in the third quarter with a lower leg strain. Three Vipers fouled out, leaving them with just one healthy player on the bench.
McNeal led all scorers with 31 points. Patrick Sullivan, who has thrived in his role as starting center since Hasheem Thabeet was recalled by the Houston Rockets late in the season, had 17 points on 8 of 10 shooting and 16 rebounds. Guard Jon Scheyer produced one of his best games as a Viper with 20 points. Harris finished with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
The Vipers also fought through adversity after they blew a 16-point lead in the third quarter and found themselves trailing 91-88 with 2:42 left in the fourth quarter. They ended up tied at 92 after four quarter.
The Vipers were outscored 23-13 in the fourth quarter, making just 4 of 18 shots from the field.
“I thought we started swinging for the fences in the fourth quarter, trying to take a lot of quick shots or shots for no other reason because there’s nothing else to do,” Finch said. “But, the important thing is we kept guarding. A month ago, we wouldn’t have kept guarding in the same situation.”
The Bighorns led on two different occasions in the overtime period, including 96-94 at the 1:05 mark. Mohammad Faye made one of two free throws to pull the Vipers to one point with 53 seconds left. Anthony Richardson missed a jumper for the Bighorn and Patrick Sullivan got the rebound. That set up the sequence leading to Harris’ shot. McNeal, who tallied a game-high 31 points penetrated and kicked out to Harris who made the shot for the game winner.
“I thought we did a good job of staying composed,” Scheyer said. “We had been winning the whole game and all of the sudden, they took the lead. That could take a lot out of our. I thought we did a good job of staying tough down the stretch and responding.”
Game 2 is scheduled for 9 p.m. Wednesday in Reno. If necessary, a third game will be play on Thursday in Reno.
Harris is a lot like Winder in more ways than one. Winder, who played for the Vipers in parts of the previous three seasons, was a constant source of frustration and elation during his tenure in the Valley.
But Winder always provided energy, just like Harris does. Harris stayed poised and confident and helped the Vipers when they needed it most.
“We like him because he plays big in big moments,” Finch said of Harris. “He does big things for us and makes a lot of things happen – sometimes good, sometimes bad, but mostly good. … I thought we rushed a lot of threes, and he didn’t rush that one. He measured it and stuck with his shot.”
David Hinojosa covers the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for Valley Freedom Newspapers. You can reach him at (956) 683-4442.